1985. Twenty-two years ago. Ronald Reagan was just starting his second term. The Cosby Show was the hit new sitcom. And I was a 13-year old who had just fallen in love with the sport of basketball by watching a team that played for a catholic school in Washington DC with which I had no affiliation. But there was something different about the Georgetown Hoyas and their style of play. They were intimidating, intense, and fundamentally sound top-to-bottom. John Thompson Jr. was their coach, an ex-NBA player who stood 6’10" tall and, unlike most coaches, cast a more physically-imposing shadow that could strike fear into the hearts of many of his recruits. He towered over many of his players, but not Patrick Ewing, who was the star and icon of the team. I watched that team intently, mimicing their style of play whenever I made it out to the courts. In fact, I never really started playing basketball until I discovered this team. I remember how they were the defending national champions that looked like a lock to repeat when they played a far outmatched Villanova team, only to see Villanova play what has been continually described as the perfect game. No matter–Georgetown was in three of the previous four Final Fours and they’d be back again soon, right?
Wrong. Throughout my entire teens, my entire twenties, and halfway through my thirties, I relgiously followed this team through thick and thin (and it definitely got thin at times). I always held out hope, but it never came through. There were a couple of near-misses, especially early on, but nothing close in the last eleven years. Twenty-two years later, they finally made it back. As they started to seal the deal on the clinching win (over my brother’s beloved North Carolina Tar Heels, only sweetening the victory), I felt the years of patience being vindicated. Cherise and I went out to dinner later that night and she remarked that it was too bad it didn’t happen several years earlier when I was younger and could’ve appreciated it more as sports meant more to me then (for what it’s worth, I don’t care less about sports as much as I now care more about other new stuff–like the eighteen-month old star of this blog). But as I thought about it later that night, I realized that it was better to happen this year than any other year because of the lessons I can only now appreciate…
You see, like the 1985 team, the 2007 Georgetown Hoyas are coached by John Thompson with Patrick Ewing as a key player. Only, it’s John Thompson III (the 1985 team’s coach’s son) and Patrick Ewing Jr. (the 1985 team’s star’s son). It is literally and genetically the next generation of Georgetown. And what has made this season so beautiful was that the fathers have been sitting in the stands every game, lending support and rooting for their sons. Neither son is exactly like his dad. John III is mild-mannered and a far smaller man whose career has many more years to go before any comparisons can really be made. Patrick Jr. is four inches shorter and will never be one of the 50 best NBA players of all-time (as his father was once voted). But in some ways, they are BETTER because they’ve learned from their fathers as well as their own unique experiences. And in the process, they’ve made their fathers incredibly proud. Seeing the parent-child relationship manifest in adulthood is something that has a profound effect on me, both as a father and a son. The elder Thompson is more gratified by his son’s accomplishments than his own, but the son is effusive in the praise (and love) he gives his father publically. In the case of the Ewings, the son knows he’ll never be what his dad was, but he also knows that his father help set a high bar and taught him to dream. The goal isn’t to be their fathers, but rather aspire to great heights and feel free to use the fathers as inspiration. To see that play out as part of a team I care so much about has made this an extremely rewarding season to be a fan. In the hoopla surrounding the trip to the Final Four, there was one quote from the elder Thompson after the victory for the Final Four that particularly struck me:
"This (win) is the greatest thing that could happen to me. I’m lucky to be able to share in my child’s life, and that’s more important than getting another statue. There (pointing to his son on the court) is my statue, right there."
What the fathers have given to their sons and what their sons have given back is something priceless. There’s no doubt my father provided that inspiration for me, despite the fact he doesn’t build software and never even used a computer until his 70s. By the same token, I’m pretty sure my father would tell you that my brother and I are his "statues" and everything we’ve accomplished is a testament to him and my mother (in fact, he said so a few weeks ago and I’ve never felt more honored in my life). And if there’s anything I hope to accomplish as a father, it’s that Iris will find some inspiration in me that helps her do something that we can both be proud of, regardless of whether she decides and/or is capable of following in whatever footsteps I leave.
It’s amazing. As I often tell Cherise, sometimes sports isn’t just about sports. The 1985 Hoyas taught me lessons about basketball that I have taken with me forever. The 2007 Hoyas have taught me lessons about life that I will take with me forever.