My dad died one-year ago tonight. Naturally, on the anniversary of your father’s death, any son would be thinking of his father…with flashes of wonderful memories over the years sliding in ‘n out of my brain throughout the day. But today is much more than my father’s passing.
You see, tonight is the NBA All-Star Game in Houston. Houston is the first city where I took my father to an NBA All-Star Game. 2006. I was so thrilled to have him along for NBA All-Star Weekend. To give back to my Dad for all he did for me. For all those times after a long-day at work he’d come home and play catch with the football or squat down with his catcher’s mitt to catch my fastball, curves and the occasional knuckle ball. Tough enough when I’m 10-years old, but incredibly brutal when I’m 16 throwing 75-80mph bb’s at him. He never, ever let me see his swollen hand.
Ask any star –athlete, singer, actor, musician– and they will tell you one of the greatest things is to get to a level where you can include your parents in once-in-a-lifetime events. I’ve met them on red carpets and the big-time star is reduced to a beaming 12-year-old kid. It’s pretty cool.
Throughout my 12-year career at Access Hollywood, I was able to be at some of the most amazing events around the world. But the truly most memorable are the ones where I was able to include my mom and dad. On the sports side, it was my dad. The man who taught me how to throw a football…chased after my errant pitches…and attended every game I ever played. The man who sat next to me in our living room watching Rose Bowls, Super Bowls, All-Star games and more. The man who will sit next to me no more. Or will he?
You see, my dad’s gift to me was to always tell me to get my ass out in the world and go for it…and, if life threw me a curve and I was knocked on my ass, I had a place to come home to —as long as I got a job. “You’re not going to come home and just sit on your ass,” he would say.
So, as I left home at 19, never to return, but always knowing I could, I took off and never looked back. Wherever I was, there he was (and my mom), in my heart. Borneo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpor, Paris, London, Isle of Man, Cannes, Eze, Amsterdam, Cairns, Sydney, Kota Kinabalu, Venice and many, many more…he was with me even tho’ he wasn’t with me.
Tonight, as I watch the NBA All-Star Game FROM HOUSTON, on the anniversary of his death, I have a smile on my face thinking back to the 2006 All-Star Game with my dad in Houston.
It was Thursday night of All-Star Weekend. Alonzo Mourning and Magic Johnson had this billiards tournament. Every celeb and NBA player signed up in teams of two to battle it out on the green felt. There were tables everywhere. It was chaos. It ALWAYS ran late. That night was no exception. It was a little after midnight and my dad and I had just knocked Dr. J and Clyde Drexler out of the tourney. Yes, you read that right. WE played a furious game of pool against two of the NBA greats and beat ‘em.
My dad and I watched them for years on tv and marveled at their talents and now, not only are we playing against them, we just put them out of the tourney. My dad was so in awe of them and respectful, when they came over to shake our hands, my dad apologized for winning. Dr. J put his hand on my dad’s shoulder, laughed and said, “You deserved it. We are the one’s who should apologize for not giving you a better game.”
It’s a moment I’ll never forget and I won’t forget another one from the same night, just a few minutes later.
We had to wait nearly 45-minutes for our next game. My dad and I went to get our first beers of the night. We were having a couple of sips and watching this mad scene before us. All famous athletes having fun…young guns talking to the legends…some celebs mixed in. It was like everyone was in a ‘safe zone’ and could be themselves.
I took off for the bathroom and tell my dad I’ll meet him right where we are now. So, I go and return about 5-minutes later to find that my dad is nowhere to be found.
I run into Shaq, Magic – even Nelly. Finally, about 10-minutes later, I see my dad from across the room. He’s up against a wall, laughing and chatting with someone. I can’t see who it is. As I weave my way through the crowd to get to him, I see it’s Ludacris.
Ludacris is laughing. My dad is laughing. I have no idea what they’re talking about, but it’s clearly funny. I say to my dad… “I couldn’t find you”… and Ludacris sez, “Tony, this is YOUR dad?”
I’m like, “Yep…that’s my dad, Big Ray.” Ludacris says, “Your pops is cool man and funny as hell”. And then they just started laughing.
Apparently my dad was telling him about us going to The Strip House earlier that night. When I had told my dad where we were going, he was a little nervous. Finally, he was like, “so…we’re going to eat and there are going to be strippers all around?”
He didn’t know The Strip House was a steak joint. Apparently, Ludacris thought that was hilarious. Anyway, they hit it off and all weekend long whenever Ludacris would see my dad, he would give him a shout out, “Hey, Big Ray!”
My dad was amazing. Comfortable in any situation, big stars, no stars –didn’t matter. He just loved people. And people loved him, my dad, The All-Star. Tonight he is with me, even tho’ he isn’t with me.