Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nice to Meet You #11 - Jack Sikma

When you attend a Division III school, there aren’t going to be a whole lot of insanely famous athlete alumni to brag about. My university, Illinois Wesleyan, was lucky enough to have one, but boy was he a doozy.

In the trophy case at the Shirk Center en route to the recreational basketball courts, there’s a yellowing vintage Seattle SuperSonics jersey with the number 43 plastered across the front in a somewhat discordant combination of yellow and kelly green. You can’t see the back, but it reads “Sikma” in a block font curling in an arch over the numbers. The first name that accompanies “Sikma” is, of course, “Jack,” a former NBA All-Star and IWU alum.

As a lifelong NBA fan, I know my stuff when it comes to basketball that was played before I was born, so I’m fully aware of how good this guy was. It helped too that he played his high school ball at one of the school’s in my alma mater’s conference, so I’ve been hearing about how legendary this guy is my whole life.

That’s why it was such an honor to finally meet him.

Nowadays he’s an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets, his primary function being to help turn Yao Ming into a respectable NBA center. I guess it’s sort of working, but any shortcomings by the famous Chinese center are no fault of Sikma’s. Yao’s just soft, that’s all.

But in introducing myself at a 2008 Bulls game as a fellow IWU grad, I found Sikma to return the handshake with genuine kindness. That may not sound like much, but when I’ve introduced myself to other former NBA legends currently acting as assistant coaches (cough—Patrick Ewing—cough, cough), I haven’t been greeted quite so warmly.

They say we Wesleyanites are particularly intelligent, and I see no real evidence to prove otherwise, so I wasn’t surprised to find my conversation with Mr. Sikma to be an extremely cerebral one. He talks about basketball like it’s physics or something, raining down deep sports philosophies with loquacious phrasings and poetic flair. Nice and smart. He’ll find himself an eligible lady in no time with qualities like that.

I thought my one meeting with Sikma would be the end of my experience with the legend, but when the Rockets came through the United Center again this year I re-introduced myself and he actually remembered me. Turns out he found the magazine piece I wrote on him to be especially flattering, so he took a minute to introduce me to his brother (another Wesleyan grad) and a couple other friends from his college days. Had a great little conversation that reminded me how great it is to be in the IWU Bubble.

Three full seasons into doing the basketball thing, visiting players and coaches are starting to remember me when they come back. It’s just a matter of repetition. But to have a guy I respect so much remember me was pretty flattering. I can’t stand the Houston Rockets, but I always check that game off on my calendar hoping to bump into my Wesleyan Idol again.

To read the 2008 piece I wrote about my meeting with Sikma for the Illinois Wesleyan alumni magazine, click HERE.

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