A LETTER TO JOSHUA: DAD’S A GREAT GUY

This column caught me by surprise, much the way — well, much the way a baby catches you by surprise. I was having dinner with some friends for the first time since these crazy NBA playoffs began. I excused myself to call the office. It’s a habit I should learn to break.

“Did you hear about Isiah?” the voice asked.

“No. What?”

“His baby was born. A boy.”

Well, good, I figured. That’s nice. I hung up and I went back to dinner. But the sentence stayed in my mind. And an hour later, I found myself driving home, early, and now I’m sitting at a typewriter about to throw out the column that was in the earlier editions and write this — because I think that little Joshua Isiah Thomas, who came out, like his father, small, quick and early, should know a few things about what he’s getting into.

Kid, I can’t claim to know your dad the way some people do. I can’t claim to have watched every game he has ever played. I can’t claim to have seen him in high school, or to have been there when his mother, your grandmother (wait till you meet her, she’s a pistol) took on the neighborhood thugs at her doorstep and said, “You touch my son and I’ll kill you.”

But I know him a little. I have seen him laugh, I have seen him cry, I have seen him dance as if God were moving his feet. I have seen him amused by people, and stunned when people turned on him. I have seen him work his body when his body said, “Don’t do it.” In fact, just the other night, I saw him unwrap a bandage, slip on a jersey, and play one of the gutsiest basketball games of his life. There’s lot’s of kid in dad

A few years ago, your father told me his fantasy about the moment his team won an NBA championship: “We win the game, all the people are going crazy, I congratulate my teammates, go running out the door, jump in my car and drive off to a park. And I just sit there, watching the kids play.”

Does that surprise you? Well. Of course. Everything probably surprises you. But you should know that there’s a lot of kid in your father, even today. You see it in first in his face, in his smile, you hear it in his voice when his heart is light and he’s not worried about being everybody’s hero.

He sometimes sees the world the way you are seeing it now. And he sometimes sees the world as a much older man. Your father has been around.

What stories he’ll tell you! Stories about growing up in Chicago, in a way that you will never have to grow up, dark and poor and dangerous. Stories about college, a wicked coach who scared him. Stories about his professional life, where he has become a star, a hero, a rich man.

He’ll show you pictures of an NBA all-star game that he simply took over, with the whole country watching, and a third quarter in a playoff game against Atlanta that he owned, he couldn’t miss, he was magical.

He’ll tell you about success. And he’ll tell you about failure. About a night in Boston when he let a ball go from his hands that he has wished back 100,000 times. He’ll tell you about a comment he made there that got him in trouble, and how he learned that life doesn’t always provide you with a safety net. Even heroes can fall.

He’ll tell you a little about your grandfather, who died just last year. And about your uncles, some of whom are still on the slippery end of life, struggling, falling. He’ll take you down to the basement of your new house, where he goes to be alone, late at night, when everything is dark and quiet. It’s a basketball court. You’ll probably learn how to play his game there. Keep your eye on the rim. Keep you head up when you drib–

Well. There’s time for all that. You’ll love his laugh

Listen, kid. I haven’t always gotten along with your dad. He and I have, well, it’s hard to explain real simply, but my job and his job sometimes butt heads. I need to know things and sometimes he doesn’t want to tell me. Sometimes he’s been silent, and once or twice, even rude. But I never doubted he had his reasons. And I don’t think we ever lost respect for each other.

Besides, for every one of those times, there have been five times where he’s shown insight, patience, and a sense of humor. What a laugh he has! Deep and robust — it’ll wake you up, for sure. I’ve heard that laugh 1,000 times. I’ve also seen your father serious, like when he tried to lead this city to a safer place on No Crime Day. A whole city. No kidding.

And do you know where he is now? Do you know on what day you decided to make your entrance? The eve of the fifth game of the NBA championships, something your father has dreamed about for as long as he’s dreamed about you. It’s a huge game. The biggest in Detroit’s basketball history. Normally, on a day like this, your father wants to be left alone. But I bet tonight, if the Pistons win the game, he’ll dedicate it to you.

So you might as well have this newspaper. One day, when you can read, you’ll see just how grand an entrance you made. Like I say, kid, I can’t claim

to know your dad as well as some folks.

But I know him a little bit. And I know this. You have already, in your few hours on earth, done what probably nothing or no one else could have done. On the eve of the most important basketball game of his life, you have diverted his attention. You have captured his heart.

Nice steal.

You’ll probably be a point guard.

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