On Thursday morning around 4am; Kate, Max, and I started our day. We arrived at the Wichita airport an hour before our flight and by 6am we were ascending into the heavens and Max was crapping at 37,000 feet. A few diaper changes, snacks, stopovers, and naps later we arrive at NY Laguardia around 3pm EST. My old airport. It felt good to be back. The familiar halls of outdated carpet and tile littered with hurried locals and Birkenstock-clad tourists. Max was in NYC. “It’s good to be home,” Kate said. “It’s good to be back,” I replied as we made our way to baggage claim and then to the taxi stand.
Soon after we were driving my old commute as we bounced along the BQE, revealing the all too familiar site of the Manhattan skyline…though Kate and I had our eyes fixed on the comforting streets of Brooklyn. By 4pm we were checked into the hotel and exhausted from travel, but here was no time to nap…tonight was special. Tonight, the Wichita State University Shockers were playing the Alabama Crimson Tide in the NIT Championship Game in Madison Square Garden…and we were going.
At 5pm we rendezvoused with hundreds of Shox fans at a bar nearby and geared up for the impending match. It was tense. My stomach in knots. Kate gritting her teeth. Max, asleep against my chest in his sling while wearing an adorable bear onesie. The little furnace that he is helped calm me. I tried to focus on him…but in less than an hour my beloved Shox would tip-off across the street at the Garden and either walk out champs or losers. Focus on Max.
Years ago my father brought me to my first WSU game. I was very young but I remember it well. Xavier McDaniel threw down a dunk at Henry Levitt Arena that changed my life forever, a dunk that caused a love affair with black and gold. I was hooked. I was a WSU Shocker Fan. My dad took me to every game he could, enlisted me at summer basketball camp, introduced me to players, and did everything in his power to feed my obsession with this team and this sport. He was simply an awesome dad. I remember players like Sasha Radunovich, I still keep in touch with Coach Mike Cohen, Kate and I went to the Sweet 16 in DC with the Shox in 2006, and we were honorary coaches for the season opener of the 2009-2010 season. I know Max will never remember Thursday March 31st, 2011 but what a way to start with the Shox!
This season was the best season for me in Shocker history. Not because of the wins…because of the team, the coaches, and the experience. Moving to Wichita was a tough decision at the time but for my sanity I vowed to attend every home game in the 2010 – 2011 season that I could…and I did. I went to EVERY game except 1 (The week after Max was born). It is the most games I have been to in 1 year ever in my life! Coach Marshall became a great friend and he has shared his passion for basketball with my father and I. He made us feel like we were part of the team…and I bet there are thousands here in Wichita that would say the same. That’s what is so special about our coach. Most importantly, this year I got to know the players really well. Not just on the court but off the court. That was the most special part of this season…as amazing as those boys are on the court they are even better ni their student, social, and professional lives. They are phenomenal people whom I have loved getting to know. I felt the greatest connection to Gabe Blair and Graham Hatch because of their newly formed families and I love how much time Garrett Stutz spends with the coach’s kids. All those things added together make up the most amazing season…now add this:
- Shockers destroy Nebraska at home in the NIT first round
- Shockers upset Virginia Tech at Virginia Tech
- Shockers beat College of Charleston to go to the NIT semifinals
- I go with the team into the locker room after their last win at home
- Shocker annihilate Washington State University in NYC to go the finals
- Shockers upset #1 seeded Alabama to win the NIT Championship
I was there. I was there when the Shockers won the NIT. I was in row three court side at Madison Square Garden. To my left was my wife and my son Max. To my right was my father, Bud. Sandwiched right between the 3 people who knew how much this win meant to me…cause it meant the same to them. I cried. Bud cried. Max cried…though in fairness he was hungry. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen in sports and the first time I have been there live to see one of my teams win a championship. School records were broken, nets were cut down, hugs and high fives were bountiful, and I was so proud of my team. More tears.
Fans, coaches, and players have dubbed Max the lucky charm. He was the youngest fan in attendance and the Associated Press took tons of pictures of him and ESPN was happy to cut away to him at the commercials. Coach Marshall kissed him after the game and said “I want to scoop him up and hold him up like in the Lion King for all the world to see!” There was much celebrating.
Max was the last to leave the garden that night. I stood there staring at the court with tears still in my eyes un-wanting to leave this magical place. I wanted to soak it up as long as I could…but the maroon coats were ushering us all out. Then…Max took a dump that would frustrate security and cause uproars of walkie-talkie conversations for the next 10 minutes. I diaper blowout so large Kate gave up on the onesie and threw it away. Security blocked the bathroom while we cleaned him up, then escorted us out once we were finished. Max was so amazed by the Shox win he crapped his pants. That was his inaugural game. That was how he started it all. not just with a win…with THE win! I don’t know if you’ll love the Shox the way I do Maxwell, but if you do always remember…you are their lucky charm. Don’t crap your pants every time they win though, that would get old after a few years.