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A Heavenly Night in Anaheim

The LegendsCorner welcomes guest March Madness blogger, Arnie D. Fielkow, President & CEO of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA):

Do you remember those days during our youth when we were so excited about something you couldn't sleep the night before in anticipation of what the next day would bring? And at the end of the day you didn't want it to end so the memories could linger just a little longer? Well such a day and night existed for me this past Saturday March 29!

A little background: I was born and raised in Appleton, Wisconsin where my family lived until they moved to Tucson, AZ when I entered college. My late Dad, Jack Fielkow, like me, attended the University of Wisconsin and was a pretty darn good basketball player. My sister attended the University of Arizona, and along with my parents have lived in Tucson for nearly 4 decades.

I loved and miss my Dad (who passed away 3 March's ago) so very much and particularly miss the days when we would dine after each high school basketball game, and discuss the night's game, our beloved Green Bay Packers, or his  favorite sport: college basketball. See my Dad truly had split loyalties: a Wisconsin Badger at heart but also someone who over 40 years had also fallen in love with his hometown Arizona Wildcats. Interestingly, when he began his love affair with the Wildcats, my former superior and Chairman of the NBRPA Board, Bob Elliott, was roaming the Arizona courts on his way to a great college and NBA career. Joining my parents and seeing my Dad's joy at the Wildcats 1988 Final Four was something I will always remember.

As for my own basketball fandom, I was, and for 50 years, have always been a Wisconsin Badger! When I was growing up in Appleton, I used to close my door on Badger basketball game nights, dream about someday playing for the Cardinal and White, throw a bundled sock against the wall trying to emulate an important game-winning free throw, and of course keeping every UW box score. Names of Badgers of the past like Claude "Stretch" Gregory, Kim and Kerry Hughes, and Wes Matthews Sr will always remain part of my memory. My sons Justin and Steven both attend(ed) UW and, like me, cheer hard for our beloved Badgers.

So a few weeks ago when the NCAA Tournament bracket was announced, I saw the real possibility of a Wisconsin-Arizona match-up in the Elite 8 round, with the winner going to the Final Four. Both teams had a tough road, but finally  the dream match-up was upon us this past Saturday in Anaheim.

So as I went to bed Friday night I truly couldn't wait until the next day. I was admittedly nervous Saturday until I happened upon a story on written by well known writer Rick Reilly. Rick wrote about Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan's own father who passed this summer and that Saturday would have been his 90th birthday. Like my own Dad Jack, Coach Ryan's father was always at his side, always encouraging him and always talking basketball.

Upon reading Reilly's article, I just had a feeling something special was about to happen. I knew my Tucson part of the family was dreaming of an Arizona win and Final Four; for me I so badly wanted my beloved Badgers to reward Coach Ryan (and his Dad) with his 1st-ever Final Four trip as a participating coach!

Saturday night's game was one for the ages. Being superstitious, I started sitting on one side of the couch, moved to the other side after the poor Badgers start, eventually had to stand most of the 2nd half and overtime due to nerves, and finally tightly held my wife's hands as we both watched the last second Arizona shot not beat the time clock, ensuring the Wisconsin Badgers magical trip to Dallas in search for its first national championship in 73 years! After the horn sounded, I must admit that some tears of happiness were shed in my household up north as we jumped up and down with excitement, and undoubtedly a few tears of sadness were shed in my family's Arizona homes.

And through it all, I could only wonder what my Dad might be thinking up above. I know this: he was most definitely watching, probably with his favorite popcorn in hand, and cheering on his 2 favorite teams. What I wouldn't have given to have my Dad with me last Saturday night just like old times! So at the end, was he cheering for the white-clad Wildcats or the Red-clad Badgers? I guess no one but him will ever know, but I have to admit that his son said a few prayers which someone above thankfully granted! Dad, this weekend was for you, and whether a Badger or a Wlldcat, we all miss you dearly!