It was a compelling story—the estrangement of Arizona freshman point guard Mike Bibby from his father, Henry, the former NBA point guard and now the coach at Southern Cal—but who wants to get in the middle of that, especially with an 18-year-old kid? I arrived in Tucson with all the joy of a dentist about to extract a couple of incisors from a reluctant mouth.
I really didn't know too much about Mike except that he had scored a lot of points in high school and that he had had very little contact with his dad. I was surprised when Lute Olson, the Wildcats' coach, called him "the best guard we've ever recruited." Arizona was the school of Damon Stoudamire, Khalid Reeves and Steve Kerr. The kid was better than all of them? He hadn't even practiced with the Wildcats yet. This was the second week of school.
"I think he's better than Kobe Bryant," Olson said. "They play different positions and have different skills, but if I had my choice, I'd take Mike. If everything works out, we're going to have some fun this year."
I talked with the kid in an office in the McKale Center, and he was a sweetheart. He had that 18-year-old mix of maturity and innocence. The world was opening up for him. He talked about classes, about how much harder they were in college than in high school. He talked about living with a roommate, eating dorm food, taking his dirty laundry home on the weekend to his mother in Phoenix. He talked candidly and naturally about his relationship with his dad, who had left the family in 1985 and become an itinerate coach. Mike made a hard job easy.
"There's this kid in Tucson," I told friends when I returned home. "You should watch for him."
I sat in my living room in March, five months later, watching the Arizona celebration on television. I had to smile. The bad day turned out to be not a bad day at all. I had met an NCAA champion.