Watching the Phoenix Suns’ season opening one-point loss to New Orleans jolted a flashback to 30-plus years ago.
The memory is of the 1978 NBA season.
In those years, I was a huge Suns fan, having worked for the team as a stat keeper during a rookie camp and also during a few games just after the pro team arrived in Phoenix in 1968.
In the mid-1970s I’d moved to Show Low. Although I was miles away from Phoenix, my fervor for the Suns hadn’t diminished.
During my first few weeks in Show Low, I met a fellow coach and teacher, also a Suns fan, who at first I didn’t particularly care for.
Pat Derksen was younger than me, a better three-on-three pick up basketball player, a heartthrob and more than a bit arrogant. But he would become my very best friend, and more than 30 years later be at my side during my battle against colon cancer.
Pat moved from Show Low to become the head boys basketball coach at Tucson Amphitheater High School.
During our years in Show Low, Pat and I were constantly trying to figure out ways to enjoy televised Suns games. I lived on the outskirts of town where we had only rooftop antenna television reception from Tucson stations that didn’t carry Suns games. Pat and his wife lived in town where there was cable, but the two — who were struggling to make ends meet on a first year teacher’s paycheck — didn’t own a TV. To remedy the problem, my wife Kay and I would pack up our 19-inch TV and drive to Pat’s just about every evening a Suns game was broadcast. We’d watch the game, retrieve the TV and return home.
After one heartbreaking Suns loss, Kay and I were returning home when our truck quit running. A Show Low police car approached and one of the officers looked very familiar — he played in the men’s summer slow-pitch softball league that I ran. On the field, we often conversed and he seemed like a generally friendly fellow.
The officer offered to help me get the truck running, but the trusty old F-100 just wouldn’t turn over.
So, the officer offered to give me a ride to Pat’s home. On the way, the officer and I hatched up a hair-brained scheme to rattle the always-confident Pat.
We’d pull in with the police car’s red lights rotating and the officer would pound on the door, loudly announcing he had Kay and I in custody.
At first, the plot went almost exactly as planned with the officer beating on the door demanding Pat step outside.
But then things unraveled.
Pat was in such a hurry to answer he came to the door dressed in his wife’s revealing night robe and wearing a pair of designer women’s slippers.
The sight of too-tough Pat outfitted in delicate women’s night wear had us doubled over in laughter.
I bolted out making a mock bull-like charge at the softball playing law enforcement officer. At first Pat froze, then bear hugged me screaming to calm down and not create a disturbance that would send me to the slammer. But I kept it up — berating and chastising the officer, or so Pat thought.
It wasn’t much later until the officer low-lighted the evening by placing his hand on his Glock and loudly declaring, “Max, if it wasn’t for softball, I’d shoot you.”
That was all the hilarity and chiding any of us could take. Funny thing, Pat didn’t even grin.
Since then, the story has been told hundreds of times. But I don’t think Pat thought it was particularly funny when I shared the story with his Amphi players who were in Payson to compete in a summer basketball tournament. It seems the players loved the story, but were disgruntled I didn’t have pictures of their hard-nosed, stoic coach in women’s sexy sleepwear.