We were just about done with today’s lunch at the Lake Forest Oasis, the one that sits above I-94 on the northern outskirts of Chicago. My wife and two young children were seated at the window-facing counter, entranced by the traffic that whizzed by underneath them. I’d gone to grab a cup of coffee, a caffeinated boost for what promised to be a long afternoon at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.
Then, off to the side of the Starbucks kiosk, I noticed somebody who looked familiar. I called out his first name to see if my hunch was true, and John turned around, and then approached me with a smile and his hand extended.
“It’s been a long time,” Bucks General Manager John Hammond said as we shook hands, knowing that I’d get the joke. Because almost exactly 24 hours prior, I’d been at the press conference where he was introducing brand-new first-round draft pick Jabari Parker.
Truth be told, it was as much a party as a press conference, because the Bucks held it at the Milwaukee Public Market, and hundreds of fans stood behind the media to get a glimpse at the face of the Bucks’ future, and to cheer him often. Few days in Bucks history had been so filled with optimism, and I congratulated Hammond on the widespread sentiment.
He introduced me to his wife, Marsha. Seems they were headed down to Chicago for what was, no doubt, a well-deserved break together. Given how all-consuming NBA Draft preparation can be, it’s hard to imagine he’d been spending much time relaxing with family. And when he asked what I was up to, I shared the plans to take the kids down to the aquarium, at which point I realized something.
“The kids,” I said. “You haven’t met the kids.” He couldn’t have. He’d known that we were in the midst of a several-years process of adopting them from Haiti, and often when we crossed paths, he asked how the process was going. He’d even seen pictures of them, but since we’d only brought them home in March, there had been no occasion for them to cross paths.
Now that such an occasion was here, he insisted on saying hello to them. So I walked him and Marsha from the Starbucks stand over to the windows, and introduced them to the family. He seemed as enthusiastic to meet them as he had been when introducing Parker to Milwaukee. He shook my son’s hand, and then my daughter’s, and asked them if they liked sports. And he laughed when my 5-year-old son nodded and said, in his rudimentary English, how much he liked baseball and soccer.
A few steps away, Marsha chatted with my wife, and we all spent five minutes or so making the kids the center of attention. And the kids, normally shy around strangers, spent most of that time hamming it up. John and Marsha said several times how happy they were for us, and what great kids we had, and when it was time to go, they did so with one final round of congratulations. Then they went on to their day together, and we went back to our day together. We got back home around 8 p.m., and after looking at the day’s pictures of dolphins and sharks and jellyfish, the kids finally fell asleep.
I went downstairs to find an unexpected story breaking on Twitter and ESPN. The Milwaukee Bucks, out of the blue, were talking with the Brooklyn Nets about hiring Jason Kidd away from them. It was a story wrapped in uncertainty. Perhaps they wanted Kidd as head coach, replacing current Bucks coach Larry Drew. Perhaps he was to be president of basketball operations, which would make him John Hammond’s boss. Perhaps he would be coach, GM and president. But one thing, the reports claimed, was certain.
The current Bucks front office wasn’t aware of the machinations, which were apparently set in motion by the Bucks’ new owners, Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. Seems Kidd has a very close relationship with Lasry, who was previously a minority owner of the Nets.
I thought about the Hammonds, and how John’s phone must be blowing up with texts and calls from the media, and what a surprise this must all be for him after the previous day’s celebrations.
And I thought he probably deserved a quieter evening away from the office.
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