Last year when Max turned 1, we went all out and put a full petting zoo in our back yard! It was awesome…but the cleanup was a bit daunting afterward. This year, we thought we’d let Max pick what he wanted to do for his birthday since he’s learning to express his opinions and make decisions for himself. It was quite simple, once we explained that it was going to be Max’s birthday he knew exactly what he wanted. “Go to Wu’s house and see basketball?” To translate, that means he wanted to go see the Wichita State Shockers play basketball. We’re season ticket-holders so going to a game is a privilege he is accustomed to, I checked to make sure there wasn’t anything else he wanted like the zoo, games, pizza, etc. He firmly replied, “No…Max goes to Wu’s house and sees the basketball players.” Then he toddled out of the room listing off the players names, “See Carl Hall, see Cleanthony Early, see D-Will, see Tekele Cotton, see Jake White, see Coach…” It is pretty impressive actually how much time he has put into memorizing the names of all the players and can point them out at games, on the TV, and in pictures. He really is a die-hard WSU fan!
Kate’s folks came in from Iowa which always makes Max happy because Grandpa has been dubbed by the family as “The Baby Whisperer.” Kids just flock to him…mostly because he is a big kid and is content to play with cars, animals, and shoot baskets all day. The two of them played non-stop (with a few breaks to hug “Nan” as well) till it was time to party on Saturday afternoon! Kate made a cake that was a basketball going through the net with tiny basketball cupcakes to compliment. Just like last year…the Grandpas hovered over the snack table slowly picking away at the delicious dips. Kids and parents arrived and before we knew it…it was kid pandemonium in the house, which is hilariously awesome! There was a moment when I walked into my living room and there was nothing but kids and toys flying everywhere and one adult. I call that Beer O’Clock.
By 6pm we were cleaning up and getting ready to head to the game and at 7pm Max sat with “Nan” and Kate while I sat with Grandpa as the Wichita State Shockers proceeded to stomp the Bradley Braves! Coach Gregg Marshall and his staff are big on family so after the game they invite as many families as possible into the locker room with the team for the victory cheer, prayer, and celebration. However, this time we got to stick around and go into the main locker room with the guys so Max could get autographs from all the WSU players. The always talkative Max was speechless!!! He was just in awe! I have had the good fortune of traveling with the team and getting to know the guys but I hadn’t had the chance to get to know this year’s team very well till Max’s birthday…and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was as excited as Max!
You never know what celebrities and sports figures will be like around kids. Celebrities need privacy and kids/fans want to meet their idols. So when we were invited into the private locker room I was sure not to overstep my boundaries and respect these guys’ privacy. They were not shy and when they found out it was Max’s birthday they swooped in to meet my little man, give him high fives, sign his shirt, take pictures with him, hold him, and act in a way befitting of heroes. One of the highlights for Max (and me) was when our 7 foot tall center Ehimen Orupke picked Max up and hung out with him for a while. Max loved being up so high and seeing what the world looked like from way up there! Ehimen was so amazing with him! Hard to believe this gentle giant was out blocking shots and defending the hoop only minutes before. Jake White came in sporting a bloody cheek from getting banged around in the paint and he too was as gentle as could be and Max was star struck! Demetric Williams high-fived Max, congratulated us on our next baby, and signed the shirt as well – it was his 100th win on Max’s birthday making him the winingest Shocker is WSU history! Malcolm Armestead joined in for high-fives as did Kadeem Coleby, CJ Lufile, Fred Van Vleet, and Tekele Cotton – who Max sometimes calls Tekele Poppin because Mary Poppins was on when we were practicing how to say Tekele’s last name. Tekele didn’t seem to mind. Then Nick Wiggins jumped in the mix and had some fun with Max and you could tell Nick comes from a family with little kids because he was fantastic interacting with him. I was so excited to see Nick signing Max’s shirt on a night where he had played (in my opinion) his best game since arriving at WSU. Evan Wessel and Ron Baker, who are both injured, signed the shirt as well and took time to treat Max like family. Both Evan and Ron are from the Wichita area so it is inspiring to have sports figures who are local for Max to look up to. Then Max went completely silent with awe. There are two people Max can’t stop talking about every single day. He LOVES Shocker Basketball but there are two that have caught his attention most of all…and there they both were…Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall. Both of them, like the rest of the team, were phenomenal with Max! They signed his shirt, played with him, gave him high-fives, and acted as one would hope a child’s hero would act.
That night Max begged to sleep in his Shocker jersey and of course I obliged…its his birthday. As he drifted off to sleep he whispered a thousand thoughts all at once in one long sentence that I could barely make out. All I heard were the names of players, “Coach,” “Wu’s House,” and how Max wants to be a basketball player too. It was the sweetest thing ever and I knew exactly how he felt. When I saw Xavier McDaniel play at WSU when I was a small boy I knew I wanted to play basketball for the Shockers. I was fortunate enough to play in high school and college, though nowhere near the level of D-I like the Shockers, but enough that I felt fulfilled and had pursued a childhood dream. Saturday night, Max’s head was filled with dreams that he will carry with him for a lifetime and I can’t stop thinking how fortunate we are to have Wichita State as our team. The guys that we talk about over the water cooler, that ESPN analyzes weekly, who balance education with athletic duty, and are skyrocketed to high-pressure situations throughout the season…they are amazing. They are heroes…to Max…to me…to many. Heroes are people we aspire to be like…who set an example. Saturday, the WSU team reminded me what heroes are and why I hope Max does grow up to play for the Shockers. I want him to aspire to be like these guys are on and off the court. On the court they are legends because of their physical talent and the pedestals we have put them on…off the court they are heroes because of the personal talent and the actions they have taken themselves.
Sunday morning the WSU basketball jersey was still on and Max would not remove it till after he was asleep that night. He spent the better half of the day working on his jump shot and dribbling…he’s two…and he can drain a bucket from about eight feet out! He’s also a lefty. Sweet! I’m not sure what we are going to do when the season ends but I’m hopeful we will have basketball well into March. I often say, “Max was baptized in the waters of basketball,” which is true. He was born on January 26th, 2011 and on March 31st, 2011 he attended his first WSU Basketball game…the NIT Final in NYC when the Shocks defeated Alabama for the title! I keep telling Coach, “Every time Kate and I have a baby the Shocks win a title.” Max was the team’s good luck charm in 2011-2012, maybe his little brother will bring home an NCAA trophy in 2013?
Following this win and Max’s birthday the Shocks became one of two teams in the NCAA to reach 19 wins this season and became the #14th ranked team in the Coach’s Poll and 15th in the AP Poll. Go Shocks.
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