Daze of My Life: A Banner Memory

Daze of My Life
A Banner Memory

As I watched Paul Pierce and Ray Allen hoist the Boston Celtic's 17th NBA/World Championship banner to the rafters on TNT Tuesday evening, Oct. 28th, the first ever in the "new" Boston Garden, (presently known as the TD Banknorth Garden), it reminded me, as sports often does, of my recently deceased father. (Dec. 2, 2008 will be the three-year anniversary of his death.)
As is the case between many parents and their children, sports too was our bond. My father was the father who showed up to all his son's little league, junior high school, high school and Babe Ruth-league games. He was the well -behaved model of parental involvement and decorum. Everyone knew him. He would encourage me before, during and after games, sometimes from his seat in the stands, and other times from even closer. Often, between innings, he would walk down to the team's bench, pat me on the back, and offer some words of wisdom: stop dragging my right leg, (I was a right-handed pitcher), keep my eye on the target, try to take a deep breath between pitches, etc. My father was the consummate professional (for lack of a better phrase) father; he was always there, always where he needed to be, and always what I expected and wanted him to be.
And while growing up, where my father, brother and I were every year around this time (the beginning of the NBA season), was in the old ("venerable" as it was so often described) Boston Garden for the first Sunday afternoon game of the season (my father's only off day). Typically, this game would be verses the Philadelphia 76ers, that meant Bill Russell against Wilt Chamberlain, with supporting casts of Hall of Famers and All Stars too numerous to mention. As a little boy, as a Boston sports' fan, going to a Boston Celtic's game against our arch rivals, was as good as it could possibly be. How he got tickets, I'll never know.
I can still remember being on the court and walking underneath the Celtic's basket, holding my father's hand and tilting my head up to see Bill Russell, all six foot nine of him, his goatee unmistakable in the glare of the stadium's klieg lights; he seemed like he was 10 feet tall, just like my father always did.
Never more than when he was dying, slowly, the debilitating effects of multiple strokes and old age gradually taking their destructive toll. For the last few years of my father's life, physically, he was not the man he would have wanted to be; he suffered indignities not uncommon to people requiring 24-hour care. But through it all, he never lost his sense of humor and never stopped caring about my mother, my brother and myself; always asking how we were doing, in spite of how difficult it was for him to express his thoughts. And even though the family's focus was almost entirely on him (for the three years between his first stroke and his last day), he never made it about him. He did whatever he could, limited as he was by his circumstances, to make it about us, just as he had done all those many years ago when he would get tickets for the Celtic's first Sunday afternoon game of the season.
My father owned a jewelry store in downtown Boston. He worked Monday through Saturday and a few nights in between. He left after breakfast (the years when he wasn't driving the neighborhood kids to Elementary school) and came home in time for dinner. Sundays were his only day of rest. However, what he did with one of the first Sundays in the fall was to take his two sons to the Boston Garden to see the perennial World Champion, Boston Celtics. It wasn't exactly a schlep, but neither was it a simple undertaking, and he did it for years; all the time, whenever he could, however he could; he'd arrange it, that was my father.
When I see those Championship banners hanging from the rafters at the TD Banknorth Garden, I see my father's face up there as well, because that's what he was, a World Champion dad.

Kenneth B. Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.