A chance to live a dream
week and a half ago we sat on the baseline at Arco Arena. I watched him as his eyes traveled around the court seeing the arena for the first time. In front of us, his teammates Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse and Michael Finley warmed up while thousands of fans began piling in to see two of the best teams in the Western Conference fight it out.
That’s when it hit me, my job rocks. I love my job because I have the chance to know an athlete not only as an athlete, but also as a person and sometimes even as a friend.
Perhaps the best example of this is Devin Harris, who plays point guard for the Dallas Mavericks. I have known Devin from the time he was 16-years-old and our high schools played in the same conference.
Considering all of the times I have seen him play and the numerous conversations we have shared, I have never seen him so star struck or in awe as he was while sitting on the baseline that night at Arco.
Last spring, after finishing his junior year at the University of Wisconsin, Devin left school for the NBA, with the Washington Wizards picking him at No. 5 and then trading him to the Dallas Mavericks.
Ever since I have known Devin, he has been a confident, fearless competitor never backing down in any situation. However, once the NBA came into his life, I saw a different side of him – one of shyness and little-kid giddiness. The same feelings that everyone has, but not everyone can see.
In May of his final year, like he had done the year before, Devin volunteered to referee the finals of the Madison Madness Basketball Tournament I was in charge of running. During a slow point in the night, Devin and I sat on the scorers table and he asked me what people were saying about him leaving for the NBA or staying in school.
As I filled him in on the gossip, he slowly looked around with a smile on his face, almost as to say, “How can I leave all of this fun.” A few minutes later he scurried off to challenge someone in a half-court shooting contest and take pictures with some of the tournament participants.
He told me that he had scheduled a press conference for next week to announce his decision. I attended and watched as his eyes danced about and he struggled to contain his smile when he talked about moving on the NBA.
A month later I was interning for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix and Devin was traveling the country working out for different teams. One day, my paper’s Suns beat writer asked if I wanted to come along to see who the Suns were bringing in for a workout – he had a hunch it might be Devin.
Sure enough it was him.
To this day, I still remember how happy he looked in that practice gym.
Have you ever seen someone whose dreams were coming true? That’s how I felt watching Devin that day. Every little boy who plays basketball dreams of someday playing in the NBA, but so few of them actually do so. I honestly was expecting to see Devin pinch himself to make sure it was all really happening.
Fast forward to Arco Arena, and again I couldn’t help but notice how excited Devin looked. Even if I tried, I don’t think I could have gotten him to stop smiling.
In college, Devin started every single game in his three seasons as a Badger and averaged probably 38 minutes a game. When he began the season with the Mavericks he got the starting point guard nod, playing around 30 minutes a game. Lately though, he has been lucky to see double figure minutes in a game.
It’s was a weird feeling watching Devin sit on the bench for all but four minutes against the Kings.
After the Kings game, we chatted again and the first thing Devin said, with a sad almost wistful look on his face, was that he wished he could have played a bit more. It struck me because I have never seen Devin worry about his playing time or keeping up with everyone else on the court.
While his transition to the NBA has been an amazing dream come true, its also obvious that it’s a serious test for him as well. I know he doesn’t regret his decision to leave school early and is having the time of his life in the NBA, but I also know behind the glory and the fun, he is still is a 21-year-old kid from Milwaukee struggling to make the transition.
Not very often do I get a chance to follow an athlete’s career from basically the beginning. With Devin I was able to do so. He is no longer someone I cover and probably won’t ever be again, but now I have the chance to sit back and watch his career continue to grow.
At the same time, I am lucky enough to see things from his point of view and see that making the jump to the NBA isn’t all fun and games, that behind the 24-hour a day fame, there is also a normal person who has problems and disappointments just like the rest of us.
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Hank Sowell’s introduction to the game of golf came early as a set of clubs was among the gifts he received on his very first birthday.