BOWEN COLUMN: Big brother taught love for the game

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, March 29, 2022

With March Madness gripping every basketball fan, my mind goes back – once again – to where it all started.

Of course, as we’re celebrating our twenty-five-year anniversary of columnizing (just made that word up), I can’t help but get nostalgic and go back to the beginning, When I do, I remember: I owe the love for basketball to my big brother Wayne, who is four years my senior.

Wayne taught me a great deal growing up, including how to get beat up every day, because he either did it or threatened to do it. Some things he taught stuck, some didn’t.

For one, he taught me to love the New York Yankees, but that didn’t stick. The Yankees were replaced by the Houston Astros a long time ago. Besides, the Yankees are a little too highfalutin’ for me today. They weren’t that way back then — or, at least, not that a seven-year-old could see — but I’m afraid those days of simplicity are gone. Of course, so are Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.

Wayne favored Mantle, but I decided to be different. I went for Maris. I didn’t know it at the time, but Maris seems not to have gotten his due respect. I kind of like getting in the corner of someone who does his job the way it needs to be done and doesn’t necessarily get the recognition he deserves. We’ve all been there, I guess, but those kinds of things just make us tougher. Or they’d better. Of course, Wayne taught me something more important than the Yankees, and this one stuck for good. He taught me to love the orange sphere that would go on to be like my best friend. Still is in many ways.

For me, basketball was always a dream come true, too, even though our playing career turned out to be very modest. A year of junior college ball is all I can boast of, although some of the men’s leagues I played in during my early-twenties were pretty intense, too. The most important thing is that basketball enabled us to make a living for three decades with that leather sphere in our hands. I never got my name called in an NBA draft, but I did go professional around 1984 when I became a coach.

The amazing blonde and I have even adopted orange as our favorite color. That is pretty telling since she had not even been to a basketball game when we met and married back in 1975. Now she’s been to 17,911 of them at the last count.

But Wayne started it all. Under his influence, I started playing the game long before I could get the ball to the rim. My other brother, Tim, along with Wayne laughed at my basketball shot when I was four or five. They said I threw the football, basketball, and baseball the same way. I just rared back and let it fly.

But one day, I don’t remember when, I guess the ball grazed the rim slightly; and a week or two later it must have crawled over the rim and into the net for the first time. Too bad we can’t go back and build monuments to those momentous days. I’m sure I ran in the house hollering that “I made a shot!”  But I doubt Tim and Wayne threw a party. Instead, they would’ve said,

“It’s ‘bout time. You’ve been out there chunkin’ it for five years.”

There wasn’t a great deal of mushiness in our household. I guess everybody was out to make you a man, not a crybaby, even though I guess I was called ‘crybaby’ every day of my life until I was twelve. That comes from being the “baby” in the family. Being the baby is a tough job, as some of you know.

In all the years we played basketball in my good ol’ hometown of Grange, Georgia, I never beat Wayne in a game of one-on-one. I must have been 0-500. But one day in a hot, muggy gym in Dallas, around 1975, my big brother Wayne gave up calling me a crybaby. That’s the day I walked off the court saying, “Good game, big brother. Better luck next time.