Rainmen Halifax BasketballMy six-year old daughter and I became die-hard Rainmen basketball fans about a week before all the trouble happened. Now the reputation of our players, our city, and even the National Basketball League of Canada, is in a spin.

But my daughter doesn’t care about the details.  As the Halifax Rainmen‘s  newest fan, all she wishes is that she can watch more basketball at The Scotiabank Centre next season.

I hope her wish comes true.

Our interest in the team began in early April when I ran into a colleague who holds season tickets for himself and his son. “You have to go see a game”, he said, “it’s so much fun. And, we’re about to win the championship.”

I wasn’t sure. Would an evening game be too close to bedtime? Who would explain the rules of basketball to my little girl? Although I  had a few memories of playing in gym class, I was hardly an expert. And- with the season nearly at an end, wasn’t  it too late to become fans? I asked my daughter if she would like to go to a Rainman game: “Noooo way”, she said, “I don’t like soccer or basketball.” Clearly, she had no idea of the difference. Time to act!

I booked us floor tickets for Game 4 of the finals. We invited a school friend. By the end of the first quarter, my daughter had learned how  to read the scores, her glance darting from the court to the scoreboard, as she tallied up the points and the differences. At half-time, we bought a t-shirt (only $5) which she proudly fit it over her clothes. By the end of the game, she chose her favourite player: number 3, Seiya Ando, due mostly the fact that he is from Japan – a fact she found fascinating.

Rainmen Basketball Game 4

As a first-timer, there were a number of things about the game that surprised me: The Pledge to End Bullying, which is recited at the beginning of every game; the exhilarating music; the fun activities at half-time…and the booing from the crowd. I told my daughter never to boo, no matter how many other hundreds of people are doing it.  I was surprised too, at the roughness of the play, and my friend told me later that the game had been a little “scrappy”.  It was the championships, after all.

Halifax Rainmen bullyingIn game 4,  the Rainmen had a narrow loss, and left the court clearly deflated. But despite the sad sweat of defeat dripping down their temples, each player stopped to sign autographs for children, managing kind words and a smile for each little fan.  My heart warmed with gratitude and admiration for these tall, sweaty, defeated young athletes, as I began to understand. It was all for the kids.

Rainmen Halifax Windsor Young

When Sunday came along,  we attended game 5, this time sitting in the lower bowl, with a great view of both teams. Again, my daughter wore her t-shirt, watched the scores with excitement, and cheered every time we scored a point, especially for #3.  This time, she soaked in the entire atmosphere: the mascot (Thunder), Coach Claros pacing and waving his arms, the cheerleaders, the coaches, all the young helpers, familiar faces in the crowd.  My daughter was delighted, excited, involved and inspired.

Rainmen Tyrone Watson

Again, there was a lot of pushing and booing, but overall, it was a great day out, made better by Andre Levingston’s speech at the end of the game. He was elated too: “I didn’t come to Halifax to make a million dollars”, he said “I came to make a difference”.  He spoke of the players being role models for our children, and that spoke to me.  I knew in my heart that  basketball was about to become my daughter’s game…and not just because she’s tall!

Rainmen Halifax Claros

I watched game 6 on youtube, (did I mention I became a fan too?), and I felt bad for the Rainmen. It was so close.  But what a wonderful tension. Now it all rested on game 7.

So, on Thursday night, instead of reading my daughter a book in bed, I brought up my  laptop. “Do you want to watch the second half of the Rainmen Game that is happening in Windsor right now?” I said.  Her eyes lit up. “Really?”

And, if you have been following the news, you know the rest. There was no game.  There had been a fight earlier in the day. A big one. The  Rainmen abandoned Game 7, and then, spectacularly, got on their team bus and left the city of Windsor itself, forfeiting what could have been a great win for Halifax, in exchange for their personal safety.

When I explained this to my daughter, she was concerned only for her hero:  “Did Ando punch anyone?”

I said I didn’t think so.

On Saturday morning, an unofficial press conference was held at Scotia Square, to tell the players’ side of the story. Clifford Clinkscales described the  conduct of the other team, leading up to the big fight. “It wasn’t physical, it was dirty… it wasn’t basketball”. In his analysis of the problems, former Coach Josep ‘Pep’ Claros referred frequently to the children who look up to the players as role models. Claros said he was scared for what kids might see if Game 7 went ahead. Claros said he had tried to alert the NBLC about violence leading up to the final game, but if fell upon deaf ears. The play must go on, they said.

From this point of view, our coach and players stood up against violence, and turned their backs on a trophy. Then, despite pressure, they stuck together, and kept their integrity intact.  In simple terms, they took a stand against bullying.

Sports Columnist Chris Cochrane, writing for the Chronicle Herald,  says he doubts the Rainmen will be back next season, and that that fans must be irritated by the team walking out on Game 7. Former Coach Claros, at the unofficial press conference admitted there were problems in the NBL, but said:  “We are players and coaches. We cannot solve the problems of the league”. Local player Joey Haywood is quoted in The Chronicle Herald, as saying, ” I just hope the league gets better because of this.”

Finally, on Monday, May 4th, owner Andre Levingston will talk formally at a press conference, and I don’t know what he’ll say, but I do know that the tone will be far removed from the joy and elation of his message last Sunday.

Halifax Rainmen Kids

But what about my daughter?

My daughter is six years old. She is not irritated.  She doesn’t know about the problems of the league. In fact, she doesn’t really understand what a league is, or a contract or an agent. Hey- she is just learning the difference between basketball and soccer!

But she does love the game, and she does love the team, and she definitely understands what bullying is.

And you know what? She also understands that everyone makes mistakes.

She’s waiting for next season.

I promise that if The Rainmen come up out of the ashes, I will buy season tickets for me and my daughter, and I am certain that I won’t be the only family in the ticket lineup.  There are thousands of six year-olds in Halifax just waiting to become Halifax’s next newest basketball fan.

I hope they get the chance.