OPINION

Basketball squeakers...er sneakers

Phil Riddle phil.riddle@empiretribune.com Twitter @ETSports

As the father of two sons, both now grown, I am prone to bouts of sentimentality at various times during the sports year.

It’s March Madness, NCAA tournament time, when any team with six great games left in its repertoire can become national champion. And it hearkens me back to…well, let’s just say a long time ago.

When my oldest son was about three years old I was in the Army and stationed at Fort Bragg, in the heart of basketball country. As a Texas high schooler I had been taught, indirectly of course, that hoops was an intramural sport. A way for the football players to stay in shape. And I had not been exposed to the grace, the necessary intellectual strength and the brute physicality that is part of basketball.

That was until my 3-year-old was bitten by the bug.

One of his grandparents had given him a small plastic and cardboard goal and hoop for his birthday. He took to it immediately. I would go into his room where he’d be watching ACC basketball coverage and shooting long jumpers from beyond the toy box, or hopping over a stuffed animal clogging the lane.

It was through his unflagging love of the game that I became interested in college basketball, too.

As temporary residents of the state, we felt like we had to stake our allegiance to a local team.

Michael Jordan was playing for the Tar Heels of UNC, so that was an option, but it seemed too much like bandwagon jumping. Like rooting for the Yankees.

The little Riddle became a fan of the Duke Blue Devils mascot, so that became our team. We learned about the players and this intense coach with a funny name. We had dinner on TV trays in front of games and cheered and groaned as our adopted squad went through a grueling ACC schedule.

After one such game toward the end of the season I saw my son head down the hall to his room and immediately heard his basketball bouncing up and down on the carpet, then heard it careen off the backboard.

But I heard something else, too.

As he played, he emitted a high-pitched squeal as he handled the basketball.

Afraid he would upset the neighbor dogs with the noise, I stopped him and asked what he was doing.

Turns out he was emulating the sound of sneakers grabbing for traction on the hardwood floor.

So he’d (eek, eek) dribble. Then fire a shot to the goal and (eek, eek) race in for the rebound.

We’re still Duke fans. Even though my youngest son, who came along right before we left NC, has long since proclaimed his allegiance to Duke’s arch-rival North Carolina.

We still watch as many of the games together as we can, with me paying special attention to the players’ shoes and the noise they generate.

Go Duke.

Phil Riddle is the sports editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at phil.riddle@empiretribune.com