Thursday, June 19, 2014

Connection in Heroes and Shared Jersey Numbers

Numbers are funny things. No one wants to be reduced to one. And some of the greatest crimes against humanity have been brandished by putting a number in front of a name. But there's one domain where a number can connect us rather than reduce us. And that's in sports. How can that be true? The number we wear on our jersey.
This term for the no-hitter never gets old.

This morning I woke up to find out that one of the highest paid players in Major League baseball, Clayton Kershaw threw his first no-hitter. As a loyal San Francisco Giants fan, it's hard to appreciate anything Dodger blue. But that one thing that prevents me from total disgust is that he and I share something in common: a love for Will Clark. How do I know? This lefty chose #22 for that very reason, and that's fairly interesting given that he grew up in Dallas, TX (Giants fans consider "The Thrill our own, but I have to concede that ]Clark was a Ranger for a few years).

Learning about someone's favorite athlete (who is more often than not a hero) is similar to learning about their favorite book. It reveals what they value, what they aspire to, their style and what influences their thinking. And if it's a shared interest, it can connect you to another in a unique or personal way. 

March 19. 2012
For example, I loved hearing retired NBA basketball player Brent Barry explain why he chose the number 17. Barry, who now works as a sports commentator, wore #17 for the bulk of his career (San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets). When he was asked "How did you choose your uniform number" in an interview with Kenny Smith, Barry responded, 
"As you know Kenny, I was around the game from a very young age. I was really born into the game. My dad was a decent player. I had unique relationships with guys who were playing in the NBA. So my inspiration came from a guy who I followed growing up at Golden State who is Chris Mullin.  
I kept watching what it was that Chris did and it never—never changed. So the inspiration for me in terms of what Chris did throughout the course of his career was that work—good hard work and practice with purpose can keep you on a level and keep you in a place that is good for you. That’s what Chris taught me. 
He was my inspiration all the way through my career and I know that sounds strange. But if it worked for you then, it should work for you all the way through. And low and behold it did!"
I will never forget seeing Brent Barry in the Comcast booth on the night the Warriors retired Mully's jersey. I looked at him thinking he was going to enjoy the evening as much as I did. Mully is one of my favorite athletes and personal heroes for many of the reasons Barry addresses. Another is that he struggled with alcoholism and from what I know and have read, has remained sober for many, many years. What inspired Barry about Chris Mullin isn't something that is limited to the hardwood. What inspires me isn't either.

Young people are cautioned all the time to "surround yourself with good people. Your friends say a lot about who you are." But so do your heroes. Choose good ones and find out who theirs are. Numbers are just one way to do that.

Next posting: Pope Francis' heroes
NB: the June 2, 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated ran a good read on Troy Tulowitzki. I'm sure Rockies fan already knows who he wears #2...for Derek Jeter

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