Christmas stories: A Sooner's ornery roots, the power of a gift bat and the race a Cowboy longed to run
COMMENTARY — For the 17th year consecutive year, The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel unearths four Christmas stories for the sports fan's soul.
A Christmas story, circa 1970: The house always was wild on Christmas. Six kids, what would you expect?
But it also was a celebration. The dad, particularly, cherished certain aspects of Christmas. He had an antique ornament collection that didn't sit in a box; the decorations hung from the family Christmas tree.
Trouble was, one of the boys got a dart gun for Christmas. You can only shoot at your siblings or the wall for so long.
Eventually, that tree became too tempting. Those antique ornaments became targets.
Sure enough, the kid was a marksman. He shattered one of the antiques, and the normally-accommodating dad got after his sharpshooter pretty good.
All these years later, time has clouded the memory of our marksman. He doesn't remember if he had accomplices, though he usually did.
Maybe that's where the ornery reputation began for Mike Stoops.
A Christmas story, 1968: Lewis was glad to be back in his hometown. He didn't get to go home too often. Basketball had taken him far away.
But the famed Holiday Festival Tournament brought him home Christmas week, and it meant Lewis could see family and friends.
He had been home before to play hoops, but it was a short trip. And there had been the usual pressure to perform well in front of the home folks.
This was different. This was a four-day tournament, and Lewis got to be home for Christmas.
But he was no returning hero. Lewis drew boos and cutting remarks, some racial, from the crowd. He had somehow grown into a villain.
“Anywhere we play, we get the same kind of racial crap,” said Kenny Heitz, a four-year teammate.
Lewis seemed unaffected by the treatment. Seemed at peace with himself for the first time in a long while. Signed autographs for kids.
But you have to wonder if becoming a stranger in his own land, New York City, helped build a shell that never has appeared to crack in the man who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
A Christmas story, 1950s: Rodney grew up in Panama, right next to the canal. He was born in a segregated railroad car while his mother tried to get to a good hospital in Ancon. A doctor was on board and helped with the delivery. The mother named Rodney after the doctor.
Rodney grew up in the black section of town, in a Spartan apartment. But the streets were spacious and clean, compared to what he would find in New York City when he relocated at age 15. People would sit on the streets and listen to World Series games on the radio. Some men would keep score and the lineups on a big blackboard. Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers were Panama's heroes.
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