This past week-end Walt Bellamy died. He was 74 years old. If you are not a longtime basketball fan, his name means nothing to you, but he was one of the greatest college and professional basketball players. He not only set many records at Indiana University including averaging nearly 18 rebounds a game, he went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NBA. In his 14-year career, he averaged 20 points and 14 rebounds a game. For me, his passing was personal. It brought back one of my most vivid teenage memories.Because Branch McCracken, Hall of Fame basketball coach at IU, was recruiting my best friend to play basketball at IU, the whole team was invited to attend an IU game. We sat right next to the raised floor. That was huge for me, but even better was getting to meet the players after the game.
The star of the team was Walt Bellamy, and I got to meet him and have a short conversation. At 6’11” tall, he was the tallest person I had ever been that close to. When I shook his hand, it engulfed my hand and wrist. He was kind and willing to chat with a country kid from southern Indiana.
This was a defining moment in my life as a fan of basketball—especially IU basketball. I became a lifelong fan.
Reading his obituary reminded me of the value of taking opportunities to meet extraordinary people. Even if you don’t have personal contact with that person, watching him or her perform, speak, or play gives you a special time to witness great talent, excellent words of wisdom, and unique personalities. At the least this experience makes for great memories to relive and enjoy.
I remember taking a city bus to downtown Nashville to watch and listen to President Lyndon Johnson. I remember the spot where I stood and listened.
I had a private conversation with Michael Connelly, one of my favorite authors. My wife got to shake hands with President Kennedy and her mother shook hands with President Eisenhower, both when they were working in Washington, D. C. I’ve been in audiences to hear such talented performers as Judy Collins, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Kingston Trio, Toby Keith, and Bob Newhart. I have specific special memories with each experience. Hearing Neil Armstrong read “A Lincoln Portrait” in a program with the Cincinnati Pops was unforgettable and still touching to recall.
Take advantage of every opportunity to meet that famous or successful personality. These experiences enrich your life and leave lasting impressions.