I had to take time to remember what made me fall in love with the game…
The emphatic voice of my father. Reiterating to me exactly who every Detroit Piston was. Making me repeat after him. Who Chuck Daly is. Who Zeke (Isiah Thomas) is. Vinny “The Microwave” Johnson. Joe D (Dumars). Dennis (Rodman) the menace. Bill Laimbeer. Spider (John) Salley. The entire team. I had to be thinking he made all those names up. He had nicknames for me. Learned that he was giving me intricate details about just who we are. What we’re about. My heart began to sing that day. All because of basketball.
He gave me his Pistons 1988 Championship t-shirt and I began to wear it like it was a badge of honor. I don’t even know where it went. His biggest regret had to be the night that, if I recall correctly, the Pistons were down early to midway through the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks. He left early to get a jump on all the arena traffic. I forget if it was Isiah Thomas himself scoring the last 9 points or so, helping the Pistons turn a double digit deficit around into a win. I won’t fact check it for accuracy. I’ll let it remain a distant memory. Pistons won! I do know that much. Historians can correct me when they read this and relive the moment. I love it that way for myself. It’s a part of why I love this game.
I’ll never forget the matchups with the Bulls and my father’s ire towards MJ. It was from a clear respect for his game. He could only say “damn” when Jordan would win. That level of respect only happened in basketball. I won’t forget his love for Magic Johnson and the Lakers. He would parade around the house when they played, always screaming “SHOWTIME!” whenever they scored. He really hated the Boston Celtics but always called Larry Bird a “Bad Boy” when we played him. Even though he wasn’t a Piston.
My father would tell me stories about “Iceman” George Gervin, “Doctor J”, screaming “WILT THE STILT” whenever talking about Wilt Chamberlain. He was in love with Oscar Robertson’s game. He would show me tapes of Kareem and shower praise on the sky hook. Told me then that it was unguardable. He always made sure to tell me his name used to be Lew Alcindor. Always made sure to tell me that Kareem and James Worthy were better in college than Jordan. At least to him. His enthusiasm was always from another planet about this game. Not knowing that he basically set me up with my first love like it was royalty.
A Run Through the Timeline
Eventually a kid comes attached to their own favorite players. Mine started with Isiah Thomas, then MJ immediately after. It was considered blasphemy in Detroit but I didn’t care. I loved the way Barkley used to barrel up the floor and dunk the ball. My father continued to introduce me to players that became my own favorites. Kevin Johnson, Cedric Ceballos, and can’t forget Wayman Tisdale. My father loves jazz music so of course Tisdale was always a name he floated out there. Of course he supported him and had his CD’s.
Surprisingly to many, I absolutely loved Hakeem Olajuwon as a kid. I owned a couple pairs of the Spalding shoes he released. Don’t judge me. I didn’t have a basketball team in my school so I played in police leagues (PAL) and recreational center leagues in my black, red, and white Spalding Hakeem’s with the gold trim. I didn’t have a clue about his footwork but I still mimicked him as best I could. Probably looking crazy doing it! Infatuated with the game.
I consider Reggie Miller’s game to be entertaining for the same reason little kids love Steph Curry today. It was probably my best copycat jumper form as well. Copying Reggie at the parks, on the street, and on backyard hoops. He was a favorite of mine thanks to his duels with MJ. My childhood friend Adrian used to always sing a phrase when I made 3’s. “Swim with the guppies in the o-cean!” I used to love Reggie’s teammate Mark Jackson because of the shimmy. What kid wouldn’t? Patrick Ewing and the entire Knicks team and their gritty play. Starks, Oakley, and Harper were favorites because they reminded me of the Pistons I grew up watching. I only hated when they played Mike. I loved Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. Run-TMC was cool, although I didn’t even know it was their nickname until later. Tim Hardaway was more recognizable in Miami to me anyway. Chris Webber was more spoken of as a King. We knew about him as a homer here in Detroit. He went to Detroit Country Day and made everyone want to go there. The electric Seattle Supersonics with Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and Detlef Schrempf were so fun to watch. Every kid had a Shaq phase or you probably missed out. Wearing sleeveless and cutoff shirts, lowering the rims with a broom so we can dunk and hang from the rim. Yes, I owned a pair of those hypnotize shoes or whatever they were called. Reebok Hypnosis. Never owned a pair of Jordans as a kid though. Not even the Nikes with the big AIR on them that Scottie used to wear. We couldn’t afford it, but it never stopped me from wanting to be like Mike.
My first basketball publication wasn’t a magazine. My father already had those coming to his house. My first was the “Rare Air” book by Michael Jordan. It felt like opening a cloud. Huge pages. I just remember a bunch of pictures. I’ll never forget the quote, “If you won’t compete, I will dominate you”. Made me look at MJ in a totally different light after that. All about seriousness. About destroying his opponent. It made me understand that this game meant so much to him and many other players. It only enhanced my love and passion for the game. It set a standard.
Simply cannot forget the old NBA on NBC theme song. It really gets your juices flowing pre-game. Jordan in slow motion making fadeaways with the music playing in the background. It adds to his legend. I’ll never forget watching WGN and seeing the Bulls introductions. Epic music fit for champions. Chanting in the tunnel before the games, “WHAT TIME IS IT? GAME TIME, WHOO!”
Ladies Can Ball Too
Imagine hearing about Cheryl Miller before the inception of the WNBA and learning that she was considered the best women’s ball player ever at the time. Dropped 105!!! My father knew all about her. He kept me educated on different ballers. She was blazing a trail before I was born but I still learned about her greatness. Cheryl has an impressive resume. Gold medals? Check. Dunked the ball? Check. Dropped 105 points man, mic drop. Lady Wilt!! We were robbed of her greatness thanks to knee injuries. In the 80s most injuries were basically life sentences. Regardless, she’s a Hall Of Famer and a legend.
When the women’s professional game began (WNBA), I fell in love with the Jordan of the W, Cynthia Cooper. The Houston Comets were my favorites with Coop, Sheryl Swoopes, and Tina Thompson. They were the first big 3 in the WNBA. I kept an eye on Rebecca Lobo and Lisa Leslie once she was drafted by LA. Looking back, the W has a rich history that’s definitely worth acknowledging from within. They could very well be on a similar trajectory that the NBA went on during that same time. Much greatness and great moments to be taught.
During the years the WNBA opened, those women inspired the girls in the neighborhoods that my parents lived in heavily. Bunch of girls were not only participating in our hood olympics we would make, but they wanted to hoop. My cousin used to have a few lady friends that could ball and were pretty good on the court. They used to tell us to not play all soft and actually play them with our normal physicality. We thought it was crazy at the time until we took a loss to them. I admit, I had a few bad days against them playing 2 on 2. Once me and my boy took a loss, we immediately took them up on their word. A bunch of crazy competitive kids.
We all loved the game and would go from hooping outside to everyone running inside to watch the games when they came on. Asking to have company inside 5 minutes before game time. Fun times for sure. Many days out in the rain, sweeping the puddle off the court. In the autumn wind dealing with the ball being thrown off it’s trajectory on every shot. In the snow, shoveling a path to rebound and play horse. Finishing intense games with storms looming overhead in the summer, lightning scattering through the sky. Never wanting to put the ball down. 2am nights and in trouble if I didn’t stay on the same block. Street light!
The Way The Ball Bounces
Detailing everything here, I could go on & on. I do have to acknowledge who would be my favorite of all time in Kobe Bryant. Then it’s the man that changed the NBA landscape and made the game feel closer to home in Allen Iverson. He had everybody rocking afros, cornrows, headbands, and arm sleeves. Not to skip over so many but it all led to LeBron James entering the league and brings us to where we are today. All great players with great memories. I’ve been in love with the story of the NBA in its entirety. I just wanted to take some time to remember what made me love the game from the beginning. How I was introduced to it and how it kept me around.
The NBA was never negative. The only bad stories from that time I could remember was Charles Barkley throwing someone through a window, and Sprewell. You never heard about the players families or personal lives. All you knew was basketball, bright lights, sweat, and competition. The intensity of the game. The love of the big moments. The rivalries. The All Star weekend. Watching Ahmad Rashad catch up with NBA players on “NBA Inside Stuff” to get a glimpse of what was going on beyond the court. “Rock & Jock” basketball on MTV. The And-1 Tours. The NBA Playoffs. The USA team in the Olympics. It really was all things basketball in it’s purest form. Unifying people across nations. “I Love This Game” plastered across our televisions.
The events over the last few years and the changes in the way the game is covered made me forget why I started to love the game in the first place. I couldn’t imagine a kid embracing the game today. They aren’t introduced to the game itself. They’re learning about narratives and flaws. People who may be broken. People who are possibly down in life. People who may be under attack. Constant contrasts and comparisons. Personnel Scandals. Racial dialogue. Nonstop bad news, celebrity status, mental health issues, personal purchases (and losses), who unfollowed who on social media, and all the other things that never provide the true makeup of the game to the enthusiast. It isn’t what basketball is about. I never in my life thought that I would ask myself if it’s finally time to drop the ball.