The ’84-’85 Tigers: The Team That I Was Born Into

By Anthony Sain ( @SainAsylum )

I was five years old the year that the 1984-85 Tigers lost in the Final Four to Villanova. I don’t recall much from the actual team but I do remember the impact that it had on my home. I was born the youngest of five siblings, nine years younger than my closest brother in age. My father was a pastor of a small church in Whiteville, TN and I don’t know what he was getting paid, if anything, but I know that he wasn’t flying in on a private jet every Sunday. As a matter of fact he worked at least one other full time job while he loaded up the car with my siblings and I, for an hour or so long commute into Hardeman County. My dad was a hard-working man who valued making his own money the right way and providing for his family. I can’t remember my dad ever being what I would call happy or emotional about much, but he had his escapes from the world that he used to overcome the stresses that come with being a man, a father and husband struggling to provide for his family, and a pastor. Tiger Basketball was clearly number one. My dad didn’t smoke or drink, or hang out in bars, but Tiger Basketball was something that we knew for a fact was something that brought joy to our father and ultimately to our home. It was the Tigers. It was Keith Lee, Andre Turner, William Turner, Baskerville Holmes, and Vincent Askew. It was my entire family surrounded around the only 19 inch black and white television that we had in the house, screaming and celebrating as much as a family living in what I know now as poverty in South Memphis could. My dad couldn’t afford tickets to a Tiger game for himself let alone the entire family so our courtside seats were there in our living room. Except for me. The five year old who had to be in bed every night by 8pm who was crying in bed, because I couldn’t see what all of the fuss was about. I heard much more than I could see but I saw the reaction that it stirred in my family and I wanted a piece of it. I wanted to be able to say that the Tigers were my team.

 

And they were my team. In elementary school when kids were talking about Run DMC, Hulk Hogan and Superman I was talking about Elliot Perry, Larry Finch and Penny Hardaway. I grew up on Tiger Basketball from as early as I can remember. I cried when we lost to Louisville, I hated everything about Cincinnati and still separate the Memphis and Tennessee Vols gear when I see them on the same rack at the store. The Tigers were my superheroes and Denny Crum, Pervis Ellison, Nick Van Exel, and Bob Huggins were all super villains. I’ve seen local kids who fought tooth and nail against each other as high school competitors; unite for the good of their hometown. I’ve seen kids with troubled pasts be redeemed; I’ve seen a basketball team unite a city that still is racially divided. I have been through the highs and the lows - the scandals and the disappointment. I was confused when Larry Finch was fired; embarrassed by the Tic Price off the court situation. Felt betrayed and even used by Calipari and I am in the middle of the Pastner Era with mixed emotions. Emotions of uncertainty mixed with wishful expectation. Emotions of impatience mixed with almost overwhelming disconnect at times. Wanting more but yet still having a realistic understanding of where we are as a program. My emotions have been invested in this program for about 30 years now. I was born into it. It was indoctrinated in me throughout my family. Tiger basketball was just who we were. No better example would be than in 2008 when the Tigers faced one of our biggest rivals in the historic number one vs. number two game. My mother had fought a long time battle with lung cancer, and had passed away that week after suffering a blood clot in her brain. The funeral I believe was on a Thursday and family was still in town. So on the Saturday of the game we did what we would do if my mother were still alive. We watched Tiger basketball as a family - a tradition that started in my life when I was five. I cried that night after the game as well as after the national championship game for obvious reasons. Still grieving from the loss of my mom as well as feeling like the team let her, as well as my own self down. I couldn’t figure out why my beloved Tigers couldn’t do me a favor and help me cope with my loss just like I couldn’t understand why my mom wouldn’t let me stay up to watch the Tigers past my bed time when I was a five. This Saturday the university will honor the members of the 1984-85 team at halftime and it won’t be as nostalgic to me as others who were older and had more understanding of how good they were as a basketball team but those names meant something to me. They were the names that brought my family around the television. They were the names that would end all arguments and remind us of how much we loved each other. They were the names that my brothers would call themselves when playing basketball on a wire hanger in the top of the door was our alternative to a nerve hoop. They were the Tiger basketball team that I was born into.

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