Best Wedding Gift Ever

Illya Harrell@illya_1971Analyst IIJune 8, 2009

20 Nov 1996:  Guard Rod Strickland of the Washington Bullets dribbles the ball around the perimeter during a game against the Orlando Magic at the Orlando Arena in Orlando, Florida.  The Bullets won the game 96-92. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons  /Allsport

I just got back from my parents' house where they had me rooting through all the stuff in their basement.  I ran across a box of matches with two of my dearest friends names inscribed on it—as well as their wedding date.

The three of us went to a small college together.  Toward the end of our college days we had all moved into "town" and lived within a block of one another.

Every sports season, no matter what the sport, we'd get together for the game—even if we had to set the VCR.

The guy, not to my surprise, told me he was going to ask the girl to marry him.

There was never any doubt in my mind as to what I was going to get them for a wedding gift.  You see, the Washington Bullets held a three-day preseason (before they go to D.C.) workout at the small college we attended.

This particular season (1997) our beloved Bullets had make it to the playoffs as the eighth seed to face certain doom against the Jordan/Pippen led Bulls.

This is where is gets good:

The Bullets had announced that they needed a couple of practices away from the hub-bub of D.C. so they were coming to our small school for two days worth of practice before they were to be crushed in the playoffs.

I saw my opportunity.

Their wedding wasn't until eight-months later, but I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.  So I grabbed a Sharpie, my beat up basketball, put them in my backpack, and rode my bike to the gym.

While they were practicing I was trying to figure out which exit the players would be using.  There were only two.  I automatically assumed they would try and sneak out the back.  I was wrong—this mistake would end up costing me the autograph of Gheorghe Muresan.

I quickly ran inside the gym where the players were meandering out.  I was in a bit of a daze from all the excitement.  The first guy I saw was my favorite Bullet, Rod Strickland.  I asked softly, "Ummm, Mr. Strickland...Would you mind signing this ball for..."

"HELL NO!", he said.  And walked past.  Then he laughed and said, "Yeah, sure."  As I explained that it was to be a wedding gift he looked at the ball and started making fun of it.  "You're giving this ball to your friends as a wedding present?"  More laughter.

Tim Legler was next.  Harvey Grant.  Calbert Cheaney.  Tracey Murray.  A few others.

I spotted Juwan Howard looking at a cork board down the corridor from where the players were exiting.  He kept staring.  Finally I opened the door and approached him. 

"Mr. Howard would you mind signing this ball for two friends of mine who are getting married?"  He didn't speak but did sign.  "Thank you very much.  You have no idea what this means to me."  Silence.  I walked back through the doors.

One player left.  Chris Webber was in the prime of his professional career.  It was taking forever.  I kept asking the other gawkers, "Where's Webber, did I miss him?"

"He hasn't come out yet."

Still more waiting.  I started to think that maybe he had left through the back.  More waiting.  The gawkers started to leave.  I decided I'd wait five more minutes.

I should have known.  As he came out there were a dozen reporters surrounding him.  I just handed the ball and Sharpie to him and he signed it without even looking at the ball and handed it back to me.

It was a complete success (minus Muresan).  As I hopped back on my bike I saw the trainer.  There was a game during that season where the announcers told the viewing audience that the players affectionately referred to him as Gary Coleman.

I yelled, "Hey, Gary Coleman, would you sign my ball?"  He was shocked.  He kept asking who put me up to this, "Was it Rod?  It was Rod, wasn't it?"  I explained myself to no avail. 

Just then Rod Strickland and Harvey Grant were driving away together.  The trainer yelled to them, "Did you tell this guy to call me Gary Coleman?"  They both cracked up.  Finally he bought my story, signed the ball (with his real name), and told me to hold on a second while he went back inside.

He came back out and gave me a Bullets' practice jersey and an official NBA basketball.

Crud!  Had only I had THAT ball before the wedding present adventure Rod Strickland wouldn't think I was such a cheap bum! 

Oh well, my friends liked the present anyway.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.