Friday, March 12, 2010

Let the madness begin!

 'Hoop" #77

My dad was quite the basketball player. From 9th grade until his death, his life was basketball. He played in the early years of the NBA. His team was the Akron Wingfoots, and they played against such teams as the Minneapolis Lakers, the Baltimore Bullets, and Tri Cities Hawks, the Fort Wayne Pistons.

But my dad was smart. He kept his day job.

He really wanted to play on an Olympic team. Several of his teammates and colleagues did play on the 1960 and 1964 US Olympic basketball team. Once I got to hold Dick Davies' gold medal in my own fingers. But my dad got to hang around with these guys - he had good stories about Larry Brown and Bill Bradley,  Jerry Lucas and Walt Bellamy. My dad wanted to be Walt Bellamy...  or George Mikan... or maybe Bob Cousy. There were a lot of good players he played pick-up ball with. Games of HORSE went on for hours...

Thirty years later, when it came time for me to head off to college, I picked a good basketball college. Not because I wanted to play, haha, but because I wanted to go FAR AWAY from home. The only way my dad MIGHT agree to it was if the college had a good reputation - a good basketball reputation.

Actually Dad wanted me to go to the nearby state university, Martin, enrollment 6,000. My high school classmates were going there, merging in with the rest of the county's high school graduates. But I wanted no part of 4 more years of the high school mentality. NO WAY.

Then the local meat-packing plant in my town offered me a scholarship to go to Martin. The scholarship was given out to 'Yankee young things who need more southern refinement', and I qualified. But I didn't want to attend Martin. I wanted to go to Memphis State. Enrollment 19,000. Big city, big campus, big life.

My mother said "Good luck talking Dad into this idea!"

And surprise, I had great luck!

Dad was out of town, negotiating a contract dispute up in Cincinnati. I talked to him on the phone, my game plan all in place. "Hi Pop, whatcha up to?" His usual answer was "6 feet, 6 inches." But this time he said "I'm watching the basketball tournament."

That year, Memphis State made it into the NCAA tournament. They made it into the Sweet Sixteen, into the Elite Eight, into the Final Four... all the way to the big dance.

Dad not only agreed to let me go to Memphis, he said if the old meat-packing plant's scholarship didn't extend to Memphis State, well, darn it, we'd just pay the whole tuition ourselves.

Since then, Memphis State has become University of Memphis. They still play awesome basketball. Some years they make tournament, some years they don't. Some years we just sit and wait for team selection... for the madness to begin!


Thérèse said...

Big names for sure! For us it's a life size Michael Jordan's cutout in one of our son's bedroom. I feel so small and shy next to it... :)
Your dad seems to be pretty big too!

Stella said...

Being a Minnesnowda Kid, I got to see George Mikan who was 72 feet tall . . .an exciting moment.

Jo and Stella

altadenahiker said...

Your dad wasn't the only negotiator in the family. Was he really 6'6"? Garsh, for some reason I hadn't pictured you as particularly tall, but you must be.

Brenda's Arizona said...

AH, yea, I am tall. Iilya, my brother, is taller. Mom is short.

Stella, Dad had terrific stories of Mikan. I'll write 'em!

Thanks for reading!

Gus, Louie and Callie said...

That is so cool. Dad is famous.

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

J. Evan Kreider said...

Not sure I'm quite ready for "the madness", but your story is a very loving tribute to your father.

Tash said...

I'm really enjoying getting to know your dad and you. Both of you are more fascinating with every new story. Looks like the art of negotiation rubbed off on you too. Clever girl.
Yugoslavia was always big on basketball. My dad was 6' 2". But he couldn't play and neither could I. I remember a little Philipino girl dribbling circles around me when I thought I wanted to try out for the girls basketball team in HS. I stuck to enjoying marching band.

Carol said...

Such nice memories for you in this the vintage photo...

BANJO52 said...

#77 is getting mauled by that defender on the inside! Did that call it? Was it an intentional foul? Did your dad have to negotiate with the refs? Actually, I hope he didn't need to.

You didn't mention which high school or college he played for.

Love the old unies.

I'm pretty much a football and baseball follower, but I do get interested in March madness.

Pat Tillett said...

Hi there, love your blog.
I know a couple of things about this team. Don't ask how, or why, cause I don't know!

1. They started out as a team of employees at at a goodyear plant.
2. Goodyear developed the type of rubber used in basketball (and other sports) so their team would have good shoes.
3. The shoes were called "wingfoots," hence the name.
4. Back in those days Goodyear had a whole line of "wingfoot" shoes including boots and ladies shoes.

If you don't mind, I'm going to follow along.