I have many fond memories that involve basketball.
My first memory is of my mom getting me a Scottie Pippen basketball when we lived in West Berkeley where I grew up in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s. I would dribble that ball all the way to what is now Rosa Parks Elementary School, to shoot hoops with a girl named Stephanie, and a bunch of guys, for hours after my school let out.
I was not much of a player, and I could or did not try hard enough to drive to the hoop much, but I did have a decent jump shot, and the guys who shot hoops with me were generous to nickname me “Larry Bird”; it may have been as I was the only white guy around the place, but can’t help feeling there was camaraderie there.
Stephanie was a real pro, and went on to play for Berkeley High School Girls Basketball team, but collapsed on the court and died of spinal meningitis. I was shocked and heartbroken that my former acquaintance and playmate had left us so young.
I also recall how I was rescued by an African-American brother one time: I was bouncing my ball on the way to the court, and two guys picked the ball from me and took it away. The man, Johnny Ray Christopher, made them give it back to me and told them to leave me alone.
I did get to see one pro game as a kid: my friend Pete took me to see the Golden State Warriors when Oracle Arena was known as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena. We sat in the nosebleeds and it was hard to see, but it was neat to go with my friend and see the game.
When I moved to New Mexico in 1984, on the brisk autumn morning after a cool evening flight got me there, the first thing I did was to run over to the local basketball hoop and shoot around. I was pretty ignorant to not heed the altitude adjustment needed, and nearly passed out on the court.
When I lived on the East Coast, I had minimal exposure to basketball as I was working in food service and studying theater, but when I lived in Pennsylvania, I watched some Chicago Bulls’ games with one of the best friends I have ever had: Tim D. He was a brother like no other. It was the era of the Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen Dynasty, and the games were amazing.
When I returned to California in 2004, I began to read the Oakland Tribune sports page with Monte Poole, and started following the Golden State Warriors. I like to watch and listen to sports, but even reading about games in print can be very interesting and relaxing.
I had some discussions about basketball with my dad, who loved basketball, was a lifetime Celtics fan, and fan of Bill Russell; and had a story he loved to tell about how he had once met Wilt Chamberlain having backed into him at a bar.
On the day my dad died, I was at a local cheese-steak shop in Oakland, with a friend, when my dad called me to talk about March Madness, and I said I’d call him back as soon as I got home. I went home and called him, only to find he’d passed in the interim; only about an hour. I had not spent much time with my dad in my life, but I came to love him in that short time, so his sudden passing was hard to take.
I never really played basketball again until I moved to San Jose in 2010, where there was a park with hoops and locals hanging out. The crowd was more adult and the scene a little sketchy, but you can’t always judge by appearance, and guys who were really cool came over and played with me.
Today I watch the Warriors on TV, as I am a big fan, and I saw them a couple of times when my former company used to provide tickets and a suite there for its employees. Basketball is one of my loves, and though I do not watch every game nor know all the subtleties of the sport, I consider myself a true fan.
(Author’s note: I wanted to correct myself – my mom must have gotten me the Scottie Pippen basketball in New Mexico, he is only two years older than me, and I think it is unlikely he had merchandise marketed for him until he started with the Chicago Bulls in 1987, my final year in NM. I am certain she bought me my first full size basketball, but cannot think of whose name was emblazoned on it…)