It’s March, and with it comes some of the best sports drama the U.S. has to offer. People are frantically filling out their NCAA tournament brackets all over the country. The NBA trade deadline is here and teams are making their final push to earn a spot in the playoffs. I am a huge basketball fan but I do not compare to Andy Smith.
I grew up in a small, rural hamlet in the western mountains of Colorado. There was a lot for a kid to do in the summers growing up like Tom Sawyer, bare foot and with all of nature practically out your back door. However, sports was the one thing that every kid I knew was obsessed with. For me it was basketball, my dad bolted a hoop and backboard to the garage in the back of our house and I spent countless hours imagining I was Michael Jordan, dribbling awkwardly in the gravel alley. I progressed this way for years working on my shot and ball handling until I was in Middle School and could actually play on a team and then later, High School, which seemed no less than the NBA at the time. My freshman year of basketball was a nerve racking experience. I hadn’t really grown into myself (like most 15 year olds) and was tall, skinny and awkward.
Andy Smith was a senior, and the starting point guard, for the varsity team. He was good, real good. He was fast, a proficient ball handler, and could drive the lane like nobodies business. I knew Andy of course from summer pick up games at the park and the church camp his parents ran, that I attended every year. I didn’t really think that Andy liked me, so during our first practice when Andy and I where paired up to run drills together I was nervous. He was faster than me, stronger than me, but I was determined to keep up, what ever it took. Durring conditioning Andy would always be the first to cross the line every time we ran the lung busting pyramid drills. I made it a point to try and beat him. When the Varsity would scrimmage the Junior Varsity, I always wanted to guard him. He pushed me and I hope I pushed him. In the end I won his respect and friendship as well as a bench warming spot on the Varsity team.
On the long bus rides to the other small towns in our 1A division we would talk about basketball of course. I was huge Michael Jordan fan and he was a huge Scotty Pippen fan. I would tell him that Michael Jordan was the best player to ever play the game and he would argue that Michael wouldn’t be nearly as good if weren’t for Scotty Pippen, and that Pippen was the most underrated superstar to ever play the game. This was how Andy was ever since I was snotty nosed kid trying to get in the game at church camp with the older kids. Everyone else was, of course, singing about how they’d “wanna’ be like Mike” while Andy would shake his head and say “Nah’ Pippen is the man.”
Throughout that year, and afterward, we kept in touch and when he was back home from college we would play ball at the park and hang out. These times became less and less frequent until all of a sudden it had been the better part of a decade since we had seen one another. I reconnected with Andy not long ago and he invited me over to his place in Southwest Denver to watch some basketball. We sat in his Chicago Bulls themed “man cave” and watched his Bulls play and then my Nuggets play. It was great hanging out just talking basketball and Andy was just as passionate a fan as ever. He told me he had bought some tickets and and was going to travel to Chicago to watch his first Bulls game at the United Center. He was pumped, and had every right to be.
I got a text from Andy early one morning when I was getting my son ready for school: “Pippen signed my jersey and I got to shoot lay-ups during a time out at the game!!!”
People in Chicago go to countless games and don’t get that lucky. I believe it was the basketball gods rewarding an ardent, lifelong, Bulls fan with a chance to meet his hero and step on that hallowed court where his one and only favorite team played. How awesome it must have felt to take a run at the basket and watch a ball, that just left his hand, run through the net just like all those amazing shots that had made him stand up and cheer for all those years.
Needless to say I framed the jersey for him and I hope he likes it!
I am a junkie for sports, and sports drama in general. If you have some sports memorabilia bring it to me and I will frame it for you. Its one of my favorite things to do at work, and I have done a lot in ten years. While you’re here we can exchange stories and talk about sports. Visit our website for more samples: anthologyfineart.com