Musings from the sports desk: How I fell in love with sports
By BRANDON HURLEY
The passes were tantalizingly delicious.
Nobody created such tremendous excitement with a simple assist. They were much more than your average bounce or a chest pass, Jason Williams’ assists were the string quartet to a tear-inducing symphony. The no-look-behind-the-back variety that shocked even the most agile of teammates. The Elbow pass. The mixtape, playground high dribble. The jump pass he made look so easy but a move that would have sent anyone else straight to the pine if they even attempted to duplicate it. When Jason Williams, of the Sacramento Kings, had the ball, he was must-see television. He made basketball unbelievably fun in the 1990s, at a time when I was blossoming as a young sports fan. No one made a laser, fastball-type pass look so exciting like the small, white guard setting the NBA ablaze. It’s too bad he had to compete against the likes of Kobe Bryant and Shaq in the Western Conference playoffs each year. He and his dynamic teammates never realized their full potential. The lack of early championships aside, Williams is one of the men who introduced me to my first love - basketball. As a kid, I spent hours on the back patio of my family’s Ames home hoping to perfect my own version of Williams’ behind the back elbow pass. Unfortunately, that practice didn’t achieve much. I was no magician like my idol. And man, did those elbow passes hurt. I used the brick wall as my recipient, even drawing a box with chalk to represent a teammate’s hands - I don’t think I ever hit the mark, and sheesh, basketballs are surprisingly hard. Vince Carter and his highlight-reel dunks took my infatuation to the next level, but it was Williams who made me appreciate and admire the true beauty of basketball. Deception and quickness were Williams’ two most lethal weapons. He’d set his defender up with a crossover, then riffle a behind-the-back, no-look bounce pass the opposite direction for an easy layup. Defenses routinely looked like fools when Williams took the stage. He was ahead of his time, and there still isn’t a guy in the NBA today that was quite like ‘White Chocolate.’ Pete Maravich and Magic Johnson may have set the table for Williams, creating beauty out of such a mundane and fundamental activity, but the former NBA champion (he won a title with the Heat in 2006) served up dessert. My favorite aspect of Williams’ passing ability was how quick and assertive he was. He always knew where he was going with the ball, even if his eyes gazed off in the distance. That’s what made him so good, and if you were a teammate of his, you always knew there was a chance to receive one of his highlight dishes - you couldn’t ever take a play off. The most disappointing aspect of Williams’ career was how often he and the Kings ran up against greatness. It’s probably my earliest what ifs. The Kings insanely talented roster of Williams, Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu should have done some special things if only they didn’t have to contend with one of the NBA’s most dynamic duos at the height of their game (Shaq and Kobe). That Sacramento unit from 1999-2001, to this day, remains my favorite NBA team, led by the magnificent offensive mind that was head coach Rick Adelman. They were No. 1 in scoring both of those years and won 55 games during the 2000-01 season, only to get swept by the Lakers in the conference semifinals. Ah, what could of been. Not that I’m still bitter about those early 2000s Kings teams or anything. Williams is an icon and I’ll never forget what he did for me. But my first brush with love came by the way of a family member.
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The man who deserves credit for my ridiculous love of sports is my father, Jim Hurley.
My earliest memory of a big-time sporting event is with him at the glorious cathedral of Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, watching Tim Dwight and the Iowa Hawkeye football team. Two things happened that day despite having no idea who Iowa was playing or if they even won - a beautiful and fulfilling relationship with football was born and I found a new home in historic Kinnick Stadium. From then on, my dad and I hopped in the car for countless Saturday morning trips out east. It was a tradition each fall, sharing the highs and lows that is Iowa football. My father taught me how captivating and rewarding sports could be. He told me stories of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, of Chuck Long and Ronnie Harmon, and the Oakland A’s dynasty led by the enigmatic Reggie Jackson - Mr. October. He witnessed the golden age of baseball and basketball - the 1980s - and I’m sure he has thousands of more tales to share that I’ve never even heard. My dad also helped me and my three brothers hone our athletic abilities, or what little talent I was blessed with. He taught us to throw and catch at an early age, walked me through the evolution of my jump shot, and spent hours tossing batting practice. I was captivated by the competition sports provided but I was also driven by the camaraderie and the action. Being outside amongst the fresh air and the dirt, or in a sweaty gym hearing the sneakers squeak and the thrill of a sweet jumper. The world of athletics quickly became my sanctuary. I’ve watched the Masters with Jim, the World Series, and hundreds of Iowa football games. The most memorable game is easily the 2005 Captial One Bowl when the Hawks won on a last-second, Hail Mary touchdown. Absolute pandemonium and I don’t think I’ve ever gone so bonkers over a finish. I was never so disappointed following a sporting event then when Iowa was upset by Northwestern State in the NCAA tournament. Witnessing sports with my father has been a true roller coaster of emotions. There have been numerous disappointing trips home from Iowa City in the car, listening to Soundoff on the radio, analyzing what went wrong in the car. So many what-ifs, what could have been if Fred Russell didn’t get injured against Iowa State in 2002, what if C.J. Bethard stayed healthy or if DJK didn’t sell cocaine to the entire team. It’s been a life-long journey through sports fandom with my dad, and unfortunately, it’s been a slow transition with my son, Caiden. As I’ve shared many times before, his first trip to Kinnick Stadium some four years ago was nearly a disaster. It was too loud for him (crowd noise is a good thing, I told him with little luck) and asked if the game was over after the first quarter. We have a ways to go, but my 10-year old is really starting to get into playing soccer and basketball, but he’s nowhere near as nerdy as I was and still am. I knew I was different when I’d sleep late enough on purpose to miss the Saturday morning cartoons so I could wake up and get right to football. No Spongebob for me, that’s for sure. I’m glad I fell in love the way I did, and though these last few weeks have been difficult without sports, it’s allowed me to reflect on the places this world has taken me.