After years covering team, demise leaves
Craig DeVrieze / QUAD-CITY TIMES
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s business.”
Corleone, on whacking the cop protecting The Turk,
who put out
the hit on Mike’s pop in “The Godfather.”
I would not
care to advocate a consequence quite that dire for the Hall-of-Fame
twerp who put out the hit on
my late father’s
favorite professional basketball team.
Metaphorically speaking, though, I am not adverse to slapping
the little point guard around a bit.
I have. And, watch your back, Isiah. I’m not
This column is not business. It is personal.
And not just
because that “No cheering in the press box” coda
you might have heard about is just so much impractical nonsense.
It is human nature for sports writers to develop a fondness
for the people and stories that we cover on a regular basis.
A few of us are able to mask such softness behind a natural tendency
toward cynicism and bitterness. Others lack those gifts.
At any rate, I do take personally the end of the Quad-City Thunder
beat that I have covered since before the team existed.
If I may go Al Gore on you for a minute, I like to think I invented
You’re excused if I have blah-blah-bored you with this
nonsense before, but my story — and I’m sticking
to it — goes like this: While I was writing about former
United Township and future Thunder guard Brent Carmichael’s
bid to make the La Crosse Catbirds in 1986, it was suggested
by then-Catbird coach Ron Ekker that the Q-Cs were a natural
I wrote as much, and former Rock Island attorney Marvin Schrager
subsequently picked up the ball, enlisted Anne Potter DeLong
and several other community-minded investors and, voila, a future
Isiah Thomas victim was born.
Sadly, memories are the only rewards left now to those of us
who invested our hearts and support in the Thunder over the years.
They are pretty precious payback, though.
among the many of those that occurred to me as I detailed the
team’s demise these past few days was the joy my father,
Frosty, took from following the Thunder in its first — and
his last — few years.
the old coot is to blame for two of my most aggravating afflictions — an inherited love for both the Cubs and Bears — Dad
never much was a fan of basketball until the Thunder came into
He learned to love them because I covered them. And among the
last, best moments we shared as father and son was attending
together one game at Wharton that I was not working.
We had reasonably good seats in the bleachers, but not near
good enough, seeing as how Dad was bothered by a bum hip, but
mostly because I was accustomed to sitting courtside, fast by
After a half, I tossed aside professional decorum and we grabbed
a couple of table-front seats right next to the opposing bench.
Dad got a kick out of the ongoing commentary provided by Cazzie
Russell, the witty former NBA star who then was coach of the
Grand Rapids Hoops.
He got a much bigger kick out of being razzed for being some
kind of big shot by an uncle who happened to be stuck in the
cheap seats behind us.
A few months later, that uncle passed away. Dad went a week
will remember that Thunder moment as my Field of Dreams-like
opportunity to “have a catch” with
He died in
March 1990, which means he enjoyed the Thunder’s
most Golden Years.
the days of Charley Rosen at “The Phone Booth.” Of
Bill Musselman at his green-leather-coated, manic and maniac
best. Of Von McDade’s half-a-game stay on the Thunder roster.
Of Crazy George’s toddling, dribbling minions at their
ball-bouncing, brain-banging best.
the days of “The Iceman Cometh Back,” that
too-brief, monthlong Thunder career of NBA great George Gervin.
Forever high on any list of CBA lore will be the delightful December
night when George “guarded” his younger brother Derrick.
And vice-alleged-versa. That’s a matchup that resulted
in 43 points for George, 39 for Derrick and a still — and
now forever — Thunder-record 172-122 victory.
Dad didn’t get to see the Thunder’s first CBA championship
season in 1994, the one fueled by the hustle of Barry “The
Human Floorburn” Mitchell.
But Don Mason did. God bless him.
Mace was a Quad-City original, one whose fanny was familiar
to virtually every barstool from here to Barstow, and an original
Thunder staffer whose gregarious personality and wry sense of
humor put the Quad-City in the Quad-City Thunder.
Some of that
team spirit was gone when Mace died in the spring of 1995.
By then, the early blush of success
was off of the Thunder,
and too many vacant seats at the too-spacious Mark were robbing
the Thunder of that wonderfully intimate atmosphere that rocked “The
What remained was a can-do attitude, bought and paid for by
the grand dam, Mrs. DeLong, who was determined to keep professional
basketball in her native Quad-Cities, almost at any cost.
she was forced to surrender, Jay Gellerman stepped in, with
the same civic-minded mission. And
Fred Radunzel — not
quite a founding Thunder front-office force but close — hung
in there with him.
was Fred’s final year. He never
missed a game in the long-coveted and overdue role as general
manager and never
let on that the cancer he was fighting was winning. As such,
he forever will epitomize the brave battle against long odds
that our Thunder waged for survival.
Like so many
of our own, Fred’s life was
enriched by his association with the Thunder.
with grand folks such as Barry Sumpter — the
Thunder’s playing ambassador; and Dan and Mauro Panaggio,
the father and son who made the Thunder the CBA’s winningest
franchise throughout its 13 seasons.
By the Thunder work of superbly talented players such as Chris
Childs, Derek Strong, Anthony Bowie, Kevin Gamble, Tate George,
Rudy Keys, Harold Ellis, Steve Scheffler and the handful others
who turned their days here into years of NBA success.
And by the likes of Mitchell, Bill Jones, Jimmy King, Maceo
Baston, Bakari Hendrix, Alvin Sims and ad infinitum who never
quite got their fully NBA due, but might yet, and who won our
hearts with winning efforts.
So many others — players, staff, fans and foes — merit
mention, of course. But this column has to come to an end.
Like all good things, so too do our Days of Thunder.
And, personally, that breaks my heart.