Certain moments of fatherhood etch into a dad’s memory with LeBron-like photographic accuracy. I had one such moment this past March when my wife and 3-year-old son returned home from an evening play date, and I was parked on the couch watching the NCAA national semifinal between UConn and Notre Dame.
I grew up in a basketball-obsessed household. My dad coached for more than 30 years, my older brother was a standout prep player, and my mom has an encyclopedic memory for Pac-12 hoop history. Passing that love onto my first-born is an opportunity I relish, but not one I want to force. And, for most of his first three years, he’d shown greater interest in Daniel Tiger or Thomas the Train than in anything to do with a ball.
But on that late March night, my son did something he never had previously: He sat alongside me on the couch and watched; intently.
He didn’t pick a team, rather cheering for what he deemed exciting plays — and I was pretty impressed with his instinctual understanding of what constitutes fun basketball.
When Arike Ogunbowale sank a pull-up jumper at the buzzer of overtime to stun the UConn juggernaut, my son — who loves the concept of timers and thus understood the clock chyron — sprang from the couch and let out a loud cheer.
I wrote earlier in the spring that my experience watching the 2017 Women’s Final Four ranked among the most I’ve ever had as a basketball fan. Watching the 2018 edition topped that, and then some. It’s a moment I will quite literally never forget, as I owe the women’s game for sparking my son’s first interest in basketball.
He’s continued to show a burgeoning passion for basketball in the weeks since, most recently enthusiastically cheering for every made basket in the Celtics’ Game 1 romp over the Cavaliers, despite the lopsided differential. That his preschool math classes aren’t so advanced as for him to understand subtraction with numbers that big is actually a boon for his fandom.
The NBA season is winding down, and college basketball won’t return for another 51/2 months, but I plan to nurture his brand-new roundball interest while navigating uncharted territory of my own: the WNBA.
Beyond a Finals game here and there, I’ve never watched the WNBA — not the result of any kind of resentment detractors are quick to voice on social media. I just…haven’t.
But after so thoroughly enjoying the last couple Women’s Final Fours, and seeing my son’s gender-blind embrace of the game, I plan to remedy that. A $17 League Pass certainly helps.
Now, I have followed women’s college basketball with some consistency for the last 14 years; my wife worked as the head manager for our alma mater’s team, and I spent a season as a practice player. Basketball’s basketball, so the basic concepts remain the same, and I look forward to teaching them to my son while following this season.
However, I’m not so foolish as to assume the professional game and college are interchangeable. There may not be two more different version of the “same” game than the NBA and men’s NCAA, after all.
In preparation for the season, I have read the work of experts like Eli Horowitz of WNBAInsidr and Bleacher Report’s Mirin Fader.
Today is the day where dreams take form!
— WNBAinsidr (@WNBAinsidr) May 18, 2018
— Mirin Fader (@MirinFader) May 17, 2018
Although fatherhood motivates me, I feel a youthful excitement. Sports have been such an integral part of my life for so long, it’s rare one is completely new to me. The last time I embarked in foreign territory like this was when I first discovered Premier League; however, this feels more accessible. No having to set an alarm for 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday.
What’s more, sharing this new experience with my son is the kind of seminal dad moment I’ll remember forever.