By the time I was old enough to remember any of them, my dad and I stopped going on vacations together. We didn’t stop traveling-far from it. We just realized that vacations were the opposite of how we wanted to spend our time. A vacation is relaxing. A vacation is the futile embrace of nothingness. A vacation, to us, is boring. So, instead of vacationing, a few times a year we would pack our bags and turn into basketball barnstormers. In place of short shorts and dirty finger rolls, we brought secondhand tickets and sweaters.
My dad, Fred, set a goal when I was about 13 to see a game at every NBA arena by the time I graduated from high school. It was a little ambitious. I’m a year away from college graduation now, and we still have five cities left: Portland, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Toronto.
We’ve rarely visited a city for more than 36 hours, and during those hours there’s as little downtime as possible. To outsiders, it’s slightly insane.
There are two kinds of trips. Sometimes we fly into a city during the afternoon, grab dinner at a local place he thinks I spent weeks researching when really I just checked my phone for something with a few stars in the near vicinity, head to a game that night, and fly out first thing in the morning. Other times we get there late at night, explore the city a bit during the day, and then start the regular afternoon routine. Or, we forget both that it’s daylight savings time and that we are flying to Arizona where daylight savings time isn’t a thing, realize when we’re checking in at the airport that our flight has already landed without us, finagle our way onto another one, and somehow arrive in our seats in downtown Phoenix before halftime.
There was the time we saw the Space Needle for five minutes. With a few hours to kill before a Sonics game, we rode up the elevator, did a lap around the concourse, nodded affirmatively, noting we’d seen everything, and asked an attendant when the next elevator was coming. He shot us a confused and somewhat disappointed look. The elevators only ran every 20 minutes. We asked if there were stairs. There weren’t.
I have no idea if my dad liked basketball before I was born. If he didn’t, he doesn’t show it. Basketball is my favorite thing in the world-it’s an obsession unmatched at times by friends or family or my real life. Any time I wanted to play, my dad would come outside and rebound shots or challenge me to one-on-one.
As I got older, he’d drive me hours across Texas to games wherein I might only log single-digit minutes. When I could drive myself, he’d still be there, sitting or standing in the corner of the bleachers, watching calmly with a smile. He rarely missed a game. If it ever looked like he might not be there because of work, he made sure to look into every possible flight that would get him home in time for tip-off.
Despite all of this, my dad and I don’t talk much. My last 100 text messages to him are some variation of “Okay cool, sounds good to me.” The 100 before that look pretty similar.
We don’t have silent trips. He’ll ask me about the Eastern Conference playoff race, my grades, how Kevin Durant is doing, then my grades, colleges I was interested in, the grades I’d need to get into them, classes I’m taking, and my grades in those classes. But, through 21 years together, there are few conversations with my dad that I can remember. We’ve never been like that. My dad’s only ever found out I was dating someone because she told him about it. It’s not my style to share, and it’s not his to ask.
Maybe we don’t need that, though. I can’t remember anything we said, but there are some moments with my dad I know I’ll never forget. Our sinking disappointment surrounded in a crowd of newly befriended Memphis fans as Kansas’ Mario Chalmers hit a dagger 3-pointer at the 2008 Final Four. The anticipation as the referees spent seven minutes reviewing Patrick Sparks’ buzzer-beater at the Elite Eight in Austin between Kentucky and Michigan State in 2005. The hundreds of games we’ve been to, and how, inevitably, by the end of the first quarter he’ll be holding a beer and a salt-free pretzel, with a grin tucked underneath his cap.
And that, even though I toggled between being the second- or third-string point guard on a decent at best team, he was there for my high school senior night and couldn’t have looked more proud.
I didn’t play much in that game, and I left the gym pissed off even though we’d won. My dad was waiting for me in the kitchen when I got home. He let me vent for a bit, he told me he loved me, that he was going to miss watching me play, and then he left me alone because he knew that’s what I wanted.
So, maybe we don’t have to talk. We have basketball, and we have those memories, and that’s more than enough.