I could care less about sports, even though I grew up in New York and now live in Boston. This makes me a freak of the sports fan world, I know. Everybody loves and/or hates the Yankees and/or Red Sox, right?
Wrong. Not me.
Sure, I love live action, and will gladly go to any live game. Give me a hot dog and a beer, a few rounds of the wave and a verse or two of Sweet Caroline and I’m having big fun. But otherwise, unless my son is on the basketball court, I have other things to do. He’s the only athlete I devote my attention to.
For years now I have sat in the stands and cheered him on. I have waited on the sideline with a cooler of ice packs for his aching body parts. I have searched through grungy corners of closets for ace bandages. I have stretched, rubbed and wrapped feet, knees and legs and administered countless doses of Aleve. He has left bruises on my flesh from clenching on to my hands as local anesthetic was administered for minor surgery on his ankles, while I calmly assured him that he was okay. Me, not so much.
I’ve smelled his sweaty feet on silent car rides home, and I’ve washed and air dried his jerseys. I’ve scoured stores for Nike shirts with just the right slogans, and performance socks that color coordinate with his Imelda size collection of sneakers. I’ve driven to practices and games in what seems like all four corners of the earth. I’ve listened to playlists of head pounding preparatory music to get him in “the zone”, stopped for take-out at all hours to feed his post-playing ravenous appetite, and hosted team parties.
He dreams of playing basketball for UConn, so I got him a UConn tee shirt when the smallest size I could find was almost a dress on him. Now it fits, and I’ll be searching for the next shirt to replace this one when he grows out of it.
My loyalty, however, has nothing to do with basketball. If he changed to soccer or lacrosse or curling tomorrow I’d have my chair on the sideline of whatever designated field with said needed equipment and continue my role.
I don’t know anything about any college or pro teams and their players, I know about my player. I know when he positions himself for that first three pointer of a game whether his shot is spot on for the day, or not. On most days I am sure if an opponent leaves him a crevice of space he will make a quick pass that the other team will barely see, and his receiving teammate will score. And when his body is in prime shape, no one can beat him up the court. I know when he plants his feet that all the muscle he’s diligently worked to build will keep him steady and protect him as he fearlessly takes a charge from a player a foot taller than him.
I know when he feels good about how a game went not only for his team, but for him personally. Yes, it matters to win but it matters more to win knowing that you contributed to that victory. And if he feels like he didn’t contribute, the victory isn’t as sweet, and he will punish himself at home with drills and exercises, practicing for days whatever he felt was his weakness.
I can see if he is hurting physically, on or off the court. My eyes see the slightest limp, a wince in the corner of the mouth. I can sense an early wave of exhaustion when he’s pushing his body to do more than it’s willing on any particular day.
I can feel when he’s struggling psychologically, when he’s challenged to separate the limits of injury from the limits of skill and ability. And I know when these things don’t need to be pointed out, when silence is best on the car ride home, and to just get the ice packs, the hot pillow, and a cold drink when we walk through the door, unasked.
I might not know why they called a technical, or why a point spread puts a lesser team with more losses ahead of you in a tournament, or why a coach chooses to give more or less time to his players during a game. If you ask me about rules and scores and stats, I probably won’t know that, either. But I sit in the stands, support and cheer for the one athlete that matters to me, and that’s enough sports related admiration from this fan.
Photo courtesy of Dan Busler Photography, danbuslerphotography.com