This is the box score of the last basketball game my father and I watched together. We were in his room at a hospice in Florida, and we both knew that time was running short and I was there to say my goodbyes. He was in pain that was beyond intense, and every once in a while he would whimper from it; the morphine had long since ceased to have any effect, and all he could do was wait for the end. That was May 27, 2004. I saw him again the next day, flew back to California, and waited for the call; it came on May 29th. He was 73. And, a few weeks later, I experienced the first Father's Day without him.
Sports were -- was? -- a primary bond between me and my father. He'd been an athlete, good enough to get a look by pro baseball scouts, good enough to play in the Army's league for the amusement of European base commanders during the Korean War, not good enough, at least after an injury, to make it his career. I was, to put it politely, non-athletic, when it counted, that is; I learned to be passable at basketball and tennis long after it was too late for it to matter. He never expressed disappointment in my lack of on-field prowess, at least not to my face, but I know he felt it. Nevertheless, when I demonstrated an aptitude for knowing ABOUT sports, and even talking and writing about it, it strengthened our relationship, and it led to our ritual.
Every day, he'd call or I'd call at about 5 pm Pacific, 8 pm Eastern, and we'd talk, but during basketball season, it was about basketball. He was once a Knicks fan but followed the Heat; I was, and am, a Sixers fan, but we talked about whatever game happened to be on the previous night. He marveled at Shaq and Kobe, loved San Antonio's Twin Towers, analyzed every game and every team. And, if a game that night came down to the wire, one of us would call the other and we'd watch the game together on the phone, analyzing and coaching and kibitzing the whole way through. All through the NBA season, that's what we did, night after night.
And then it was over, and to this day, I miss every moment of it. I still watch NBA basketball, but it's not the same. In a way, it's like how Dodger fans will feel when Vin Scully no longer calls the games -- there'll still be action, but it'll be different and not as good. On Father's Day 2012, at this moment, Oklahoma City and Miami are playing, and it's halftime. We would have been on the phone right now, going over the first half. I'll probably watch some of the second half, but it's hard to do without Dad. The love isn't there any more.
Dad didn't believe in religion or an afterlife. But if he was wrong about that... hey, Dad, you watching?