|He looks airborne in this shot|
I am no biological relation to Dat. My haters like to point that out and they are right. But unfortunately for him, I have always considered him my grandson. I was with him when he was born, and have remained a part of his life. He was born quite sick, with a large hole in his stomach, and it very nearly killed him. Doctors told us to prepare for his death, but they hung in there with him. One physician at St. Luke's - Dr. Unger - actually spent an entire day and night at Dat's side.
You see, Dat is a fighter.
For the first six months of his life, his home was a hospital. Much of that time was in intensive care, where he was in excruciating pain. Some weeks after his birth, I asked a nurse once why a tube was still in his mouth. She told me that if it was removed, we'd hear nothing but screams.
Eventually, one of his eyes opened. Then it was both. Piercing, sentient eyes that take in everything.
And then, despite everything that had happened, a smile.
After being released from the hospital, he was back again in two weeks, suffering from a heart problem compounded by pneumonia. After that, it was epilepsy. Time and again, he's been airlifted to a hospital. He's got more airmiles in a chopper than most paratroopers
Not exactly what you think of when you hear about a jock, is it? But it's true. Despite some bad bounce passes from life, he's a baller. Even in his dreams, his hands move as he makes free throws.
When he was just four, he played pick up baseball for the first time with some much bigger boys in Nazareth, two of whom are Bill Coker's grandsons. Dat loved it and them so much he made his mother bring him back the next day. "My team needs me," he told her.
It's been that way ever since. Football, baseball and the game he loves more than all others - basketball. He's played on more teams than I can remember. But Monday was a biggie - his debut as point guard at Nitschmann Middle School's "varsity" team. A 7th grader, he won a spot on the 8th grade team.
He grows an inch every week, but is still shorter than any of the players on his own team. He was also shorter than the ballers from Nitschmann's dreaded opponent, Parkland. So I figured coaches might play him a minute or two to give the starters a break. He started. Coaches played him the entire game. He finished with 16 points, 12 assists, 2 3-pointers and 3 steals.
He's still a fighter.
And he still smiles.
Updated: Why Dat? Dat is a Vietnamese name.