Sharon Randall: Why I’m cheering for No. 33

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 18, 2011

I am watching a basketball game on TV with Randy, my 6-month-old grandson. Itís like watching a game while wrestling a 25-pound spider monkey.
He grabs my nose, pulls my hair, shrieks in my ear, climbs up my chest, gouges my eyes and sucks on my chin.
But he is an exceptionally cute spider monkey. And this is an exceptionally important game.
Itís the Big West Tournament Championship, a showdown between top-seeded Long Beach State and the underdog, UC Santa Barbara.
The game is important to the teams because the winner will claim both the Big West Tournament title and an automatic bid to advance to ěThe Show,î the NCAA Menís Basketball Tournament.
But itís important to me for a different reason: No. 33, a guard for UCSB, is Orlando Johnson. His grandmother, Virginia Jackson, was my friend.
I met her through my late husband, who coached basketball at Monterey High School in California. Over the years, she sent him a lot of good players, sons and grandsons that she raised as her own.
After every game, she thanked the coach for ěinvestingî in her ěbabiesî and told him that, win or lose, he was doing a good job.
She worked as a nurseís aide at the hospital and volunteered at church, PTA and the NAACP.
When I went into labor, she stayed with me in the hospital, long beyond her shift, to hold my hand and make me breathe and get me through the births of three children. I can assure you there is much to love in that.
She survived with remarkable dignity and grace more heartache than anyone I ever knew ó from the death of her husband, to the murders, a year apart, of a son and a daughter, to the house fire that destroyed her home and took the lives of her elderly mother, a daughter, and two small grandchildren.
I remember how proud she was of Orlando. The first time I saw ěO,î he was just a toddler, running around the church at his motherís funeral, hanging on his grandmotherís legs.
When he was 3, he stayed at my house a few days while his grandmother was out of town. He and the coach went out back and taught each other some moves. Years later, after the coach died of cancer, Virginia called me in tears.
ěHoney,î she said, ěIíve been where you are and I know what you need. Iím sending you a platter of fried chicken.î
When Orlando was 11, his grandmotherís big heart finally failed and his older brothers stepped up to try their best to fill her sizable shoes.
Having grown up without a father, they gave Orlando an entire starting team of ědadsî ó brothers and uncles and others who are always there when he needs them, who show up at games to cheer him on, who remind him to do things like go up strong, and be aggressive, and move his big feet.
Not that he needs reminding.
Children are a work of faith. We never know how long weíll have with them. We need to love them while we can, for whatever time weíre given, trusting that someone, if need be, will finish the work weíve started, and hoping that somehow, if weíre lucky, weíll be remembered.
Suddenly the game is over and Orlando and his teammates are celebrating their victory over Long Beach State, and their chance, no matter how slim, to play in the Final Four.
Somewhere, I suspect, his grandmother is celebrating, too.
ěLook at that,î I say, trying to divert the spider monkeyís attention from my nose to the TV. ěO is big and quick and strong like his brothers. But heís got his grandmaís smile.î

Contact Sharon Randall at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077 or at