Tournament Time Without Dad

It’s NCAA tournament time. This is the first one I have ever watched without talking to my dad about it. I didn’t usually watch it with him, but we always talked about it. Always.

My love for basketball came from my dad. I had no interest in it until my teen years. It was then I developed my love for NC State basketball. Yes, I said State. I didn’t become a State fan because Dad was a State fan….though he certainly enjoyed them. Dad just had the games on. I watched one day and it got my attention. That team excited me, David in particular. He could fly. And he crashed. And he made my heart stop on numerous occasions. He was amazing to watch and always entertaining. I was hooked.

Dad never had a preference of a college team (though for the pros he always loved the Boston Celtics). He simply loved a good game of college basketball. Dad would watch anyone….men or women, college or pros. I always said if midgets were playing basketball, Dad would be watching it. He loved the game…..and watching was our bonding time. We watched all of the ACC teams play. I always had preferences. Loving the Wolfpack, Hating the TarHeels.

But when time for college came, I realized I had to go to Carolina. There was no Broadcast Journalism program at State. My loyalty had to change. So it did. It was great timing. The Thompson years ended, the Jordan years began shortly after. I got my NCAA tournament win for college graduation,

I noticed Dad’s lack of college team loyalty changed when I went to college. I believe he developed a preference for the Heels. Probably because it made me so happy. It tickled him that I not only went to nearly every game (three years home game perfect attendance and only a couple of games missed my senior year due to work.) I also went to practices. I’d tell him every detail when I came home….but even then he knew more than me. I had a class with Matt Doherty my senior year (his freshman) and we became Spanish class buddies. I had no clue he played basketball  (he had never mentioned it), until one day when I was looking at his feet and realized not only was he really tall, with basketball feet, and he also wore an AAU jacket. I went back to the dorm and called  Dad and asked if Carolina had recruited a freshman named Matt. He started telling me his whole history.,…and his stats.

Games back then were in Carmichael Auditorium and the environment was electric. The building vibrated. You were a part of it. There was nothing like it. When I asked Dad if he would like to go to a game with me, he said no. He preferred watching them at home, where no one would bother him (except a stray child now and again.) And where there were replays.

I always cheer for my TarHeels first, then (unlike most other Carolina fans) I cheer for other NC teams. Then come the other  “old” ACC teams. (Except Maryland. Because, you know. Defectors. And I used to love them, too.) I may then give a slight preference to the newbie ACC teams. Maybe. I still haven’t fully accepted them, though. But after that, like Dad, just give me a good game. Though I don’t have the same passion for it that Dad did….there are many I don’t watch. Even during the regular season when Carolina is playing. I don’t really like watching them alone (Dad never cared). And I love to go to games in person.

Dad would have loved South Carolina’s team this year. He loved seeing teams come out of nowhere and play great basketball. He’d have loved my Tar Heels, too. I can hear his laugh and his shouts of glee….and frustration.  It made me sad when I realized this would  be the first tournament that we couldn’t discuss. But then it occurred to me. This year he just may be watching with Dean Smith. I wish I could listen in on that conversation.

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