< back to articles listings

Law Lessons From a Gamecock Fan

by Jay Reeves |

This is the story of a young basketball fan, a perfect season that ended in heartbreak, and a mother who kept things real.

Tucked in there like a cross-hand dribble is a little message about law, life and what really matters in both.

The tale begins in 1969, when I was growing up in Kingstree SC. Even by adolescent standards, I was a wildly insecure and perpetually anxious 13-year-old. Thank goodness for the University of South Carolina men’s basketball team. The Gamecocks were a powerhouse: rising to #1 in the nation, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, and romping through the ACC with an unblemished 14-0 record. Rooting for them made me feel proud and confident and less like the self-conscious geek I was. 

And coach Frank McGuire – dimpled and dapper, the son of a New York cop and already a champion at rival UNC – was a wonder to behold.

If you weren’t in South Carolina at the time, you can’t understand what a big deal this was. Overnight, basketball hoops sprouted in backyards (including my own) from Aiken to York. The majestic Carolina Coliseum arose like Camelot on Assembly Street in Columbia. And a sport that had always been an afterthought to football – in a state with a massive inferiority complex – brought everyone together.

It even made a basketball fan of my mother.


The Game Connects Us

She crocheted USC throw blankets, prepared Gamecock-themed snacks, and moved our Sylvania stereo unit into the den, so we could sprawl on sofas and the floor and listen to games on the radio together (only a few were televised). 

Best of all, she saved a 1969-1970 USC Basketball Schedule insert from The State newspaper, which I taped to my bedroom wall. It had a picture of the glorious Coliseum, and a little chart where you could record the score of every game (which I faithfully did), and photos of all the players. 

“Tom Owens is my favorite,” said my older brother, also named Tom.

“Bobby Cremins,” said I. 

“John Roche,” said brother Robert, two years younger than me. 

“I agree with Robert,” said Mom, who always agreed with her baby boy Robert. “John Roche. I just wish he’d cut his hair and pull up his socks.”

The Gamecocks finished the regular season atop the ACC. Next came the conference tournament – a mere formality, we believed, before our heroes advanced to the NCAA Tournament and, eventually, the national championship.

But sometimes the ball takes a funny bounce, and you land somewhere you never expected.


A Dream Dashed (and Revived)

So it was for USC. In the ACC championship game, the Gamecocks lost in double overtime to NC State, which meant the Wolfpack went on to the NCAA regionals (back then only the ACC tournament winner advanced) while the Gamecocks went home

At first I was sad. Then bitter. How unfair! USC was the best team all year. They deserved better. I deserved better. I ripped down my USC poster without even bothering to record the 42-39 score of that nightmarish last game. 

“I know you’re disappointed,” said my mother, who in addition to being a wonderful parent was also a registered nurse, preschool teacher, superb writer, gifted gardener, church pianist, creator of heavenly pies, and the kindest person I’ve ever met.

“But it was still a great season,” she said. “And just look outside. The sunshine! Let’s go enjoy it.”

Which was another thing about my mother: how excited she could get about something as ordinary as the sun.


A Separate Peace

That was in March 1970. That summer, my two brothers and I were swimming in Black River not far from my house and my younger brother drowned.

It happened a long time ago and I was young – just 14, and Robert 12. Some details are hazy. But others are as clear today as they were half a century ago. 

One is how quickly and thoroughly my priorities were reordered.

Oh, I continued to love the Gamecocks. And I was still sad when they lost. But now the disappointment faded pretty quickly. There were larger losses to worry about. 

Another vivid recollection: I feared I had lost my mother too. For a time after my brother’s death, she was there but not there. She stayed in bed. She cried. She didn’t talk much.

But then one day she came into my room with something from the newspaper. It was the 1970-1971 USC Basketball Schedule. She thought I might like to put it on my wall, which I did. There they all were – Roche and Owens and McGuire and the Coliseum – just like old times.

“It’s going to be a great year,” she said, and I could see this was hard for her, and that she was trying her best, and I loved her for that.

So what does any of this have to do with practicing law?

Not much, I suppose. Except maybe as a reminder to be present for every moment of your Law Life – good, bad or ugly – because who knows what’s coming next?

Also: lighten up. You win some and you lose some.

Take a cue from my mother. She possessed the ability to find happiness in small things. That is a rare and special gift. This Mother’s Day I visited her grave to thank her for being who she was, for teaching me about faith, for showing me how to stay strong, for giving me life.



About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

Read More by Jay >

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Newsletter Signup