We started so many spring weeks ago with a list of 52 NBA father/son combinations and through a series of contentiously competitive and occasionally antagonistic two-on-two battles, we’ve arrived here in mid-April with a list of eight families that we’ll be chopped in half by the end of this post. We always knew we’d arrive here, but there’s still a surreal element to it; the Final Four of Fathers & Sons. If this is your first time joining us, we welcome you with the open arms of loving fathers. And if you’ve been following the tournament since day one, welcome back, take a seat, enjoy yourself and let your imagination take you on a journey to neverlands and alternate basketball universes where everyone’s frozen at their peak in a basketball stasis of sorts.
The first matchup today is brought to you by Hamilton (@rh_asme), who was the best man in my wedding and as a 5’11” (maybe 6’0” on a good day) shooting guard dropped nine threes against North High School in his senior year:
Rick/Brent Barry (1-seed) vs. Rick/Jon Barry (2-seed): (total disclosure: in this neverland I described above, Rick Barry can exist on multiple teams at the same time. That’s the beauty of this tournament and universe—we know very few constraints. And as you read this, if you find it difficult to figure out which Rick Barry’s being discussed, just imagine how hard it was for Jon and Brent in the game):
Rick and Jon advanced by beating the 6th seeded Bibbys in round two. They’ve had a better on-court relationship than Rick (we’ll call him Barry, for clarity’s sake) and Brent because Brent wants to get his shine on too, while Jon, always a daddy’s boy, has allowed Rick hog the glory. Brent and Barry got here by defeating Kevin and Stan Love in a fun, insult-laden game that saw Barry go for 19 of 21 points.
The prevailing thought going into this game was that the Jon versus Brent matchup would be crucial. To some extent, the Ricks could cancel each other out. All four players knew some version of this was true.
Just before tip, the teams went over final strategy. “Look,” Barry said to Brent, “you’ve always been my favorite son. Jon … he’s just so damn judgmental. I don’t know where he gets it from … All you gotta do is play Barry ball and we got this game.” Meanwhile on the other side, “Brent’s soft. He might have dunked from the free throw line and won a couple rings, but you!? You’re an asshole and you’re my favorite son. That’s what we do! You follow my lead, and we’re moving on.”
Brent and Barry were awarded the ball first. Rick checked the ball to Barry and said, “You know something, you’re a really pretty guy … Real cute. But you’re not getting a damn thing on me today.” Barry being Rick Barry, had to come back at him, “That’s the thing. I won’t have to. You got the weak link on your team. Everyone knows Brent plays more like me than Jon does. Jon’s a scrub. Drew is better.” Barry passed to Brent and tried to go back door. It failed as Rick was in perfect position to recover and cut off the passing lane. Brent, intent on keeping his dad happy, took a couple dribbles and found Barry for an open jumper. Good. Brent and Barry on the board first.
Brent checked the ball to Jon and gave him a half step of space. He knew if Jon got by him, Barry wouldn’t slide over to help. He’d rather verbally abuse a teammate than help out and risk leaving his man open. Jon tossed the ball to his dad who had gotten good post position on Barry and cut to the basket. Rick dropped a quick bounce pass, but Barry got a hand on it and came away with a steal. It was becoming evident that the Ricks were indeed going to make it hard for each other to get comfortable on offense.
Much to the Rick Barrys disgust, neither one could shake the other. “If you weren’t so damn handsome, I’d put trademarks around your fucking eyes. I’m so tired of seeing you right in front of me every time I get the ball,” Barry remarked to Rick. “I told you a long time ago, fella. I’m the greatest Barry. I’m the one who taught the fish how to swim,” Rick arrogantly replied.
Back and forth the game went for several possessions. This, after all, was a 2-on-2 game that had occurred countless times in the past. Each Barry had a good idea of what the other Barry was thinking, what he might do next, where he liked to shoot from and how his shots would likely come off the rim. Brent was more than a spectator tonight. Following Barry’s jumper to open the game, Brent accounted for 10 of his side’s next 16 points going 2-3 from three and 2-4 on twos. Jon for his part scored 8 early points before a visibly frustrated Rick began to force the issue.
Crisis of Being
Down 18-14, Rick called for a ball screen. Once Jon was set, Rick took one dribble, stepped back and let fly. All net. Not even Barry could believe that Rick had taken, and made, that shot. The score now was 18-17, Brent and Barry in the lead.
Barry, eager to respond took a pass from Brent and drove to the lane. As Jon collapsed to help, something odd happened. Rick Barry passed the ball in a big moment. A chance to respond to himself, to his own ego, and he passed the ball. From under the rim he found Brent all alone at the top of the key. Brent elevated, his form was true, and so was the shot. Straight cash. Brent and Rick won, 21-17. Barry looked at Rick and shrugged his shoulders, “What did I tell you before the game? Jon isn’t that good. If there was ever a question about which Barry son was better, this settles it.”
Brent and Jon shared a roll of the eyes and gave each other a hug. “You know what?” Brent asked, “They don’t even realize my team won the game because dad got me the ball; let me shoot. It feels better than I imagined it would.”
The final stats: Brent Barry: 2-4, 3-4, 13 Rick Barry: 1-3, 2-4, 8; Jon Barry 3-4, 0-1, 6; Rick Barry 1-4, 3-7, 11
Glory be to the Brent and Rick Barrys; the first Final Four qualifier in the father/son tournament. The next matchup was witnessed (or imagined, I’m not sure) by Bug (@bugfoster515). Bug was a 6’0” wing and the best defender on our 1997-98 high school team that went 23-1 and lost the state championship on a whistle at the buzzer. If it feels like I’m living in the past, then it must be true.
It’s no surprise that the top-seeded Bryants made it to the final game of their own quadrant. It’s been a relatively easy path for them to advance to this point in the tournament. They’ve steamrolled both the Davis duo and the Maravich crew to arrive at a showdown with the Rivers’ with a trip to the Final Four of the Father/Son Tourney on the line. The Rivers’, on the other hand, have had to scrap and claw their way to this point by battling through huge size disadvantages against the Horfords and Ewings.
The Rivers’ know they have a tall order dealing with Kobe, so Doc wants to make sure they get to the game a little early to go over strategy to at least try and slow down Kobe. As they get out of the car to make their way to the courts, they’re so focused on their strategic conversation that they don’t notice the small crowd already surrounding the court. As they get closer, Doc notices that Austin isn’t paying attention to him anymore. Instead he’s watching Kobe, who is already on the court dripping with sweat; the young Rivers has a deer in headlights look on his face. Doc sees what’s going on, and tries to re-focus Austin, but the damage is already done (word quickly spread that Kobe had been there since 6am putting up shots). Austin is shook, and Kobe can sense it.
As the game starts, Kobe is in his zone, right in Austin’s ear from the jump. Joe Bryant mumbles to Doc as he checks the ball “ooh wee, y’all in trouble today.” Not only did Kobe relish the challenge of shutting down the younger Rivers, he completely humiliated the kid and figuratively ripped out his heart (think of that scene in Temple of Doom). With Austin unable to get off against Kobe, the Rivers’ just didn’t have enough scoring punch to keep up. Austin’s confidence was completely shattered early on, and Kobe delivered the death blow by going on a 13-0 run all by himself to close out the game. The Bryants dominated 21-6 with Kobe scoring 19 of the 21 points. Austin, meet Mamba…Mamba, this is Austin.
The next matchup is all mine. In case you’re wondering, I’ve always been an undersized “big” at 6’1”. In translation, that means I was just above average height but highly average skill. My game has often been referred to as “old man” in nature and the older/heavier I’ve become, it’s become an older, more horizontal game.
I don’t know where to begin with this matchup. In boxing, we say styles make fights and if there was ever a stylistic contrast, it was here where the gritty streets of Detroit meet the sprawling sandy beaches of the California coast. The black Walker/Rose vs. the white Waltons. The street game vs. the gym game. Freewheeling Fab Five vs. hyper-structured UCLA. Father/son strife vs. Father/son cohesion. But for all the contrasts between these dads and their sons, the uniting features of both teams are their innate feels for the game. Rose and Luke Walton are, and have always been, tremendous passers with 360 degrees of vision. Walker was a scorer extraordinaire while Walton combined an earthy feel of all things with a scholar’s understanding of the fundamentals and nuance of the game. For all of Jalen’s chatterbox tendencies, he’s locked in and focused from the opening check-ball of this one with Luke guarding him. The Waltons, with John Wooden and Jerry Garcia acting as their spiritual and basketball yogis on the sideline, have decided to take a fully democratic approach to defense and guard whoever’s closest with no static matchups. The quickness, as Wooden discussed with the Waltons beforehand, was going to be a mismatch for father or son so the strategy was to give a slight cushion on 3s, but let Walker/Rose shoot the mid-range jumpers all day.
And it began with the seriousness of a heavyweight fight. The Bryants and Barrys (all four of them) sat in the stands watching while Wooden calmly asked Garcia to stop playing his guitar and “please Jerry, focus on the game.” The teams traded haymakers and blows. With every layup Jalen and Jimmy put in, the Waltons looked inside to Bill whose long red locks bounced with his drop steps and jump hooks, up and unders and lobs. It wasn’t a lack of effort on the defensive end by either team, it was just terrible matchups. Luke was easily the least-talented player in the game, but despite fans heckling him and accusing him of riding his dad’s coattails, he played his secondary role with seriousness and passion, cutting at the right times for easy layups on passes from pops and busted his ass on defense where Walker/Rose continually abused his slow feet.
The fans, even the father/son combos in the stands, were worn out from this marathon matchup that sat at 23-22 in favor of the Waltons (reminder: games are to 21, win by two or first to 25) with the ball in the hands of Walker/Rose. The Waltons knowingly defended the three ball, willing to cede any penetration. Luke was matched up with Jimmy who wasted no time attacking the young Walton with a quick inside-out move that shook Luke off balance and forced Garcia to cringe (“whoa man!”). The lane was wide open for a layup and Bill refused to help off Jalen (this had been Jimmy’s goal), but Jimmy passed on the layup and sprinted out to the far corner (Jalen and Bill were at the top of the key) as Luke chased after him. Bill turned to body Jalen and Jimmy let it fly …
The shot was just long, but Luke was soaring through the air to contest and was out of position for the rebound which fell in Jimmy’s hands. Bill instinctively took a couple steps away from Jalen to help, Wooden squinted nervously at the bit of daylight given to Jalen. Everyone saw it unfolding, the Walker pass zipping through the air, Jalen stepping into his shot just as the ball arrived, Luke swinging his backside into Jimmy in a textbook box out, Bill extending that impossibly long frame, hand and fingers outstretched attempting for all the world to disturb the Jalen’s concentration, a flock of birds flying overhead paused in midflight, hovering over the court to watch Jalen’s lefty release just a tic before Bill’s arrival, Jerry Garcia’s slow disintegration …
And splash … the net caught fire and the Waltons hung their heads. Jimmy and Jalen nodded at each other cooly. The long ice age of their relationship still unthawed. Congratulating each other, Bill embraced Jimmy and whispered in his ear: “You got a good kid there, don’t be afraid to tell him you love him.”
Walker/Rose 25, Waltons 23
The final battle is covered by the west coast’s own Jacob Greenberg (@jacobjbg). I don’t know what Jacob’s basketball game consists of, but I do know he’s one of my favorite bloggers on the planet and is not prone to trite platitudes or thoughts.
For the first time in the tournament, the Schayes were confronted with size to match their skill sets. Both Dolph and Klay are 6’7” combo scorers, while Danny (6’11”) matched up nicely against Mychal (6’10”). As such, the crowd was treated to one of the more balanced and enjoyable 2-on-2 matchups this side of the Mississippi. While the pivot battle between Danny Schayes and Mychal Thompson was entertaining, the real show was Dolph vs Klay. Where Dolph played inside-out — backing up to the basket and stepping back for jumpers, or foot-workin’ for up-and-unders — Klay played outside-in. the teams traded baskets until 20-20. Win by 2! At this point, it was the modern team’s game. After Mychal rebounded a short lefty hook from Danny (who had a respectable game, 9 points and 16 rebounds) and kicked it out to Klay from behind the arc, everyone knew it was over. Silky smooth jumper from Klay ends the instant classic 23-20 in favor of Mychal and Klay.
Man, I feel like I just lived through a war with these matchups. We’re down to a Final Four that consists of all #1 seeds and while the predictability of a top-heavy Final Four would normally cause me some sort of consternation, I’m extremely comfortable that the best teams are here and the matchups have been quality since the opening round. The tournament’s scheduled to wrap up this weekend so let’s all grab a couple beers and ruminate on the battles to come.
You know who I’m pulling for.
Oh I know. The funny thing is … I have no idea who’s going to win. I sat down to write the Walton/Rose-Walker matchup and I thought the Waltons would win. But as I dug in and wrote out that final scene, the whole play just unfolded in front of me without any actual intent in mind from my writing hands or mind.
To that point, I can honestly say I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen in these next few matchups. Bryants vs. Walker-Rose and Thompsons vs. Barrys. So many matchups to consider. So many scenarios. So many possibilities.