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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Remembering a Great Day with Dad

My mom just happened to be cleaning out the storage area last week, and wanted to throw out the frame that held pictures from a day that my dad and I got into a Philadelphia 76ers practice. (We kept the pictures, of course.) I think of this day from time to time, and it seemed apropos to post the pictures as I think of him this week, especially. It was 19 years ago that he passed. I don’t post this to dwell on the sadness, but to remember one of my last great memories with him.

Johnny Dawkins shooting; Rob in foreground
Action shot of Johnny Dawkins
I originally wrote the below in a post on my old sports blog. It was called “Remembering Charles Barkley.”


Dad and I were out for a weekend drive just to get out of the house, when he suddenly asked if I wanted to go to the Sixers’ practice. It was closed even to the press, I said, egging him on. We had been to the one win the 76ers managed against the Chicago Bulls in the 1990 playoffs the night before. Of course I wanted to go, and I knew that on rare occasions dad could be an impulsive guy who liked to do things he was told he couldn’t.

So, when we pulled up at the St. Joseph’s University field house, where the Sixers practiced, I asked dad where we were headed after they tossed us out. He laughed, and headed in. Ten minutes later, he ran out to grab my wheelchair from the trunk and get me. We were in.

Hersey Hawkins and Rob
My dad was impressed (as was I) when Hersey Hawkins asked, “Is this ok?” while we took the picture. “Hawk” was one of my favorites on the team.
Watching guys like Mike Gminsky, Johnny Dawkins, and Hersey Hawkins, warm-up just feet from me was amazing enough. Then Barkley came in . . . loudly.

Entering the field house on the opposite end, Barkley was yelling, “Front runner!” It turned out he was teasing the son of SJU’s Athletic Director Don DiJulia and nephew of Jim Lynam. (Coincidentally, Chris was a former schoolmate of mine, and, apparently, often attended practice.) Without any prompting, Barkley spoke to my father and I, and even thanked me for wearing a shirt with his likeness. Then he posed for a picture with me.

Watching Lynam run practice was a treat for a high school junior who loved the Sixers. He didn’t mince words — or spare his players’ ribs — as he demonstrated how to split defenders when caught by the Bulls’ trap. At one point, I had to stifle a laugh as Barkley’s slap of a teammate’s head echoed through the gym, reminiscent of a high school kid caught horsing around during class. True to his frequent refrain, “That’s Charles being Charles,” Lynam just kept going.

Rick Mahorn and Rob

Rick Mahorn shot around after practice for a while. His response to the equipment manager who wanted to leave was pretty funny. And I think I’ll keep it to myself. Afterwards, he was cool enough to take a picture with me.
Later, Lynam talked hoops with my dad. (They had gone to the same high school.) Rick Mahorn and Hawkins posed for pictures with me after practice. Assistant coach Fred Carter, the man who gave dad permission for us to watch practice without any knowledge of my disability (dad swore), shook my hand and playfully asked if I had picked up anything they should know. And “Charles being Charles,” he made a point to say goodbye, remembering my name.

I never did write the thank you note mom rightfully said I should to Fred Carter. There’s no excuse, but the way things turned out, a prompt thank you may not have gotten the job done.

Charles Barkley and Rob; a little blurry as they start to get in position for a picture
Not sure what happened, but I don’t think I was the only one who was star struck. If he were here, I’d tell dad he choked! With love, of course. Never did find out what dad was doing after Charles Barkley and I actually got in position for the picture!
The day’s significance has changed for me over the years. It turned out to be one of, if not the, last great memory I had with my dad. Not long after, Alzheimer’s disease began taking him from us at an all too young age. In fact, I believe the previous night’s game was the last sporting event I ever got to attend with my dad.

I wish I had some profound words to finish this post. I don’t. I’m just glad I have this memory of a day with my dad.

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