I’ve pretty honest about the reason as to why I started blogging; I wanted my unique – and loud – voice heard. I was tired of reading the same type of opinions day in and day out; I hadn’t heard – at least in abundance – an opinionated woman’s take on basketball and that’s something I wanted to offer. While, I’ve maintained my authenticity on the purpose of keeping writing about what matters – to me – which is the game and the beauty in of itself; I’ve also found my niche while blogging.
After all, March 1, is the first anniversary of The NBA Mistress, and I was contemplating on what exactly to write about on this momentous occasion thanks to a late-night twitter session, it came to me: why not share some more in-depth about my father: Kenneth Thomas.
It’s no secret that I was born and raised into an above average basketball culture; it’s what Hoosiers do. By the time I learned how to walk, I already had a basketball in my hands. Obviously, not a relegation size ball, but a ball nonetheless.
I was waddling in Pampers getting a feel for basketball. Although, I went through a Barbie phase, I was always drawn to basketball. I enjoyed playing rough with my brothers or any neighborhood boys.
I was – and am – a tomboy to the ‘T’….
My father deserves all the credit, though, and as I have mentioned I was this pseudo son for him that enjoyed basketball; I love learning about it.
I loved watching his deep cobalt blue eyes darken when he spoke about the Boston Celtics, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry “Bad Mutha Fucker” Bird.
The way he spoke about basketball was poetic; he made it sound beautiful.
It wasn’t just throwing up a shot and hoping the ball would sink through the net; oh no, it was the ability to dribble the ball as if it was an extension of your hand; it was the ability to read your opponent in an intimate situation; it was the ability to fake out your opponent, drill a sweet spin move on them, and finish with a fadeaway jumper over them and all you hear is net.
That’s the type of environment I grew up in; it wasn’t just talk, it was the actual motion of basketball.
Granted my father was terminally ill for 16 years before he died in the summer of 2002; the first 6 – 8 years, he was still pretty active and played basketball in short spurts.
He’d have his inhaler on standby and a folding chair waiting to take a break, but it’s unquenchable thirst to pass on the gift of basketball is something I will never forget and I can never thank him enough for.
I was a pretty shy and timid child; I realize this is extremely difficult to believe, but living with 8 other brothers and sisters whom all had boisterous personalities muted me out.
I always sat back and observed rather than being observed, but when I was around my father, I was a different person. I was funny, loud, and he let me say “damn” every now and then. I can’t articulate the type of relationship we had because it was truly unique.
I was probably around 10 years old, when he pushed me to go to another playground and “give it to them boys” around my age. I protested, I stomped my feet, I cried.
My father snapped.
“Damnit, Tammy, you’re going to go Hendry Park. You ARE going to pickup the basketball and ARE going to embarrass not YOU, but embarrass some snotty-ass little boys. Get your fucking shoes and let’s go beat some ass.”
I didn’t want to do it. He tried being gentle at first, he tried the sweet approach, but I was that resistant to the idea.
I did not want to do it. I was afraid. I was afraid of being embarrassed because I was a girl. You have to understand, my five sisters taunted me nearly daily for being “different” ….I didn’t like traditional girly things, so this idea was immersed in my head, that I couldn’t possibly be as good as some 10-year old boys, although I had a good six inches on them.g
Yes, my father was a bit brash; being a man that served in the armed forces, I knew once he irked out a curse word, it meant business.
I wiped my tears from my face and took some deep breaths.
I was still nervous as could be, but more than anything, I wanted to make him proud.
That day seemed like a blur, but I do remember three important things from that day.
One is that we saw five young boys from my 4th grade class, but more importantly, I saw young Wesley, whom was the boy in my class that always pulled my hair, and I wanted to dart. My father grabbed my shirt as he yelled. “Hey, boys you need one more?”
They responded back, “You mean you want to play, old man?”
I barely blinked my eyes to look up at my father before he had sprinted down the court, basketball dribbling at a ferocious speed, before jumping over Wesley to dunk the ball.
Sure, he was no Michael Jordan, but my dad at 53 years old, with a myriad of health problems, dunked a ball; I was in awe.
“No, this old man that just dunked on you boys doesn’t want to play, this little all-star does.”
The second thing I remember was my dad pulling out his inhaler, taking a few minutes to settle his breathing, and sat down on the bench a few feet away. He motioned for me and I remember this, “You can beat these boys, Tam-toe. Don’t take it easy on them, put pressure on them, and knock that J over that loud punk in the blue shirt. Make them respect you.”
Make them respect you.
Make them respect you.
It still ruminates with me today and the third thing I remember is those boys taunting me “girls can’t play” and “go home and play with your dolls” and “take your old man home; he’s washed” …. I turned it on.
“My daddy’s washed ass just dunked on you” and I stole that ball from Malcolm (his bark was worse than his bite) dribbled between my legs, took off to the left and watched as Wesley tried to guard me.
He left quite a distance because, honestly, he didn’t know how to guard me ( I had started to get my boobs at the time) and I took that as an advantage. I drove past him just enough to clip his right shoulder with my left one, as I took a step-back jumper.
It sank in.
I didn’t have to do anything else.
“Come on, Tammy, you terrorized these boys enough.”
All it took was that one shot; that moment that seemed to go on forever for me to realize that I had the biggest cheerleader in my corner, and that was him. I really didn’t need anything else; I had the support of the best basketball player not in the NBA in front of me and that was my driving force.
I can’t tell people enough, how much I actually played basketball, even at a young age, it was my environment. Not just the actual act, but talking about it and he taught me so much about the artistry of the game, not to mention, the actual history.
Something you might want to know, two weeks after that happened, Wesley and Malcolm – while looking at their feet, of course – asked me to play basketball on Saturday. It became a tradition for many years…well until we all went through puberty, obviously.
Something else of significance, Wesley and I nearly became inseparable.
20 years later, we still talk and in fact, we just talked about this specific event last week.
It’s funny how one event, or even a series of small events, can change the perspective of a person; more importantly, how it can instill a lifetime of confidence.
Kenneth Thomas wasn’t just my father, he was my basketball idol.