A Legend is Born

Today the Lee Men (except for my son Cooper and my Uncle Donny) traveled to Bloomington, Indiana for Fan Appreciation Day, along with the annual Cream and Crimson Football Scrimmage. It is a good day to relax, enjoy the weather, and take in all that Indiana University has to offer. What we experienced inside the Mellencamp Pavilion, where the Appreciation Day festivities took place, was a moment that will never make headlines in your morning paper, but shows that sports legends are not always erected in stone based upon their performance on the court. Sometimes their actions transcends their athletic accomplishments.

My brother and I decided to stand in line to meet the Men's Basketball Coach at Indiana, so that we could snap a few photos and provide a few words of encouragement after a difficult 2008-2009 campaign that managed only six victories all season. However, my father had different intentions. He was waiting in line with hopes that Coach Crean would autograph a shirt or poster for his ailing brother. My uncle is suffering from cancer in the worst way imaginable with no clear signs of improvement ahead. My uncle Donny is the biggest basketball fan I have ever known and the Hoosiers are his passion.

As we inched closer to Coach Crean, I remember glancing at my watch realizing we had waited in line for nearly 30-minutes. However, I was grateful because those individuals that made up the back of the line now were three times further away from where the line ended when we had first begun. As we stepped up to meet with Coach Crean, an assistant promptly collected our camera to snap a photo as soon as everyone was ready. My dad greeted him first as my brother and I conversed about a random topic - probably the state of global warming in Antarctica or Lindsay Lohan's new flame - I don't know...really important stuff though. I just know we were not paying close attention at first to the conversation unraveling between my dad and the Coach. He signed a poster for my Uncle and then what followed were circumstances and actions that myths are made of....

I heard Coach Crean state his sympathy for what our family must be going through and while he was signing the poster asked what my Uncle Donny was ailing over? My father simple stated...cancer and without hesitation the Men's Basketball Coach at Indiana University asked my father his permission to give my Uncle Donny a phone call....right there....right then....on his own....without....request.....while a line nearly an hour long waited for 10 seconds of his time. A simple autograph was good enough for my dad, but it wasn't good enough for Coach Crean.

My father replied with the obvious, as Coach Crean pulled his own cell phone from his pocket. As my dad rattled off the number, my brother and I stood in line behind my father as Coach Crean made this announcement to those waiting in the immediate vicinity....

'I want everyone to be patient. Hang with us. This man's brother is sick. We are going to give him a call and provide some encouragement.'

I stood..............................silent and in amazement.

As my aunt picked up the phone I heard Coach introduce himself....a pause...."Would it be okay if you woke him up so I could speak with him?" I'm not sure what the conversation entailed as my Uncle came on the line, but I did hear Coach Crean's parting words which as he finished the two to three minute conversation..."I hope we get the chance to speak in person some day Herb. Take care." He turned to my father and told him, "Your brother wants to talk to you." I'm not sure what those two rarely emotional men talked about, but whatever it was it involved tears on both ends. Which in our family is not an all too familiar site.

I stood..........................................silent and in awe.

Others around us stood.......................silent and in awe.

My brother and father stood....................silent and in awe.

And Coach Crean put his arm around my father and simply stated, "I wish I could do more." With that I think we took a picture and left. It was a blur for the next few minutes I have to admit.

Those moments do not happen often in life, but when they do they are golden. I have to admit, I have a new favorite hero in life and his name is Tom Crean. My last hero has held onto the title for nearly five years now, but I'm sure even Jack Bauer (from '24') wouldn't balk at the switch given the circumstances. The funny thing is Coach Crean's advancement on the list has nothing to do with basketball, rather it has everything to do with his character.

I'll end this long entry with the haunting phrase that the Men's Basketball Coach at Indiana University wrote on that poster during Fan Appreciation Day dedicated to my Uncle Donny:


Don't ever quit fighting. Tom Crean



ginmommy said...

Tears are flowing from my eyes......

danraymac said...

what an amazing story. my respect for coach crean grows everytime i have any contact with him. this story just solidifies the feelings. he is truly a man of great character and compassion. what a huge impact he has made to iu and the people that he touches.

Go Hoosiers!

Daniel McAfee

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