Watching sports has always been an easy way for dads and their kids to relate. There's nothing like taking your kid to a basketball game and watching them cheer along with the crowd. Hearing them chant "Defense!" and clapping as loud as they can.
I've always been a big basketball guy, so my son has probably watched more basketball games than he's had poopy diapers. We don't let him watch very much television, and he has pretty much no screen time. But when it comes to basketball, Daddy makes an exception.
AJ was born in December, which is right in the middle of the NBA season. When I was on my paternity leave, all I had was time. So I had plenty of time watch games with him and tell him exactly what was going on in each game. He may have only been a month old, but I know he knew what I was talking about.
He learned quick that the end of a close game is not the time to take a nap, especially during college basketball. Syracuse was playing Duke and the game was tied at 75 with less than 10 seconds left. John Gillon pushed the ball up the court and pulled up from deep for the win. He hit the shot at the buzzer, which sent the Syracuse crowd into a frenzy, and got me and my father-in-law to jump off the couch and shout "OH MY GOD!"
He woke up instantly, wide-eyed and terrified. He must've cried for at least ten minutes straight. My mother-in-law was holding him as he slept, and after we shouted she said "What the hell?! You guys scared the baby." As I sat there trying not to laugh at the situation, my father-in-law goes "What do you want us to do when a guy hits a buzzer beater? Quietly whisper '...yayyy...'?" Then everyone (besides my mother-in-law and AJ) was laughing. He got over it.
He eventually got used to the yelling and screaming after we took him to a few of his Tío's high school basketball games, which could get crazy lit. The loud gym literally didn't effect him in the slightest, he was always kicking back either watching the game or gulping down some chi-chi milk.
(Here's the shot that got us in trouble)
He has been to two Sacramento Kings games, and therefore is an honorary fan. He likes Slamson and the food at GoldenOne Center and all the purple in the arena. He loves chanting "Defense!" and clapping during the team introductions. But don't get it twisted, he's been a Philadelphia 76ers fan since day one. Actually, day zero.
Before AJ was even born, he already had a onesie with the silhouette of Joel Embiid with the words "Trust The Process." For those who don't know, that is a pretty deep cut on some hipster basketball knowledge. It represented the few years where the Philadelphia 76ers sucked, but maintained a cult following of fans. AJ was a part of that group before he had ever watched a game.
Thoughout these terrible years of the 76ers, it could get lonely at times. I would tell my wife "Oh this year we're going to be good for sure," and she'd just respond with "That's what you said last year." And to her credit, she was right. They sucked for like 4 years, it was pretty sad from the outside. But I enjoyed it while it lasted.
But watching the games with AJ have been that much better. He learned how to say "AND-ONE!" before he could walk. He chants "Lets go Sixers!" whenever he hears the crowd getting into the game. He even knows two of the players and he'll say "Come on Simmons! Make a shot!" It brings true joy to my heart.
This bond that we already share with the 76ers is beautiful. And his knowledge of the game for a two year old still blows my mind. The Sixers were playing the Chicago Bulls in a hard-fought game, and AJ could tell that the ending was getting intense.
He sat really close to me and was locked into the game as much as I was. He was pumping his fist everytime the Sixers made a shot and shouting "Let's go baby! Made a shot!" But the happiness didn't last, as the Sixers were upset by the Bulls which left me quiet and unamused by what I had just witnessed.
It was just a regular season game, so I didn't care much for the loss but I was still upset by the result. So as I sat there watching the other team high five as they walked off the court, AJ grabbed my face and said...
Look at me Daddy.
I wanted to laugh so hard out of pure joy but I decided to play along and I said with a pout on my face, "Yes, I'm saddy. I wanted the Sixers to win, but they lost." He looked at me and said "It's ok Daddy," and he gave me a big hug and a kiss.
In this moment, I knew that he truly understood the emotion that goes into being a fan. He knew that the game could have an emotional effect on me and he was there to console me. For all those years when the Sixers sucked, I would just drown myself in my own sorrow. But to have a little human be there to catch my tears when the Sixers eventually lose in the playoffs makes me almost look forward to the losses.
The game of basketball has always been dear to my heart. And as a father, I can see that it is already having a positive effect on the tiny heart of my tiny human.