I’ve got $20 on UNC in the first round. Partly it’s because I went to school there. Two years ago I gave Warren Buffett the chance to make me an instant billionaire by entering his Challenge to pick a perfect NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket. It didn’t happen–for me or anybody else. This year UNC in the first round is a safe bet (the team’s a #1 seed going into the tournament) even though I know all about upsets. Clearly Buffett does, too, which is why he didn’t have to shell out $1 billion. Win or lose my $20, that’s not what I came here to talk about.
My younger son was a high school junior when it seemed clear I’d failed him as a mother. Yes, he could feed and dress himself, he had nice friends, he could shoot a basketball better than most (at 6’6″ tall, I should hope so!) but I was suspicious he’d never finished a book–even those assigned by his teachers. The Cliff Notes, maybe. As a baby, he’d made happy gurgling noises over picture books. Even the two and three-syllable word books I read to him as a toddler were a big hit. “One more story,” he’d demand before agreeing to lights-out.
Before I knew where the time went, he was a junior in high school.
He’s playing or practicing basketball all the time. Varsity Basketball for his big 5-A high school; also for his AAU team that only does tournaments, some out-of-state. His grades are ok–nothing special–but he says he doesn’t want to play college ball. He knows he’s not the next Michael Jordan, ALTHOUGH, if Coach Roy Williams came calling, he’d be thrilled to change his mind. Coach Williams and the UNC Tar Heels are not about to come calling. We both know it. My son’s not worried. I am, but not about basketball.
That Christmas I buy him a book. HARD WORK A Life On and Off the Court by Roy Williams. I figure he’ll at least read the book jacket copy–get in a little practice for college, not to mention the SATs. The next day he hands it back. “Great read. I think you’ll love it.” A short time later I bought him The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons. He finished it in a couple of days–all 752 pages. By the time he graduated high school, he’d read a number of books–all sports related, all non-fiction, none assigned by a teacher. But at least he now had a college major in mind: sports journalism.
Guess what? He’s changed his major: a couple of times. The reason is because he reads constantly. Non-fiction books by leading scientists, philosophers, educators, lawyers, etc. Lots of different newspapers. He’s introduced me to a few writers I didn’t know about. I turned him on to Michael Lewis, long before the movie The Big Short came out. Lewis is great at narrative non-fiction–almost like reading a novel.
I could have titled this blog Why Good Guys should Finish First in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The summer after my son’s junior year, he was playing an AAU tournament in Las Vegas. A number of parents went, including me and my husband. Coach Williams was there, scouting some hot high school players. Not my son, but players on another Texas team. In the parking lot, waiting for a van to pick us up, I saw Coach Williams crossing the lot with a posse of people–probably assistant coaches and scouts. He was a good distance away, but I blurted out, “Coach Roy. I’m a UNC alum and a huge fan.” He looked my way. He could have waved and continued on his way. Instead, he stepped away from his posse, walked over and shook my hand and told me that he hoped his Tar Heels would do better for me next season.
My son and his teammates were on the other side of the parking lot watching this go down. Afterwards my son said to me something like, I can’t believe you called out to him. I wanted to tell him I’d read his book and how much it meant to me, but I couldn’t get the words out.
These days my college son’s not tongue-tied. He’s articulate on many subjects, and we’re not sure where all this will ultimately lead him, but I feel certain his life will be one of richness. Big bucks–not necessarily, although that’s possible, too. And that’s why, win or lose the NCAA tournament this year, Coach Williams will always be #1 in my book.