My family were huge University of Maryland sports fans when I was growing up.
My mother is a graduate (Class of 1965), and when we moved back in to the area my father purchased season tickets to football and basketball games. I grew up cheering on the likes of Brad Davis, John Lucas, Mo Howard, Tom McMillen, and Len Elmore, and even supported Tom Roy through his awkward stages.
I loved Lefty Driesell and his emotional coaching style getting the attention of the referees or his players with him signature stamping of his left foot.
I’ve always been a Notre Dame football fan but enjoyed going to watch some of the Terps teams in the 1970s with Randy White and Bob Avellini. I even followed them into the 80s with Boomer Esiason and Frank Reich.
I even met my wife at Memorial Stadium during a Maryland-Clemson football game in 1986.
Even though Maryland left the Atlantic Coast Conference and joined the Big Ten (or 16, or whatever), I still follow the basketball team. But somehow games against Ohio State and Michigan don’t carry the same weight or excitement as a good, old-fashioned Maryland-North Carolina or Maryland-Duke game.
I used to love to hate Carolina. And Duke? Don’t even get me started.
That’s why it’s baffled me for a few years now that my own mother, a Maryland graduate, no longer roots for her beloved Terps but sports the ugly blue and white of the dreaded Blue Devils.
Where did it all go wrong? It goes all the way back to the handling of the Len Bias situation and the firing of Driesell, but even more so that the rise of Coach K at Duke was happening about the same time. She’s been a staunch Blue Devils supporter ever since.
Although I respect Coach K and the many great players that they’ve had come through there, as well as their tremendous success on the court, there are few teams for which I would root for Duke over them. All last year, I heard from my mother was how good the team was. I wasn’t impressed.
Then I started to watch more of the NBA games with my boys this year and anxiously awaited the debut of the next best thing, Zion Williamson. With skepticism I sat with an adult beverage in hand and watched as Zion introduced himself to the league with 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting in just more than 18 minutes of play, but even more impressive was his 4-for-4 night from beyond the 3-point line.
He got my attention. I watched most every one of his games after that until the NBA shut its doors because of the coronavirus. I kept telling myself that it was OK to watch him because although he played for Duke, he was a Pelican now.
But here’s where the kid become my new favorite player.
Just as the country was waking up to the seriousness of this virus with professional sports leagues shutting down or postponing their seasons, people began to realize the real impact it was going to have on the ancillary businesses that provided necessary support services to the teams and players.
Facing an uncertain future as congress continued with its partisan shenanigans, and before many of the state and local governments had yet to restrict people’s movement to work, the workers at the arenas of these professional sports leagues were out of work for an undetermined time.
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Before many athletes or sports organizations got involved to help their staffs (and there are many) through these times, here’s this 19-year-old kid from North Carolina, adopted by his new hometown of New Orleans pledging to pay the salaries of the entire Smoothie King Arena staff for 30 days, the original length of the NBA’s schedule delay.
I know that he makes a lot of money, but the fact that he was one of the first players in the NBA — heck, in professional sports — to offer to pay the salaries or offer financial assistance to people affected by this economic shutdown just tells you a lot about the time of person Zion Williamson really is and he should be applauded for that.
But he’s not alone. Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love donated $100,000 to the Rocket Mortgage Field House workers. First, Giannis Antetokounmpo, then the entire Milwaukee Bucks team, chipped in hundreds of thousands of dollars to help their staff. Even Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban pledged to support his arena’s staff as did many other owners in the NBA.
It’s not just basketball. Players and owners from every professional league, all providing financial pledges or setting up fundraising opportunities through which people could participate. And then there’s plenty of stories like Dallas Cowboys player DeMarcus Lawrence who, with teammates Daniel Ross and Jaylon Smith, worked with food trucks serving meals to first responders.
And there’s plenty of this going on in our neighborhoods with free meals being served, neighbors helping neighbors, and kindness spreading quicker than the virus.
As Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”
All you can do is to do what we can.