A Story About My Dad

We had moved from Chicago to Peoria.

I was a basketball player and being this was Illinois, the game was huge at all levels; from elementary school up to the Chicago Bulls, who came into being in 1966, everyone played basketball.

Our elementary school basketball team was good. Exceptionally good. We were the odds-on favorite to win the city championship. Entering the playoffs we were the top seed and undefeated at 14-0.

Our first opponent was a team named Franklin. The Franklin Thunderbirds. Our coach told us not to take them lightly; they were sneaky good and would not be an easy out.

The game was in our gym but we were having a bad night from the get-go. Added to that, one of our starters went out in the first quarter with a serious knee injury. As the game wore on, it became clear we weren’t going to do it. My parents sat in the front row as they usually did. I was in 7th grade and played just about every minute that night. I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally.

On an in-bounds play along the sideline, right in front of my dad, I was passing it in. After the ball left my hands, I felt a hand grab my jersey. I turned around, it was him. He had a concerned smile on his face as he said, only loud enough for me to hear, “hang in there… you’re doing great… keep working hard.”

It was a sudden jolt of energy I never expected. He was always quiet at my games, very unlike him generally speaking. But he was a star athlete in his days growing up in Chicago. He knew sports, still does. He understood the gravity of the moment and being my dad, knew exactly what I was feeling and thinking.

The person in that split-second who was shocked… was me.

He was never the dad who got in the way of my coaches. He felt the job was theirs to do without any help from him. I didn’t understand the value of that until many years later.

But that night… that singular moment… I learned a great deal about my dad. He saw things and knew things that I didn’t expect he saw or knew. That’s because I was a know-it-all 7th grader. In one little tug on my jersey and a few well-placed words, he helped me take my game to a different level for the remaining eight minutes.

We lost that game 51-46. But the value of my dad – his wisdom, his sensitivity, his love – came through like a slam dunk in those few seconds. Still does to this day.

Happy Father’s Day to a man with great game; someone for whom I have limitless respect and love.

Filed Under: BasketballCGPChicagoChristopher GabrielFathers Day

About the Author: Christopher serves up sports on 940 ESPN in Fresno with a good deal of pop culture, films, music and the quirky side of life mixed in. Distinguished guests and contributors from across the nation and around the world regularly join the program. He tackles the most complex stories to ones slightly off the radar delivering depth and humor with a thoughtful perspective. When he was in Fargo, the city not the movie, the program was nominated for Best Radio Show in the region in 2012, 2013 and 2014 by readers of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. As a writer, Christopher's work has been been published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Sun-Times Network publications, Reuters, USA Volleyball and Team USA, the Official Website of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

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