The story's not very exciting, but I want to tell it anyway because it's funny. It's more of another example of the kind of people my father co-mingles with, and why I have always tried to avoid him and them.
First, some basketball information that's germane to the whole deal: Here in Memphis, the Grizzlies have made it to the NBA Western Conference Finals, where they play the San Antonio Spurs. The winner of the seven-game series gets to play in the NBA Finals, most likely against LeBron James and the World champion Miami Heat. Game 1 of the Memphis-San Antonio series was Sunday afternoon. Being a moderate basketball fan and having a wife who's a big Griz fan, I knew of the Grizzlies when I moved down here, but they've found a higher realm of success ever since I arrived, which has to be correlative, of course. This is the farthest the franchise has ever gone, and two years ago, they beat the Spurs in the playoffs, so the city is quite hyped, anticipating more success and a possible meeting with LeBron and company. But I have heard of most of the players, and I guess that makes me more knowledgeable about the team than the average person.
So my dad left a voice mail Sunday while I'm working, and there's a female on the line with him. "I got someone here who wants to ask you about someone on the basketball team down there," my dad growled, and then the woman, who sounded cheery and middle aged, started in. "Hi there!" she said. "My nephew's son is Tony Allen, and he plays basketball for the Memphis...uh...Grizzly?" I was already rolling my eyes at the fact that she could barely spit out the correct team name, meaning she probably doesn't know Allen all that well. But I believed she was a relative because I know enough about Allen to know that he's indeed from a rough Chicago neighborhood. She went on to say, well, a bunch of stuff thinly connected to each other, intoning that she believes she'll be invited to Allen's upcoming wedding and that she might want to visit Memphis before then. My dad chimed in, "Yeah son, we might come down there." I honestly don't know how I was supposed to react to this or what I was supposed to do about it, but I went back to work with the intention of calling my dad back later to explain to him that just because I'm from Chicago and live in Memphis and Allen's from Chicago and plays for Memphis doesn't mean that we have ever met or that I could add any insight about him.
I called my dad Sunday evening, and told him just that, and he seemed to understand that I have nothing in terms of information about Allen or his wedding, which I had heard nothing about before this woman's voice mail. Then, right as it sounded like my dad was going to hang up, he got the idea to three-way call this woman so that she could get the straight dope from me. I thought this was not a good idea because I anticipated doing nothing but disappointing this woman, who seemed very eager to find an "in" to Allen, something I didn't have. But I hung in there while my dad rang her up, and she was very happy to hear from me, as if an appliance of hers broke down and she called a repairman on voice mail and the repairman was actually calling her back with all the answers. She repeated her story about her nephew's son being Tony Allen and playing for the "Grizzly," then she showed her hand by breathlessly stating, "And I heard he's a millionaire!" I told her that I'm sure he is, since he's been playing in the NBA for about eight years, and while he's not a big star, he's a solid role player who probably makes about two or three million dollars per year. She then kept adding layers to the narrative that showed how distant she really is from Allen, such as she's not close with her nephew's part of the family, and she hasn't talked to Allen in years, and the speculation that she's going to be invited to Allen's wedding is just that. She then asked about the price of flying to Memphis, which is a high price due to the ban on discount airlines in Memphis because Memphis is a Delta hub (a ban which will be lifted this summer when Southwest Airlines comes in), then she went to an even lower level when she wondered if a different family member who works at O'Hare Airport as a government travel safety agent could get her some kind of discount. At that point I realized that I was dealing with a loser who latched on to my dad when she found out that his son lives in Memphis, thinking that this son could facilitate a connection to a rich pro athlete to whom she happens to be related. "Maybe we'll come in for like a weekend vacation!" she chirped. "How much are hotels?"
I got a good laugh out of the whole conversation once we hung up, but then I realized how many talks just like that must occur on a given day for an athlete. This is Tony Allen we're talking about, someone 99% of the world's never heard of. How many calls does LeBron field? Or Kobe Bryant, who's in court because just a couple of weeks ago his own damn mother tried to sell some of his memorabilia? How many North Carolina gap-toothed hilljacks have tried to contact Michael Jordan throughout the years? Some poor teenager tried to put out a YouTube video last year claiming that he's an illegitimate son of Jordan and that he didn't want money, just a father to care for him. Since no one puts out a YouTube video claiming to be a rich man's son without wanting money, the scheme quickly unraveled and it became clear that he wasn't Jordan's kid. But it was interesting to be on the receiving end of one of those calls. There was a sense of desperation in that woman's voice when she spoke to me, as if she was searching for some piece of glory that was way out of her reach, and that she was thrilled to think that I could provide a road map to that piece. It made me feel a little put upon, but nothing like what poor athletes who find themselves instantly rich must feel every single day. No wonder so many of them wind up broke, even after making tens of millions of dollars during their careers. There's a corollary in there about how many of us lined up at the Powerball windows this past weekend looking a piece of glory despite the unbelievable odds, and how it connects to some blonde chick on CNN tsk-tsking us for buying lottery tickets because her father taught her that the lottery is just "a tax on the poor." But I'm not intelligent enough to figure it all out. I bought lottery tickets too. So did my wife. We're still looking for that piece of glory.