Kentucky faces off against Maryland Friday. A team I shouldn’t really care about, but one that certainly holds a softer spot after a brief conversation with a Terrapin years ago…
Four years ago, while traveling for work in Phoenix, Arizona, I was invited poolside by a co-worker. It was the 3rd day of a 4 day trip that had seen normal Arizona weather, 60-70 degree mornings and the only thing hotter than my angry clients were the triple digit afternoons that seemingly had the number 1 screen burned into the thermometer reading, I gladly accepted.
After working all day, the thought of relaxing near the cool water on the Ritz Carlton’s roof top was comforting, a retreat away from the sun and office expectations.
Approaching my waving co-worker, her hands in the air flailing around as to signify the saved lounge chair adjacent hers, I realized I was not just joining her, but also former Maryland alum, Steve Francis.
“Steve ‘Stevie Franchise’ Francis”, I whispered in explanation to her. “Dude’s contract 6 years ago was worth like $80 million.”
“So is he basketball of football?” she asked, as I shook my head in disgust.
“I want his autograph,” she proclaimed, followed by “I’m going to ask Peggy to get it for me” before walking off to the administrative assistant across the pool.
“Damn. You know her?” remarked Francis.
“Yeah. I work with her,” I replied.
After having to awkwardly discuss her proportions, as her and my boss was within earshot, we talked about what kind of work I do and why I was in town. “HR Consulting training. We tell people how much to pay their employees.” A thought his friend/assistant seemed to inquire more about, but he easily tuned away from.
Around that time, she had ventured back to her chair and began putting on sun screen. A sight he made obvious to me was more interesting than my small talk about Human Resources. Any attention he was paying to me, was lost by the blond sporting SPF 5.
“So should I know who you are?” she questioned.
“Nah, don’t worry. He doesn’t know who I am either.” he remarked to my disbelief. Disbelief only because I was simply being polite. I had left the man to his own devices. Sure I could have blown his anonymity and fawned over his celebrity. I had avoided that on purpose… until my fanhood had been challenged.
“Sorry Steve. I know who you are,” I interjected. “Your Maryland alum Steve Francis. You left after your junior season for the NBA. 4 years before your boy Steve Blake helped the Terps win an NCAA championship. Drafted #4 in the NBA draft to Vancouver, you were traded by the Grizzlies to the Rockets because you didn’t want to play in Canada – you say ‘religious reasons’, I say income taxes. Then after winning rookie of the year you were traded to Orlando for Tracy McGrady. You then went to New York, then back with the Rockets, which is why I’m confused over your Knicks shorts at the pool. You guys were ranked #2, I think, when my Kentucky Wildcats, I know, beat you in Rupp. Don’t question my fanhood”
His jaw dropped open just to have the words “number 2″ roll out like a cartoon cat getting his tongue stuck in the mouse trap and rolled out like a red carpet.
“#2 in the NBA draft. You said #4,” he replied with a smile.
“Oh. Sorry. How’s Steve Blake doing these days? He still with the Nuggets?”
At that moment, Francis dropped the cute girl in the low cut swim suit. She may have been wearing SPF, but the flow of stats caused him to burn her worse than any UV ray could that day, as when she tried diverting the attention back to her by clarifying if he was drafted by Maryland to the NBA, he didn’t even acknowledge and just said “You know Steve Blake?”
“Yeah. I’m a Kentucky fan.”
“No doubt,” another grin.
“Man, I remember pulling up to Rupp, it was CRAZY. State Troopers. Fans shouting at us when we stepped off the bus. Loved that place. Intense but I loved it. Heshimu Evans. Guy went off for 30 something points in that game and never scored more than 20 points the rest of his career.”
I laughed and chanted a “moooo”.
He offered to buy me a drink, which I politely declined “Works paying for me, but thanks. Can I get you one?”
He lifted up his drink to indicate he was good.
We talked a few more minutes. He was in Phoenix to rehab his knee and the Rockets had sent him there. We recounted a few more Kentucky stories around Tayshawn Prince and he talked about the other Terrapins of the early 2000′s.
My pasty white skin began to contract beneath the ultraviolet Arizona sun so I excused myself, shook his hand, rolled back into the shade, opened the laptop and did some work and smiled. Smiling not because I had met Steve Francis, that was cool, but I’m not the “star struck” kind of guy. I smiled because I am a Kentucky fan and I had defended my fanhood.