André the Giant has been dead for 23 years. Here’s why I’ll never forget him…

Andre Giant

I went to a small school and we didn’t have a lot of resources. That meant the junior high basketball team had to wear uniforms from the mid-80s. If you know anything about pre-1988 basketball uniforms you know that they were…(how to put this?)…ball huggers.

Thankfully, wearing spandex beneath basketball shorts had become all of the rage. Thanks, MJ.

So picture a Junior High basketball team in a huddle wearing those shorts with Spandex sticking out a foot beneath the shorts.

I’m not sure why I’m writing about our shorts. Maybe it’s a sort of therapy trying to recover from a season of public humiliation. What I really want to write about is André the Giant.

If you were a boy in the 80s, you probably love WWF wrestling. When Mom wasn’t watching–she though WWF would rot your brain–I was a little Hulk-o-maniac. And everybody knew Andre the Giant, the Hulks arch nemesis. At 7’4″ and 52o-pounds, Andre was hard to miss.

When I was the starting point guard on the 8th grade basketball team, André the Giant died. Coach Stocksdale was a fan, and he wanted to honor André in some way.

My teammates called Coach Stocksdale “Kelsey’s Dad.” He wasn’t my dad. But he did pull me aside before a game and tell me that he wanted me to pretend that he was my dad. For some reason, he thought I played more aggressive and shot the ball more when my dad coached me in the off-season. Coach Stocksdale wanted me to shoot more and pass less. He thought I was the next Steve Alford, and had me read “A Season on the Brink” by John Feinstein.

So anyhow, Coach Stocksdale who wasn’t my father, decided we should break our huddle by shouting “André!”

We did.

We laughed.

We probably lost because we usually lost.

What Andre Taught Me

These are the memories that came flooding back when one of my junior high classmates shared a picture of André the Giant on the 23rd anniversary of his death.

André and Coach Stocksdale taught me not to take anything too seriously. André was always the object of Big Jokes and seemed to relish roles in movies like The Princess Bride where he undoubtedly played a giant.

Coach Stocksdale, well, he had us dedicate an entire basketball game to André the Giant. That’s definitely not taking junior high basketball too seriously, and at the time, I did take basketball too seriously. I would go on to break four bones in four years of high school basketball. It was important that I didn’t take basketball too seriously in order to see a life beyond high school sports.

It is important for my worldview and writing that I don’t take anything too seriously. I’ve been to some of the poorest places on our planet and have found that laughing with the local people is more important than crying at them.

There’s also that book that Coach Stocksdale had me read. “A Season on the Brink” was my first look at what nonfiction literary journalism looked like.

When I think about Andre and Coach Stocksdale and that time of my life where basketball was everything, I realize the influence they may have had on my future. I don’t want to say that any one of these things changed my life, but they might have. How much does a single piece of glass or stone make a moasic?

It’s small moments like these that add up to make us who we are.

I’m 5’11” and 185-pounds, but I’ve got a little bit of Giant in me, too.



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