By Ryan Malone
Most boys have sports memories with their fathers. It’s one of the early bonding opportunities a dad has with his son. And my dad was no different. And basketball was one of the earliest memories I have of my dad, Virgil Malone. My dad died when I was 17 – in fact, it was 20 years ago June 28, 2009 that he passed. Seems like yesterday. So for the majority of my life, my relationship with my father has been based on memories.
My dad came from a tiny little Kansas town named Medicine Lodge. His graduating high school class had 26 people in 1952. For those of you who have seen the movie Hoosiers, it was set in fictitious Hickory, Indiana in 1951. And from what I remember of the stories my dad told me, his team was the Kansas version of Hoosiers.
In the picture, Dad is the one on the left.
The team has six players – a third of the team consisting of my dad and his brother, Richard. Dad played small forward and was a little undersized for his position, even back then. He was 5?9? and rail thin. But he was a fierce rebounder and had one of the most fundamentally sound jumpshots I have yet to see – think Jimmy Chipwood. He led his team in rebounding and was a frequent scorer. But unlike Hoosiers, Dad’s team didn’t have an Ollie to make two big free throws to make the state tournament. They missed the tournament by a few points after a great season.
Despite the numbers Dad put up and the heart of a lion, he was just too small to play at Kansas State. So he joined the Navy, which is another story yet to come.
With Basketball, Dad’s Memory Lives
I have two early and distinct memories of my Dad. And both of these memories involve basketball. The first is the Lakers. We loved the Lakers (and I still do!). If you followed the Lakers/Celtics rivalry, you will know the shot I am talking about. It’s the one that was on the commercials this year during the NBA finals. Magic Johnson drives across the lane, steals a page from Kareem’s bag of tricks, and knocks down a running skyhook to seal the game for the Lakers. Clear as I day, I remember my dad and I jumping off the couch when he hit that shot. We’d never seen Magic even try that shot, much less introduce you in the heat of the playoffs. And to have it happen against the Celtics, who could have asked anything better for a small boy!
The second memory? Dad finally decided it was time to show me how to shoot a basketball correctly. I have a feeling he was probably pretty tired of me just throwing it up toward the basket. I remember the words to this day:
“Your left hand is only a guide hand. Your right hand is the shooter, and the ball needs to rotate of your pointer and middle fingers. Snap your wrist. Follow through. Put your hand in the basket.”
We practice that day for what seemed like hours. Not because he was a dominant dad, but because I wanted to get better. He had the patience to sit out there with me for hours and well after dark.
A Basketball Closeness
From that day forward, I played basketball almost every day as a kid. And all through college, I played basketball. And I still do, although a knee surgery, back surgery and a strong desire to tie my own shows have slowed me a bit.
It seemed like many times, even though Dad was gone, playing basketball made me feel close to him. I could still hear his words, see the smile on his face when we played and wondered whether I even really got that jumpshot completely right.
It’s strange but also empowering to know that a single, solitary memory can have such a dramatic impact on your life. But I was lucky enough to grow up with the Kansas Hoosier.
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