Behind every true sports fanatic lies an ethusiastic supporter. It’s high time that I thanked the woman who introduced me to my love of sports.
Indulge me for a moment. To those who brave the bitter cold to watch their team take the field, or spend hours upon hours each week pouring over box scores, there exists for each fan a catalyst, someone who helped incite this rabid fanaticism. Ask any lover of sports where it all started, and I guarantee that without skipping a beat, each one could launch into the origin of their own narrative — the person who first put a ball in their hands or let them stay up late to watch the end of a nail-biting playoff game. Jordan had his father, Ali his trainer, and Larry Bird his brothers.
Though I may not possess the same talent or prowess as any of these aforementioned sports deities, I too, like so many others, can trace my passion back to one very special person. And as I have come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever extended an adequate thank-you for first exposing me to the world of sports — a world which has come to carry tremendous weight and importance throughout my life. So, while this may be more self-serving than my normal column, I hope that you’ll bear with me. With that said, this one is for you, Mom.
I’m not really sure where, when, or how my mom stumbled into an affinity for sports. She was never an athlete herself, and grew up in a household where the sports section was the first thrown into the trash from each morning’s paper. What matters is not how it happened, but that from the time I was born, my mom served as my guide, concurrently exposing my malleable mind to football, basketball and baseball. My mom sat with me in our basement while we sorted the thousands of basketball cards I had collected into binders based on all-star appearances, shooting percentage or career point totals. My mom consoled me on that October night in 2003 when the Cubs imploded against the Marlins — just five outs away from winning the pennant.
My mom fanned my competitive flame. I would stay up at night playing basketball on the hoop affixed to my wall until I could sneak a game off of her. My mom, throughout my time in high school, woke up day after day at 5 a.m. to take me to early-morning practice, and then ducked out of work early in the afternoon to make sure she saw me play. My mom let me sneak away from family functions to run to the bar and catch the final minutes of a big game. And it was my mom who — just because they are my favorite team — donned a Colts jersey, strutted into Foxboro and started talking smack to Patriots fans who were three or four times her size. My mom introduced me to my first love, and she continues to share it with me today.
Here’s the dirty little secret, though. I’m not sure my mom even really likes sports that much. I think when it really comes down to it, she is just a diehard fan of being a mom. I think that all those years ago, she could sense that I was falling in love with these hobbies, and she decided that rather than sitting on the proverbial sideline to watch it happen, she preferred to get in the game with me. That’s why she sends me texts such as “Bulls doing a good job hanging in, but I have a feeling they will come up short. If only Luol Deng weren’t hurt … ” during the Bulls-Heat game two weeks ago. It’s her way of talking about the one thing that’s constantly on my mind.
And that’s why, 10 years ago, my mom started the most important tradition we share — watching the NCAA tournament. As college basketball quickly became my favorite sport, my mom recognized how important March Madness was to me. I’ll never forget how, when I was in fifth grade, my mom came into my room the first Thursday morning of the tournament and told me that I didn’t have to go to school. She took off work, and we spent the next four days glued to the TV comparing brackets, drinking Slurpees and catching each other up on our lives. This ritual has continued for the past 10 years and fills several scrapbooks’ worth of memories. Those four days are my Mother’s Day — a chance to celebrate and thank the woman who has given so much to me.