Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies play in the Rose Garden. The Blazers are one inevitable loss away from playoff elimination and pretty much just playing out the string.
But the Trail Blazer broadcast feed is scheduled to be picked up by NBA TV and carried nationally -- or at least to all cable and satellite providers who carry that network. We often take sports broadcasts and the people who do them for granted. I mean, you turn on the TV and there they are... at your service. But they quite obviously have their own lives and their own burdens.
Tonight, color analyst Mike Rice is going to be in that national spotlight on NBA TV, as well as locally here as the game is carried on Comcast SportsNet. No, not THAT Mike Rice, the recently fired coach at Rutgers. It's OUR Mike Rice, the veteran and sometimes-a-bit-goofy former college coach who has been a part of Portland Trail Blazers broadcasts since 1991. Who is, of course, the father of the Rice who was let go this morning by Rutgers for his mistreatment of players.
Certainly, there's no justification for Rice Jr.'s actions toward his players. We know that and I'm not here to discuss it. My concern is the father and the kind of deep emotions that can come from a situation like this. I've known Mike since that sunny summer day in Portland when he auditioned for a job and I believe him to be a kind soul with a big heart. He's someone who has built a career out of laughing at himself and his own imperfections. He's done all sorts of good deeds without attention or fanfare and nobody loves this franchise more than he does.
And nobody loves his children more than Mike Sr. All of us who know him understand how proud he's been of his son's coaching success. I cannot imagine how difficult it's been over the last 24 hours to deal with the media firestorm that videotape of a Rutgers practice has brought to his family. If you have children, you know how much of those kids' pain you feel. And you even understand how often you've wished you could actually alleviate their pain by taking it all upon yourself. You may have even, in very tough times, prayed for that.
As a parent in a situation like this, I'm sure there's a terrible combination of guilt, depression, embarrassment, anger and pain raging on the inside. And Mike Rice Sr. is going to sit down Wednesday night and work a basketball game, probably trying his best to find that "Crazy Uncle Mike" persona that Trail Blazer fans love. Perhaps in this case, the game will be a brief respite. A break, if possible.
My heartfelt wish for Mike Rice Sr., and his entire family, is a peaceful pathway through some tough times toward better days.