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What Love's Got to Do with It
GARY SMITH
October 08, 2007
Joba Chamberlain has taken New York in a blaze of glory, his success traced to a nurturing father who used his own tortured youth, Native American roots and some lessons in humility to fan the flame inside his son.
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October 08, 2007

What Love's Got To Do With It

Joba Chamberlain has taken New York in a blaze of glory, his success traced to a nurturing father who used his own tortured youth, Native American roots and some lessons in humility to fan the flame inside his son.

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Have the boy learn the beauty of sports from the bottom up, the way the father did when he became team manager of his high school's basketball and gymnastics squads, and finally found a place to belong. Have him mop the star's sweat and pick up the star's towels. Motor Humphrey right into basketball practice unannounced one day at Northeast High, the father's alma mater. Have the boy chase every out-of-bounds ball with such fervor that the coach gives him a locker and makes him the ballboy, and look what can happen: The father on the scooter selling programs—"Quarter apiece or three for a dollar!"—and the fist-pumping roly-poly kid with ROCKETS shaved into his hair become courtside fixtures through four straight state titles.

Don't let peer pressure peel the son apart from his pop. Even when puberty hits and the two of them are together on date night or mall night and they bump into Joba's pals, who look at him like he's nuts. Even when it's the prom and after-prom party at 3:45 a.m., and Harlan's there horsing around with Joba's friends because he doesn't want to miss a moment of what a childhood's supposed to look like. Even when coaches wonder at first why Harlan and his 2,000 decibels show up at every practice ... then discover, over time, that his bark is worse than his bite, and he doesn't stick his nose in the coach's business, and he ends up the team father, welcome wagon and Tootsie Pops dispenser for every new player, parent and tagalong sibling.

Start another ritual. Father-and-son duets. How about Dance with My Father by Luther Vandross, the song that Joba and Harlan throw back their heads and belt out in malls, on street corners, in restaurants? A cry of love that describes something neither of them, for different reasons, could experience with their dads.

If I could get another chance

Another walk, another dance with him

I'd play a song that would never, ever end

How I'd love, love, love to dance with my father again

IV

CARE AND MAINTENANCE

O.K., the kid's going to have to shed those extra 70 pounds. No way around it. He's going to have to stop eating all those three-burgers-for-a-buck and family fries at Sam's that he and his father wolf down on the fly between games and practices and dress rehearsals. But not yet. He makes the varsity his junior year, hoping to pitch as well as play first base and catcher, but his body's still in his way, and his fastball's still moseying at 75, and his coach still doesn't want him going anywhere near the mound, even to say "Attababy" to the pitcher.

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