Savage Words: ‘It was the best game I’ve ever watched’

Tom A. Savage, Contributing writer

The packed house at Brandon Valley High School on Friday night cheered on a Special Olympics basketball game during halftime of the Lynx versus Yankton boys’ game.

My career took me to the NBA, but Friday was the best basketball I’ve ever watched

I’ve been lucky enough to work in the sports communications industry for my entire career. I started as the Sports Information Director at the University of Sioux Falls in 1993. Over the last 30-plus years, I’ve often thought there’s another guy out there with no luck at all, because I’ve got his and mine.

For nine of those 30-plus years, I worked for four different teams in the NBA and WNBA.

I was the Assistant Director of Public Relations for the Los Angeles Lakers where I watched Kobe and Shaq not like each other very much, but capture a load of wins together. As the Director of PR for the Seattle SuperSonics, I watched Ray Allen in awe when he poured in 54 points in a 122-114 win over the Utah Jazz on Jan. 12, 2007 at KeyArena in Seattle. I also spent every waking moment with a kid from the University of Texas who we drafted named Kevin Durant during his rookie season. I saw jaw-dropping performances from him as a teenager in Seattle and knew he was on to great things.

I certainly was fortunate to witness my share of NBA and WNBA games in my career. When I left the NBA to join a sports agency in Indianapolis to work in the NFL, Hoop Magazine did a story on NBA staffers who were leaving the league in pursuit of other opportunities. They asked me what was the most memorable basketball game I’d ever witnessed. 

I narrowed it down to two games. The first came in 1992 when I covered the Class B boys basketball tournament in Aberdeen for the Argus Leader. Harrold defeated unbeaten Warner 84-79 in the championship game behind an incredible fourth-quarter performance from Eric Lappe. To this day, it’s one of the greatest performances I’ve ever witnessed.

The second came in the 1998 WNBA Finals. I was the PR Director for the Houston Comets of the WNBA, and that team went 27-3 during the regular season, still the highest regular-season winning percentage in NBA or WNBA history. However, the Comets lost Game 1 in the three-game series in the Finals and were on the ropes. They trailed the Phoenix Mercury late in the second half of Game 2 and were on the brink of being eliminated. But Cynthia Cooper, still the greatest women’s basketball player of all-time in my opinion, put on one of the greatest single-game performances and willed Houston to an overtime victory. Houston went on to win Game 3 and the championship.

Those two games will always hold a special place in my heart, and I think of them often as I reflect on my career.

But they were surpassed Friday night.

At halftime of the Brandon Valley and Yankton boys’ basketball game, the Brandon Valley Special Olympics team took to the floor for a five-minute scrimmage. 

But honestly, I didn’t pay it much mind when the 10 players took to the floor as the Lynx and Bucks made their way to the locker room for halftime. I opened my laptop and began firing away on my keyboard to complete some other work as the Special Olympians began their scrimmage.

But about 20 seconds into their game, the crowd of more than 1,000 that packed Brandon Valley High School roared when a Special Olympian hit a basket.

It got my attention, and I lowered my laptop to soak it in. 

I sat in amazement as these 10 athletes ran up-and-down the floor with smiles that lit up the court. The pep band never stopped playing, the Brandon Valley cheerleaders went through a series of cheers and never stopped cheering. The crowd stood, cheered, and hung on to every possession.

There were missed shots, flagrant traveling and double dribble violations. There were players who had shoes fly off midway through their trot down the court, and the multiple three-second violations were glaring. But none of it mattered. Every situation…EVERY situation, was met with a smile that beamed from the participants, and never a whistle was blown, as it should have been.

I remember sitting there wondering how I could capture the energy that was in that gym Friday night, and put it on paper.  

I knew I couldn’t.

I had a lump in my throat as I sat and watched these 10 athletes show off their skills with a smile and unbridled enthusiasm that I’d never seen in the thousands of games I’d witnessed prior.

It inspired me. Inspired me to appreciate and soak in unbridled enthusiasm in every form. I thought to myself that Allen’s 54-point outburst, or Kobe’s incredible talent to get to the rim, or Lappe’s fourth-quarter performance 32 years ago in Aberdeen, or Cooper’s gutsy comeback in 1998 never made me smile like those 10 kids did Friday night in Brandon.

When the Special Olympians took to the court on Friday, I reminded myself how lucky I was. Lucky because I didn’t have to deal with what was surely more than one difficult situation over the past several years for the parents of those 10 athletes. No doubt they’ve encountered challenges I’ll never know.

I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but it eventually dawned on me – after five minutes of the greatest basketball I’d ever witnessed – that those parents were actually the lucky ones.




The Brandon Valley Journal


The Brandon Valley Journal
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