Did I ever tell you about that time I met TJ Ford?
It was the start of my freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin, and I was living in the prison known as Jester East dormitory.
Of course, five months earlier, TJ had been named the Naismith College Player of the Year. Three months earlier, TJ had been drafted 8th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. This guy had just put UT basketball on the map and carried the Longhorns to the Final Four, in spite of the coaching from Rick Barnes, but that’s a story for another time.
Anyway, I’m in my room on the 8th floor when my good friend, Simon, called me up excitedly and told me that he just saw TJ Ford.
So what had happened was Simon decided to be a jerk and take the elevator to the 3rd floor, and all of a sudden, TJ stepped into the elevator as well. Those few seconds standing next to Mr. Ford probably already made the top-10 list of Simy’s life, but then they both exited the double doors together, and TJ asked for a swipe to enter into the hallway.
Simon obliged and ended up going into stealth mode as he stalked TJ down the corridor and saw which room he entered. He then squeaked away into his room and phoned me pronto. After chuckling at his anecdote and talking ourselves into being courageous, we grabbed two new UT wristbands and walked the carpeted mile to the closed door behind which TJ Ford was chillin’ with a buddy.
Finally we knocked on the door. An unknown fellow opened the door, and the conversation went something like this:
Fellow: Sup.It was at about this point where either the stranger might’ve shifted his head or made some other inadvertent gesture that Simon and I interpreted as an invitation, but either way, we walked into the room and asked TJ for a couple autographs.
Me: Hey man... is TJ in there?
Fellow: …yeah... how did you know...?
TJ (from inside the room): Who’s there?
My biggest pet peeve about professional athletes is when they become so egotistical that they lose touch with reality... to the point where they don’t know or care to connect with people. It irks me because when I think about what I would be like if I were in their shoes, I’d try to remain as down-to-earth as possible. What’s a few seconds of time to take a picture or give an autograph if it’s going to make a fan’s day?
So it was at that moment, shooting the breeze and getting signatures from TJ Ford in a random guy’s dorm room, when I became a fan of the 6-foot point guard. I rooted for him when he played his heart out for the Milwaukee Bucks. I cheered for him when he entrenched himself as a fan favorite on the Toronto Raptors. I winced for him when he laid motionless on the court after a hard foul from Al Horford. I hoped for him when he tried to revive his career on the Indiana Pacers. And now, I applaud for him as he retires from the NBA. Hook ‘em, Horns.