At work yesterday, my editor (also a photographer) decided it would be funny to take a shot of me sitting courtside next to a certain person. He e-mailed it to me, calling it a “souvenir” from the game he sent me to cover.
Although I look like the Angry Video Game Nerd in the photo, I’m happy he took it.
On Feb. 7 I had the honor of meeting Yankee legend Bernie Williams, covering his daughter Bea’s basketball game. Bea’s team made the playoffs and I was once again assigned to cover her team yesterday evening. Just being able to shake Bernie’s hand and the fact that he signed an autograph for me was enough of a memory to last me the rest of my life.
But it got even better. More good times. More great memories.
I hit some traffic on the way to the game, but got to Byram Hills High School in Armonk, N.Y. and sat down literally right before the girls tipped off. Bea gained possession of the ball, drove to the hoop on a fast break, and banked in the first basket of the game.
Maybe a minute later, Bernie walked in, and I was the first person he noticed. He smiled at me, reached out to shake my hand, and said,
“Hey! How’s it going? Good to see you again.”
I shook his hand and answered, “Good! Nice to see you again, too.”
Bernie took the seat right next to me. He leaned over to me and said, “This is going to be a tough game for them.” I replied, “Yeah, the playoffs are always tough.” He gave me nod and a look expressing agreement.
I mean, Bernie would know a lot about postseason play. In 12 out of his 16 seasons with the Yankees he was playing in October. He would know about playoff difficulty better than anyone.
Bea’s team fell behind 12-7 late in the first quarter, and the coach called a full timeout. While the teams were in the huddle, Bernie leaned over to me again and kind of tapped me on the shoulder.
“So really, how’ve you been? Everything good?”
I tried to mask my amazement. As I described when I first met him, I felt just like Max Kellerman in “Rocky Balboa.” I grew up watching him belt home runs at Yankee Stadium, and afford me and the rest of the Yankee fans wonderful memories. Now he’s asking me how I’m doing?!
In the words of Kellerman I wanted to scream, “This is unbelievable! I’m a fan, I can’t help it!”
But I couldn’t express it. I had to show him I’m normal person, not just another Yankee fanatic.
Calm, cool, and collectively I answered, “Yep. Everything’s good. I hit a little bit of traffic getting here, but walked in right before tipoff. Bea actually had the first basket of the game, right before you came in.”
Bernie chuckled, and then gazed at his daughter. I could just tell by the look in his eyes how proud he was of her. It’s funny, because I bet when she was younger, watching him patrol centerfield at Yankee Stadium, she had the same, spirited look.
As it happened, Bea’s team rallied from behind to win, 48-46. They were trailing 34-27 after the third quarter and staged a come-from-behind victory, outscoring the other team 21-12 in the fourth. Bea led her team with 19 points, and bucketed three shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
Afterward I caught up with her and interviewed her about her outstanding performance. She was so happy that her team won – not only because she didn’t want her team to be eliminated from playoff contention, but to keep her High School basketball career alive.
Bea is a senior, and it’s never fun to be playing that last game.
I pretty much burst out laughing at what Bea’s mom (and obviously Bernie’s wife) said to me right before I conducted my postgame interview. She got behind her daughter and teased her with a big smile on her face, saying,
“It’s all her mother! She gets everything from me!”
All three of us just started to laugh. I thought it was classic; such a “mom” thing to do and say.
After I was done interviewing Bea, I offered my praise and let her know Bernie looked incredibly honored watching her play.
“Congratulations on the win Bea,” I remarked. “I was sitting next to your dad and he looked very proud.”
She thanked me with an ear-to-ear smile.
I know I said it last time, but I have to say it again: I feel extremely lucky to be doing what I’m doing as far was my job is concerned. Not many die-hard Yankee fans can say they get to go to work and sit next to a Yankee legend – and then get to write about it.
This is just another memory I’ll carry with me forever, and I’ll never forget.
Later on, Mike D’Antoni’s son (who I believe I mentioned before) played in the second game I covered. Obviously his father wasn’t in attendance, as the Knicks and their new phenom Jeremy Lin dropped their game at Madison Square Garden to the New Orleans Hornets, losing 89-84, thus ending their seven-game “Linning” streak.
If you’re wondering, D’Antoni’s son’s team also lost, 53-40, eliminating them from the High School postseason. Mike, Jr. is…well…a junior, however. He still has another year to win a basketball championship.
As for Bea’s team, I hope they keep winning and go all the way to win the Gold Ball in the Section 1, Class A finals. For as nice as the Williams family has been to me the two times I covered her team, she deserves to win.