Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

I grew up in a basketball family, the daughter and sister of two NBA coaches.

My brother, Eric Musselman, has been an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies. He has been the head coach for the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings.

My father, Bill Musselman, coached from 1963-2000. He was a coach in the NCAA, ABA, CBA and NBA. He was head coach for Ashland College, University of Minnesota, San Diego Sails, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

In 2000, my father was an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers when he suffered a stroke and was later diagnosed with bone cancer.

Days before my father died, at age 59, he could not walk; his eyes had circles underneath them the color of darkened grapes. His voice was raspy and low. His weight had plunged. His kidneys no longer worked.

He had cancer.

The last day we saw him we arrived at the hospital early. He asked to be put into his wheelchair and taken to the chapel. He sat in the middle of the center aisle, hands folded, head bowed, praying to God. He then asked me to say a prayer.

When I finished, he whispered to me to take him back to his room and grab his dark sunglasses, which he wore like James bond in Bangkok, day and night throughout his life. When I returned I put them over his eyes and then in a low voice he said, “Take me outside.”

It was a beautiful sunny day and we wheeled him outdoors.

He turned his face to the sun and spoke to my brother Eric.

“E, hand me that phone,” he said, waving his hand.

Dad grabbed the phone and then dialed with more energy than we had seen in weeks.

“Biggie,” he said to Damon Stoudamire, Portland’s 5-9 point guard, “It’s Bill Musselman.”

And then my father came alive. His voice boomed with an enthusiasm we hadn’t heard in weeks, but had heard so many times in locker rooms and on sidelines. My brother and I were mesmerized and captivated by his words and the rhythm and strength of his voice.

We heard him barking at Stoudamire:

“What is going on with you? You have got to dig deep. You have more inside you. Don’t let anyone keep you down.” His voice got louder and gained momentum. “Dig deeper! You have to go deeper! Get in there, fight, be strong, and be tough, we all have more to give then we think! Push yourself! Use every ounce of your potential! I know you have more, I know you can find more inside, we all can.”

Dad’s arms were waving like a symphony conductor. His jaw was clenched. His words were crisp and clear for a man who had lost all of his speech six months earlier from a stroke. Eric and I stood there a bit shocked but smiling and grasping on to each of my father’s words.

On that day, in the glorious sunshine, wearing his sunglasses, my father gave us, our last life lesson- one last bit of advice that makes you believe that you have something glorious inside you.

As Dad spoke to Biggie, he let us know that we have been given a gift from above and must dig deep to find it and then do everything we know how to us it wisely and impactfully. We must all live up to our potential and our potential is infinitely greater than we ever can imagine.

My father was a great believer that if you kept your focus, and were willing to work harder that you ever thought possible, even when your dreams didn’t happen on your timeline, you could still accomplish great things.

I looked back at the road my father traveled and it was filled with great successes, but also, controversies and sometimes brutal failures. But he never lost sight of where he wanted to go. Dad’s life was cut short but he had something inside of him that kept him moving forward, something that gave his life fullness and energy.

His love for basketball was so powerful that no matter how much he succeeded or how miserably he failed, he still felt value in his quest. He was a focused warrior.

My dad was interested in why people prevail and why people surrender. The will to triumph fascinated him. When I look back at his life his greatest gift wasn’t a fantastic basketball mind; his greatest gift was the dedication to follow his dream. Behind his steel blue eyes was a life full of passion.

My father once told me, “Two percent of basketball players are born with endless talent, the kind of talent that would take a complete fool to mess up. The other 98% are going to succeed because of how much they put into it and how deep they dig into their soul.”

At Dad’s funeral, an older man came up to my brother and introduced himself. He said, “Over thirty five years ago I was driving down the two-lane highway on the way to Orville, Ohio and saw a boy about 11 or 12 years old dribbling a basketball on the side of the road.”
I pulled over and said, ‘Son where are you going?’

He kept dribbling and replied, ‘Orville.’

Then I asked him, “Do you know Orville is ten miles away?’

And the boy nodded, ‘Yes.’

Then I asked, ‘What are you going to do when you get there?’

He looked up at me with this strange kind of smile and answered, ‘Dribble back home with my left hand.’

That boy was your father.”

Now there is a guy who knew how to dig deep!

Nicole Musselman Boykin
Dallas, Texas
[From the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inside Basketball]