My father is coaching the University of Pittsburgh’s basketball team.. It’s the mid ’60s.
After losing the opening game, PITT goes on the longest winning streak in the country. Sports Illustrated features the team. All the starters are from no more than maybe 15 miles from campus.
One day after practice my father is approached by a guy who introduces himself
as “Sonny Vaccaro. I’m from Pittsburgh, but I work for NIKE, and have come up
with a new promotion, and I’d like to offer you the first chance at taking advantage of it.”
“OK. what’s the deal?”
“We’ll give you $100,000 if you outfit your team in NIKE gear.”
“Yep. That’s all you have to do. Just have your boys wear only NIKE sports
apparel when they play and practice.”
My father asked him to leave. He then called the University, asked for full security if Vaccaro came around the field house, his office, his home.
About all he ever said to us was, “No one should have to decide between money
and doing the right thing.”
My father coached one more year. He retired at 55. He never explained why he
retired that early from coaching the game he loved. They would have had to drag
him out of the gym. His salary when he gave up what he loved was around $18K a year.
The Morning after the Tenth Straight Loss
“The only thing that’s happy in my life,”
Coach thinks, “is my dog’s tail.” He looks
at his hands and wonders what they could
have held. It’s a day when the temperature
will stay below zero. He goes upstairs,
all the losses lying in his mind’s graveyard,
opens a window, reaches for the heat tape
dangling from the snow covered roof, grabs it,
pulls it inside, plugs it in. His dog
has followed. Downstairs, on his bookshelf
are his gardening books: The Gardener’s
Garden, Guide to Creative Gardening, All
About Perennials. In the fall, he strung
last summer’s geraniums from a string
across the basement, the plants dangling
in the slant of light through the earth-high
window. He goes back down, looks
at the morning paper, sees another
loss, goes to the shelf, takes All About
Perennials, goes to the living room, sits
on the sofa, one hand turning the pages,
one hand scratching his dog’s right ear.
On August 4, Matthew Baker’s new book, Why Visit America? Henry Holt & Co., comes out. It has already received exceptional reviews, and Matt has offered remarkably insightful interviews. Esquire Magazine has called it one of the twenty must-read books published this summer.
Where are the books? Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.
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