Thursday, November 22, 2018

Love and Basketball

BASKETBALL METAPHOR – The player wearing number 24, while known by some as the shy quiet type, pressed through a season of healing to share a legacy of winning. FB Photo, LaNard Stradford

By Eric Stradford, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired

AMWS, November 22, 2018 -  It is not uncommon to reflect on one’s past in forming a more perfect union.  For many friends and family members, today is Thanksgiving Day.  Families traditionally gather for the moment to “fellowship.”  I cannot recall enjoying more than three such moments over the last forty years.
Today is my 65th birthday. Fifty-five years ago, on my 10th birthday, a United States Marine Corps-trained rifleman assassinated the 35th President of the United States.

It was around this time that my brother Walter Gene Stradford, a taxicab driver, engaged me in a game of basketball.   There have since been numerous pathways for healing unspeakable hurts.  Basketball has never been one for me.  Others who have grown up playing this game may have drawn from it experiences that strengthened their leadership skills, particularly in social or professional settings where doing something is preferred over doing nothing.

What I recall about love and basketball was doing something instead of nothing with my older brother. “We” crossed the street, Wade Park Avenue, headed for the basketball court on the Wade Park Elementary School playground.  My family’s home at 7419 Wade Park Avenue was but a brief walk to school and to church.

The “we” may require some collective memorization since the “me” in this recollection allegedly tripped and hit his head on the asphalt during my first and last basketball exercise with my older brother.  “We” grew up three doors down from the Greater Avery African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The Reverend James Milton Stradford, aka “Big Dad” was the associate pastor. I have no memories of dancing with my father, for that matter, playing basketball.  What I remember most is that The Reverend Stradford talked. 

After forty years of training, serving, and commemorating brotherly bonds with U.S. Marine riflemen,  I’m taking a necessary first step toward retiring a painful memory of second hand size 14 “Chuck Taylors.” These oversized hand-me-down canvas sneakers proved to be more suited for band practice at East High School than organized basketball. 

Walter shifted his focus to organized ball and youngsters who were ready, willing and able to play.  I own very few memories of going to church with Walter, or for that matter engaging in spiritual stuff at all.  The last time Walter and I were at Greater Avery together was at his funeral.   In valuing something inherited, I’m reinvesting a memory in a conversation that might inspire family healing through third and fourth generations.  

“Gene’s Dream Team” is a community of family members, friends and colleagues who inherited a skill, a memory or an appreciation for organized basketball.  It invites any individual who is ready, willing and able to collectively explore lifelong benefits of engaging in organized basketball.

LaNard Stradford, Walter’s surviving son, led a family of mourners and Prince Hall Masons in celebrating the brother we knew as “The Bus Driver.”  LaNard was perhaps just over a year old on November 22, 1953.  Today, LaNard Stradford is a proven operations manager, experienced at helping companies translate their business goals to reality.  He is the youngest son of my late brother, a husband, father, and college basketball athlete.  I reached LaNard on Linked-in, seeking his help in translating some business goals to reality.

LaNard’s value as a “team player” uniquely qualifies him for future corporate leadership roles.  Youth Achievers USA Institute (YouthUSA), a 501c3 Delaware Corporation has been recruiting candidates for a contract position as a Community Asset Manager.   Being competitive translated to every aspect of life for me.  Having a goal, developing a plan for success and implementing the plan were cultivated from those losses I had to endure playing against my dad and finally figuring out and implementing the plan that would result in getting that first win at age 14.  My 65th birthday wish is to connect with somebody like LaNard Stradford who is READY, WILLING and ABLE to model a 21st Century “Dream Team.”

HEALING is one of seven focus areas of the YouthUSA social enterprise program.  The program incubates a for profit, member-owned management consulting firm.  The firm’s Chief Operating Officer is a contracted Community Asset Manager.
The COO’s primary responsibilities involve production planning, production operations, process improvement, staff management, recruiting, budget administration and quality control for a federal contracting entity.

LaNard earned his Master of Business Administration" from Indiana Wesleyan University.  Commonly referred to as IWU, this liberal arts university is located in Marion, Indiana.  “Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) instilled a philosophy of Servant Leadership” in me that changed my entire thought process of how to lead people,” said LaNard.

IWU is a private, evangelical Christian school.  The Christ-centered academic community is committed to changing the world by developing students in character, scholarship, and leadership.  “Before IWU, my philosophy was to just manage and get through the day-to-day grind.  After IWU, my philosophy changed to developing future leaders, removing any barriers that prevented the common goal from being achieved and reversing the status quo of “Working for the people that work for me,” LaNard added.

IWU is the largest member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the second-largest evangelical university in the United States in total students, second only to Liberty University.  IWU is affiliated with the Wesleyan Church denomination. 
Kia Tenise Stradford is yet another candidate for a family healing enterprise.  While attending school in Alexandria, VA, Kia asked her basketball challenged Dad for permission to play organized ball at Hammond Middle School.  “No,” he said.  I need you to get home to open the apartment for your little sister, Chalondra Brie.  As an outcome, Kia’s children, Dariell Jones and Jovon Williams Jr. have grown up with an appreciation for learned basketball skills.

Values I inherited from organized basketball

LaNard row 1, 2nd from left
My dad introduced me to basketball at the age of 9.  We would get up early in the morning (6am) to go out and learn how to play and compete in one-on-one to show what I had learned.  My strong competitive will stemmed from our regular 1-on-1 games as the goal for me was to one day, beat my dad.
I was finally to beat Dad in a game at the age of 14, with a new pair of sneakers as the carrot dangling in front of me as the prize for winning.  Those losses I endured over the years (Dad would never let me win) and would not allow me to quit, as I became extremely frustrated over the years as the losses were piling up and I could not figure out how to win. 

LaNard and daughter Kayla at OSU-Purdue

Those early years playing basketball with Dad ultimately gave me the confidence and the skills necessary to compete at a higher level and translated to being a 2-year starter for Glenville High School and being part of a team that was able to win a city championship.  I also learned to always have a plan for how to succeed in the game of life and be able to meet any challenge and/or obstacle head on ensure the winning ways would continue.

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