Margo Dydek has left us. She leaves behind a basketball legacy that will be talked about, and her place in women's basketball history will be discussed. This isn't about that.
When I heard Margo had tragically passed away, at such a young age, my thoughts turned immediately to her family and the loss you wish no family had to face. But then it turned Brian...and to Sue...and to Marek...and I realized that Margo Dydek's legacy extends far, far beyond the time we got to enjoy seeing her on the basketball court.
Just before the 2005 season the Connecticut Sun obtained Margo from the San Antonio Silver Stars. Section 13, the section where I was a season ticket holder, was thrilled. The team had been knocking on the door to a championship, and surely a 7’2" shot blocker was the missing piece, a dominant force inside. But that wasn’t Margo. This was a woman, who although she could easily dunk, didn’t want to, according to the story, because it would be humiliating her opponent. She was so much larger than everyone else, we wanted her to dominate in every facet of the game, but what we quickly realized that where she was dominant was in the statistical categories of greatest smiles, making time for her fans, and apologies for when she finally had to walk away.
Brian was a season ticket holder for the Sun around the same time I was. An ex-police officer, a "man’s man," I’m not sure what drew Brian to Margo. But it was more than your typical fan attraction. Brian spent a small fortune on Margo memorabilia, winning auctions for All-Star jerseys, signed basketballs and more. Margo added to Brian’s collection with her sneakers, and always realized that Brian was a "superfan" and that he loved the gifts she shared with us on and off the court. Brian even had a customized Margo Dydek bobblehead doll made, with an amazing resemblance. There were only a few made, and I am proud to say that I own one of these treasures, thanks to Brian. I will never forget Margo’s face when Brian gave her one. She was amused, amazed and impressed all at the same time. I know how sad Brian was when Margo left the Sun…I can only imagine how he feels today.
Sue sat beside my wife Naomi at Sun games. It didn’t take long in that 2005 season for the two of them to make Margo their favorite player. Sue wore a #12 Sun jersey all season, and Sue and Naomi began the tradition of whenever Margo did something of note…a big block, a timely jumper…they would stand up and bow down to her in full "we’re not worthy" mode. Margo came to know them for doing it, and, with Section 13 next to the players’ entrance and exit, would almost always high five Sue on the way out, making sure she wasn’t missed. It should be noted, no one else could REACH Sue, the height where our seats were, but for Margo it was easy. We no longer have our tickets, but when I heard the news about Margo….I know how Naomi feels, and I have to wonder what Sue is thinking today.
We are "Margo fans" in Connecticut, but then I started thinking of Marek, @rzymi on twitter, who I have come to "know" and is a resident of Poland. When the word first came out about Margo’s heart attack, it was Marek that was feverishly sending tweets out looking for information; I felt awful that it was my re-tweet of the tragic news that he had seen first, and I could feel his anguish across the ocean via twitter. Today, I saw his tweets of "please tell me it's not true about Margo... it can't be real....," "i can't believe i won't see her ever again........", and "I can't believe it... the best player in the history of my country and my team is gone..." If Margo meant so much to fans in Connecticut after only a few WNBA seasons, I cannot begin to fathom the feelings Marek and his friends in Poland are feeling today. I hope they know that we feel that pain too, and I hope that he has better days soon.
We look at sports as an escape. A departure from the existence we have at home. In a WNBA game, there is no unemployment rates, no high gas prices, and no wars, except those in the paint. We idolize, cheer for, and support the players that create this elaborate fantasy world we so love. We all have our favorites. Mine are Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi. I wear my fandom proudly, much like Brian, Sue and Marek have worn theirs for Margo. And then the real world somehow always seems to crash the party, and make sure we remember that these games are just that, games.
Reality has a way to smack in the face sometimes, to give us a sharp kick in the gut when we expect it least. Today is one of those days. I know I feel a very deep sadness, a sadness that comes from knowing that a person who has given you so much, so many memories, so many thrills can’t do that anymore, for anyone, especially her loved ones.
I will never forget the night Margo inadvertently knocked down Tully Bevilaqua and helped her up…by the back of her shirt and shorts, pulling her up, to squeals of laughter, including hers and Tully’s own. That is the picture I’m going to try to focus on today. That’s the picture I think Margo would want her fans to see.