It has been almost exactly four years since you passed away and there is not a day, not a second, that I don’t miss you. More than anything I just want to tell you that I love you. I vividly remember the day I lost you. Mom and I were holding your hands when you passed. I literally felt my heart drop. I felt numb and I almost lost feeling in my legs. That was the worst feeling that could ever happen to anybody. It was really tough.
You told me weeks before you died that 2015 would be the hardest year of my life and if I could get through this I could get through anything, but I thought you were just talking about basketball. When you died, it felt like my life was over. I didn’t care about much of anything except taking care of mom and nana. I lost the love for the game, a love that I had had since I was a baby.
Mom always said I was basically born in Madison Square Garden. When I used to hear your name in the stands I would get excited. You and mom introduced me to every other sport before basketball but I always wanted to play ball. Whether it was AAU, Niagara or Auburn you were always watching, even if you weren’t there. After you died it felt weird to play ball and not have you there.
When we talked after games you always went to the bad first. You told me what I needed to work on, then you would go to cracking jokes and making stuff easy and funny again. There was never a dull moment with you! You were my best friend. I don’t even have a favorite memory of you. All of them mean so much to me. But I do remember the first time I scored 30 points. It was against Iona and we (Niagara) won in overtime. I was excited we won.
I figured you were going to be like “Yeah! Congrats!”
But instead you said, “Why the F did you shoot so many threes?”
I was like “Dang! I just scored my career high!”
Blah. Blah. Blah.
I think I am doing well and you said “You are just messing up your own percentage. If you are going to take threes, you got to take them at the right time.”
Even when I was at Auburn you still said I took too many threes. In my mind the challenge was I had to make the threes. So, I had just played against Kentucky and I think I hit five out of six, a very high shooting percentage from the three and then my coach, Bruce Pearl, told me that I was leading the SEC in three-point percentage. Right after the game I flew out to see you. At this point you were in the hospital and had a tube in your throat, so you couldn’t talk.
I told you, “For someone that you say can’t shoot threes I am leading the SEC in three-point shooting percentage.”
You just looked at me and shrugged your shoulders like “so what?” and we just started smiling.
It’s just things like that, memories like that, that always make me miss you because it was just always fun.
When you died I asked myself, “Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to play ball?
I was home for a while and I knew you wanted me to finish my season at Auburn but I was taking my time sulking and everything. Mom, who has really stepped up since you’ve been gone, finally said it’s time for you to go back to Auburn. She pushed me but deep down I knew all along I would play basketball again.
There have been some tough days, but any time I have a bad day I just think about you and you cheer me up. Any story about you makes me smile. It could be as simple as thinking about you coming into the house or me coming into the house and you just saying something outrageous and making me laugh. Basketball fans saw you as a tough, hard-nosed player but off the court you were one of the most heartwarming people you could ever meet. You were honest. You always wanted to make people laugh and you never wanted to disappoint anyone.
There are times you come in my dreams and you talk to me. I can hear your voice. Sometimes when I workout I can see you talking to me just like how it was, like you are here. People probably think I have lost my mind but we were that close, so you are going to appear in my life regardless of the separation.
Dad, in the last four years without you I have definitely matured and grown up. As a man I am making sure mom is OK. Before Nana passed away I took care of her, too, just like you would have wanted. In basketball I have become a better shooter (still shooting threes). I have learned the game more, studied it more and I have focused on having a good pace. I have played in Cyprus, Canada, China and now I am about to head overseas again but I haven’t made a decision as to where yet.
In your process of making it to the NBA, you proved everybody wrong. You didn’t take a direct route to the NBA. You played in the CBA and overseas as well. You were somebody that defeated a lot of odds and I think in a weird way that is similar to path that I am going through. I want to make it to the NBA. I want to carry on your name and still have it out there.
Although, to be honest Dad, what makes me most proud to be your son is not even the fact that you played in the NBA. It is that I got to spend my whole life with you in the house, dropping knowledge to me as I grew up. The time you spent with me is what mattered most.
Because you ended up having so little time, just 48 years, I treat life differently now. I put more urgency in my life. I don’t procrastinate. If it’s time to do something, I just do it. Life is too short. If I believe I can do something then I am just going all out.
And Dad, I believe I can achieve ALL my goals in basketball. I am never going to quit and I am going to keep fighting until I can’t fight anymore. Losing you has made me hungrier to achieve the dreams that we envisioned together and when I do I am going to smile because I know you’ll be watching over me saying, “We did it!” I know more than anything you are proud that I found the love for the game again, but the truth is I did so because where there is basketball, there is also you.
Love your son,