Wesley: Not changing defensive principles
“I had a famous father who wasn’t around and I’m carrying his name. So, yeah, that was my obstacle growing up.” – Wesley Matthews.
Imagine what it’s like to have people coming up to you throughout your childhood telling you how wonderful and significant your father is. Telling you how great he is and explaining to you why you should feel special.
Growing up in Madison, Wis., that was the sort of thing Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews heard whenever people found out who his dad was.
Who wouldn’t want to hear such high praise for his father? His dad, Wesley Matthews Sr., is very close to what you’d call a living legend in Madison.
Raised in Bridgeport, Conn., the elder Matthews went on to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he starred in basketball for three seasons. He left the school as the No. 2 all-time scorer in school history and his 18.1 points per game average still ranks third. His personality was endearing and his basketball game was massive. The people in Madison adored Matthews Sr.
The University Wisconsin-Madison was also where Matthews Sr. met Pam Moore, an All-American track athlete and basketball standout.
Matthews Sr. entered the 1980 NBA Draft and was taken at No. 14 by the Washington Bullets. He completed a 10-year, journeyman NBA career that brought about two championship rings during his time as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers in the late ‘80s. During those championship runs with the Lakers, Matthews Sr. and Moore gave birth to Wesley Matthews Jr. in the fall of 1986.
Shortly after, according to the Trail Blazer guard, Matthews Sr. “took off,” leaving the child before he ever knew his father, in a place where everybody else did.
“I’m living in probably his second-most popular city that he’s lived in other than Bridgeport,” he said. “I mean, he’s the man in Wisconsin. I’m carrying his name and I knew nothing about him other than that everybody else around me loved him. And I’m having the toughest time trying to figure out why the hell he’s not around.”
Matthews acknowledges that his strained relationship with his dad was the primary reason he elected to attend Marquette rather than his old man's alma mater.
He has been dubbed the “Iron Man” for his willingness to play through multiple injuries with reckless abandon. The moniker is fitting. However, the rigid iron settled in long before his basketball days.
“I don’t know if I’ll fully know the extent of my upbringing until I have a kid,” he admitted. “I know it hardened me. It made me tougher. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But I know I’ll find out down the road.”
To this day, Matthews still doesn’t know why his dad took off and he says it really doesn’t matter. He never asked his pops what happened. To him, it’s irrelevant because his dad should have been in his life, regardless.
How do things stand now?
Headway has been made, but not much. Matthews says his dad made the step of trying to enter his life when he was a senior in high school. A hardened Matthews was reluctant and hesitant to embrace him, and much of that remains today.
Matthews Sr. continues to make a concerted effort to be a part of his son’s life. He’ll show up at road games and keeps in touch through text messages.
Matthews -- Sr. and Jr.. -- are the exact same way when it comes to their competitive juices. After road games, the father will converse about the game. He’ll break down what went wrong and point out things that most people won’t even notice with expertise that only ex NBA players have.
He’ll then relay the message to his son in hopes that he’ll adjust for the next game. That’s what dads do. When it comes to something they’ve seen or been through before, their obligation as a father is to make sure their son doesn’t make the same mistakes. It’s not going to erase 17 years of being absent, but it’s a start.
“A little bit,” Matthews responded after being asked if their relationship has improved. “It’s kind of staying steady right now. I’ve been busy. He’s been busy. There’s no animosity right now. All I’m worrying about is what is going on here. He’ll text me and I’ll respond. He’s doing his thing and I’m happy about that.”
Someday, perhaps the two will sit down and have a heart-to-heart. Though Matthews says that time isn’t anytime soon. The good thing out of all this is that a relationship finally does exist. That wasn’t always the case.
The way in which he grew up has indeed hardened Matthews. For most of his adolescent years, he lived under one roof with his mom, two uncles, an aunt and grandma. He was fortunate to see how his mother and grandmother cared for the family. He knows the importance of keeping the family together.
That’s why when it comes to a family of his own, Matthews is in no rush to have kids. At 27, he has no kids and that’s been the plan. He wants to make sure he finds the right person before dealing with fatherhood, knowing the severity of such a major role. He says he’s going to be there for his children.
“Through how I grew up, I learned what not to do,” he said. “And that’s not a complete knock on him. Stuff like that happens all the time to people. For whatever reason, he wasn’t around. We’re cool now. No hard feelings and God works in mysterious ways. I don’t know if I’m where I’m at right now if he was around. So, you never know.”
Do you ever think things will ever be repaired?
“Yeah, we will,” Matthews said. “I can probably do a little bit more. He can probably do a little bit more. I think it’ll happen over time.”
Thankfully Matthews’ support system was solid. Not everybody can make it out with so much riding against them. I’m convinced this story will eventually have a happy ending. There are a lot of dads out there who couldn’t care less about being in their children’s lives at any point. This situation isn’t the case.
We’re all human. People make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. The Iron Man is appropriate. But when you call him that, be sure to remember that it has a double meaning.