I’m often asked why I chose to write about the NBA.
I understand the curiosity. From a town of 600 people in rural Nova Scotia, Canada where the basketball courts are few and far between, hockey reigns.
It’s hard for me to answer that question because I don’t remember life before basketball. My mother says I saw it on the television while playing with the remote, flipping channels and that’s how it all began. Sometimes the most enduring love affairs start with a simple beginning. This is one of those times.
I recently read a column that provided the answer to the question I’m most often asked. The column was on the consequences of caring about sports, as well as a father’s pride over his daughter experiencing these consequences because of her growing passion for hockey.
My mother could probably name seven NBA players if you asked her to right now. At least five, likely less than 10. She would definitely start with Kobe Bryant, then name some members of the Toronto Raptors that I’d mentioned a lot while covering the team. Chris Bosh would make the list and so would LeBron. She’d mention Shaq because she probably forgets that he retired and of course she’d mention Stephen Jackson because I once showed her the tattoo that is on his stomach of two hands holding a gun in prayer and she’s never forgotten it.
She doesn’t do sports. At all. There isn’t a single part of her that gets wrapped up in the action, intensity or emotion. I’ve tried to find it. To her annoyance, I’ve tried many times.
My father? They tell me that he was a fanatic. We lost him 10 days before my fourth birthday, on my parents’ fifth wedding anniversary. He was 28. He was in a boating accident and while I don’t remember much during those four years, I do remember cold evenings spent in hockey arenas and coming home late to find our cat asleep on the pillow in my bedroom. I also remember a suitcase that remained in my mother’s closet with all of my father’s hockey jerseys and memorabilia inside. After slowly parting with the rest of his belongings, she had saved those for me, unable to give away his passion even after death.
As I grew up, the conversations about him became fewer and farther in between, but in addition to passing along the sports junkie gene, my father passed along a love of words. He wrote down everything. Lists, observations, wants and needs, the results of hockey games, anything that would be in his head he’d jot down in a journal. When my mother passed along that first leather journal, she gave me a piece of him that no story or photo could ever give. His words, in his handwriting, scrawled across the pages of his journal, were a tangible piece of him in my world each day.
Tucked away in one of the journals was a yellowed postcard to my mom. It was written a few years before I’d been born when they were still in their early 20’s, just dating at that point. He was writing to her from the road because he was on a hockey trip. The kind of trip that only the most fanatical of fans take: A trip following his favorite hockey team on a three-game East Coast swing because that is what he did for the game he loved. Through those journals I learned that when he loved something, be it sport, person or profession, he loved it completely.
Today when people tell me I’m over the top I understand where that comes from.
When I hear parents talk about sharing their love of sports with their children, or my own friends talk about their teams and the family traditions that go along with them, my heart pulls a bit. I wonder if I would have been an NBA fan if my father had been alive or if I would be every other Canadian living for Hockey Night in Canada. Whether I’d become the passenger on his road trips as we followed our favorite team, or if we would debate whether the NHL or NBA had a better product.
Those are the moments that get me. They’re the ones I want. Even though I know, more than 20 years later, that I can’t ever get them, it doesn’t make the want lessen. As I grow older, more aware of the fact that I want to have my own children one day, the want for those memories gets stronger.
While I know I would be different in at least some ways if my father’s life had been given a different fate, in a strange way, my love of this game —even though it isn’t his game— makes me feel connected to him. I feel he’d be overjoyed to hear me share my excitement of sitting on press row for the first time, holding my own in a locker room crammed with reporters vying for the same quote, of having quotes I’d received be praised by people who have been doing this much longer than I.
I write about basketball because I love it as much as I’ve ever loved any one single thing in my life. And it’s the kind of love that isn’t going anywhere. I love it for the game that’s played within those 94 feet of the court, but for all that comes along with it, too. For the struggles and the triumphs and fighting until the final buzzer sounds. For the mothers getting to see their children make it and the NBA fathers getting to provide for their own children in ways they couldn’t having even imagined when they were growing up with only dreams of making it. For the friendships and camaraderie, the brotherhood that actually exists, the creativity that the average fan won’t notice and the highlight play that will make every fan exhale in unison.
I love when a team plays beyond their potential, when a star player fulfills the narrative we’ve created and when a role player shatters the ceiling we had placed upon him.
I love the history and the present and daydreaming about the future of the game. The amazing successes and the devastating failures that will create a stronger resolve. I love LeBron James stepping up in Game 6 in Boston and I love that I still feel pain watching 17-year vet Kevin Garnett walk off of the court without earning his second ring. I love it because it reminds me how much I care. I love caring about this game. The career-highs and triple-doubles, the nights where the NBA’s leading scorer couldn’t throw a ball into the ocean, the wins in June, the wins in mid-February and the losses in November. They all matter.
I often lie awake at night thinking of stories to track down, questions to ask during practice the next day, and follow ups in case my questions result in dead-end answers.
I love telling stories. I need to tell, chase, share stories.
Each story that I’m able to tell is another story in itself for me. While I share most of these successes (and all of my failures) with my mother, a lot is unable to be truly shared because she lives in a world where Kevin Durant is a player celebrated on the Ellen DeGeneres show rather than a young man with a gift that we are all blessed to watch. When I first fell for basketball, she thought it was a passing phase. We were a family of two, she and I, and there wasn’t a push toward sport of any kind after my father died. She didn’t expect her daughter to fall for a game that she still doesn’t understand decades later. What I’m learning is that there doesn’t have to be a push. When that love is in you, it’ll find a way to be realized whether you’re willing to give your consent or not.
While I still get choked up whenever I read about the sporting memories other parents are proud to create, I feel like my father is with me in each arena I enter and for every byline bearing the name that he gave me. It’s through my passion for basketball that I’ve been reminded I am undeniably my father’s daughter, even without the memories.