For the love of dad -- and hoops
For the author's father, Phil, playing hoops was a way to connect to sons
On Father's Day, author will spend day with father playing pick-up ball
At age 71, Phil Ballard still has some game and it thrills him to keep playing
Sometimes it's the simplest stories that provoke the best reactions. A few months ago, I wrote a column for Sports Illustrated about my dad, Phil, and how he's still playing hoops at 71 despite double knee replacement and a bum shoulder. I wrote about how basketball was the "language of our family" and Phil's "idea of a heart-to-heart was preaching the prudence of bounce passes." (You can read the whole story below)
It was a personal piece but it seemed to touch a nerve. After it ran, we began to receive a stream of letters and emails at SI, and what most readers wanted to talk about was their dads: how they used sports as a bond, the power of their relationships.
We heard from fathers who were inspired to get back out on the court with their sons, and sons moved to drag their dads out for one more game. Sixty-one year-old David Petreman told us about playing with his kids and said to forget being like Mike, that now, "when I'm 71 I want to be like Phil." Pete from Suffolk, Va., drew a comparison to his own father, who's still teaching high school math at 81. Brian Paff of Pennsylvania wrote in to tell us about his dad, Richard, who had just finished an eight-day, 48-state tour of the contiguous U.S. with the sole objective of making a hoop in all 48 as fast as he could while driving by car.
There were invitations, too. A man in Alaska wrote to try to recruit Phil for the World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, while a woman in Maine thought he should be playing in the State Senior Games. Phil was asked to play in all manner of pickup games, and the Texas Education Agency even wrote in to see about making the column part of its English III high school exam, meaning countless teenagers would, strangely enough, be tested on the particulars of my father's passion for hoops. As for Dad, he heard from Indiana high school opponents from 55 years ago and old classmates, not to mention his favorite weekend hoops crew from back in Philly.
But perhaps my favorite letter came from Jeff Jarosz of Mount Vernon, Ohio. "This Saturday morning I sat at the breakfast table, trying to read the Point After story to my wife. She had to piece it together because I was crying, mumbling, and sobbing through most of the article. I can relate because I can remember my father hitting me "flyballs" with a tennis racket for hours, sneaking me onto the 11th hole as it was just getting dark, or getting out of work early so he would not miss my opening pitch of an inconsequential game. He passed away three years ago."
Which brings me to Father's Day on Sunday. I don't know how you're celebrating it, but it probably comes as no surprise that while some people will take their dad out to lunch, or buy him a new putter or the latest Grisham tome, my brother and I will be taking our dad to a dusty schoolyard hoops court in San Anselmo, Calif.
We'll probably meet a little early so we can all get adequately taped and ankle-braced and dosed on Advil. Then we'll try to convince the rest of the crew to let the three of us play on the same team, because, you know, it is Father's Day. And knowing the guys -- a regular group of hoops lifers as affable off the court as they are competitive on it -- they'll be happy to allow us to do so. And then, as always, we'll fall back into our old rhythm. I'll probably bring the ball up and feed it to my dad on the wing. He'll probably fake a dribble and then whip his beloved behind-the-back pass to my brother cutting across the key. We'll take turns shooting but, as always, the assist will be valued more than the bucket. Afterward, we'll sit around on park benches with the rest of the crew, the sun low in the sky, and crack open a cold beer and re-live everything that just happened, or at least the good moments.
Sure, it's not everyone's idea of a perfect Father's day but it is for us. And maybe for you too.
So here, in honor of this weekend and other like-minded sons and dads, we're re-running the column here. Happy Father's Day, pops. May all your jumpers fall this Sunday.
Click on the next page to read the original column.