Game 102: at Providence 87, Vermont 77Monday, November 21, 2005
Dunkin' Donuts Center - Providence, RI
Here's an old joke for you. There are two types of people in this world, those who divide humanity into two types of people and those who don't. But in sports, there are actually three types of people: single, married, and married with children.
With few exceptions, college basketball players fall within the first category. Even if some would claim to be married to the game, there are all sorts of NCAA rules and regulations that keep them away from coaches and arenas for extended periods of time. The average player is more likely to be "wed" to their books, or weekend beer parties. They're student-athletes after all.
But the head coaches, the assistants, the information directors and broadcasters, they pay heavy prices for their involvement. The ones with spouses and children, in particular. Most have to endure extended time away from home, their extra hours at the office and days on the road opening them up to risks of alienation, misunderstanding and divorce.
Sports do nothing to help to further our species, and destroy interpersonal bonds more often than they build and foster them. Sports get between people, break them up. The sports world is a place ruled by workaholic singles, whose freedom from family gives them a hard edge over those with bonds and ties, the ones who have to constantly balance and sacrifice.
Tough decisions and selective forfeiture seem to be everywhere. I call ahead to secure a credential for a game later in the week, and the voice on the other end isn't the one I remember from before - I have to reintroduce myself.
"Where's Stephan?" I ask. "Is he still with the department, or did he move on?"
"He left us over the summer," comes the reply. "His wife had twins. He decided it was time to be a dad."
Later, after the game is over, I stand in the dark and dank tunnels of a fading city arena, interviewing the losing coach from the visiting team. He's a man settling into a new job, who uprooted his wife and three children (one just recently born) to a new home hundreds of miles north. His wife had been a college basketball coach too, a good one, but she left a good gig to support her husband as he made a go of it in a faraway and unfamiliar area. Sacrifice.
As we go on to discuss mundane matters such as rebounding and interior defense, I notice the coach's wife and young daughter standing in the background. The bus and team caravan is all loaded up, ready for the 4 1/2-hour drive back to campus. The girl fixes me with a sad, disappointed gaze - I'm keeping Daddy away from her. The interview becomes a blur; I cut my questions short. I want to ask my fellow microphone-wielders to do the same out of respect for his family, but I can't figure out how to properly word such a request.
An hour later, I drive through a splattering rainstorm back to the new house I share with The Official Wife Of The Mid-MajorityÃ¯Â¿Â½. It's after midnight and she has to leave for work by seven, but she's still awake. I can tell immediately that something's wrong.
"I stayed up so I could tell you myself," she says, lines of concern etched across her forehead. "It's your father."
"Uh-oh," I reply. His 67-year-old system has been undergoing some slight disruptions lately; I brace myself for the news.
"He went in for heart surgery," she says. "We talked for an hour earlier in the evening. You should give him a call at the hospital tomorrow."
Sports are a fabricated wonderland of athletic amusement, an invisible universe that lies parallel to the actual physical sphere. It's a fully-formed world that people can inhabit, lose themselves in, confuse for actual reality. I wish that I could solve my father's problems by sinking a couple of free throws - that's always an effective way to solve late-game issues in our particular sport - but I'm level-headed enough to realize how ridiculous such a desire really is.
But I must admit: that an idea like that even crossed my mind... well, it scares me a little.