I took my 4-year-old son to his first basketball game earlier this year. It was a Butler game, at Hinkle Fieldhouse, and I may have murdered his love of my favorite sport.
Not intentionally, of course. It’s just that I grew up in that gym, enamored with basketball and everything about it — I desperately wanted the same for him. So what did I do? Why, I ferociously pointed out EVERYTHING I thought he should be loving about the game and the building & anything else that caught my fancy, of course! All in a horrifying 75-minute run-on sentence that only a grizzled old speed freak could possibly comprehend. I had somehow morphed into Max Headroom, Basketball Historian — and he wanted to go home by halftime. We did.
In hindsight, it was a feeble attempt at a fixed marriage, all forced & unnatural. And as history has shown, fixed marriages — much like fog-free shaving mirrors or Communism — do not work. I should have known better.
Fast forward five months to yesterday, when I took my son to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for his first visit – but not to indoctrinate him into the sport. No, that would be tacky and obnoxious and reflective of bad parenting, and I am none of those things (anymore). Of course, I’m also not a passionate auto racing expert well-versed in the mystique of IMS. Quite the opposite, really; I grew up having never been there. I know the BASICS, though. Kind of. I also know of people with an irrational love of The Speedway. I never understood how that could be, really, although I’d not given it much thought. Until yesterday. When I saw firsthand how that place can quickly and effortlessly sear itself into one’s psyche.
Because when it comes right down to it, few things capture the attention of a 4-year-old boy like the screaming chaos of a cruise missile with wheels. It is everything they’ve ever wanted from life, and there are few subtleties to it. There’s even less complicity: Go fast … try not to blow up ... then do it again, preferably FASTER. This wasn’t like watching the intricate nuances of finding the gaps in a 2-3 zone, for example. This was infinitely more understandable and exciting and loud. (And as I learned, that there is the Holy Trinity within Our Blessed Church of the Toddler — our communion that day consisting of popcorn & Mr. Pibb, I was sitting next to an awestruck Believer.)
We sat in the grandstands hardly saying anything, with him intently watching the cars, me intently watching him. And while that sounds a bit more corny/melodramatic than I’d prefer, it’s the truth. We were both entirely fascinated, but for entirely different reasons.
He was seeing something he could hardly believe was real, and so was I for that matter. Because experiencing that with him was to experience The Speedway in its absolute purest form, just as I never had. This wasn’t about beer bongs in the infield or Carb Day debauchery or other such wonderful nonsense that I once assumed was the allure of the place. He had found his own Hinkle Fieldhouse — which meant I had found a new one too. Perhaps he and I won’t share basketball there, but rather popcorn and Mr. Pibb and fond memories of yesterday.
And as we left to go home — this time at MY urging — he asked that we drive slowly through the tunnel leading out to Georgetown Road and wait for the cars to roar by overhead.
“I just want to hear it one more time,” he said.
(This originally appeared on May 20, 2010 on NBCSports.com. That 4-year-old boy above is now basically 27 or 28. Or so it feels.)