A Father’s Day Tribute to Hockey and Basketball Championships
Now that we’re counting down the NBA, WNBA, and Stanley Cup Finals, and to Father’s Day, let’s take a minute to think about how much sporting events have shaped our families.
In North America, specifically, professional sports have long been a family tradition, both in the sense that families get together to play sports and that families get together to watch professional athletes play.
But even the origins of these sports are rooted in family dynamics.
Shout Out to Ice Hockey
Ice hockey, or, as the purists who don’t believe in field hockey (read: Canadians) call it, hockey—was invented as an organized sport in Montreal in 1875, when they launched the first game with nine-player teams, a wooden puck, no protective gear except some leftover cricket pads for the goaltender, and 8’ goals. Judging from the early uniforms, the sport was especially popular with prison escapees, aspiring referees, and guys named Waldo.
The earliest games had only seven rules, and it wasn’t until 1888 that the Governor General of Canada, Lord Stanley of Preston attended a hockey game with his children, who were all hockey enthusiasts. He was so impressed that he purchased a silver bowl to be awarded to the top Canadian team in the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada.
All six of Lord Stanley’s children went on to play, including his daughter Isobel, who was one of the first women to play ice hockey competitively. His five sons all played internationally, and helped bring hockey to Europe, in part by soundly defeating a royal team that included the future George V and Edward VII. [Note: Apparently this distribution of hockey was largely accomplished so that hockey could be played at the Olympics. And since 1920, the Canadians have racked up 22 Olympic medals (13 gold), compared to Great Britain’s 2 (last earned in 1936).] And in women’s Olympic Ice Hockey, the Canadians and Americans have medaled every year, and, between them, won every gold since the sport was introduced in 1998.
And, yet, because Canadians are better at sharing than almost anyone else in the world, the Stanley Cup was the first major sporting award to be given every year, but then returned to the National Hockey League. And since each player from the winning team gets one day with the trophy—the post-championship Stanley Cup stories and shenanigans have become almost as much fun as the final playoffs. Inquiring hockey players who have brought the cup home to share with their friends and family have even made several discoveries that have expanded the boundaries of human knowledge:
- The Stanley Cup can be used to water championship racehorses. (Go for Gin didn’t seem to mind the metallic aftertaste.)
- The Stanley Cup also makes an excellent giant cereal bowl for very hungry (human) athletes.
- In emergencies, the Stanley Cup can also serve as a toilet for the infant children of hockey players. (Don’t tell the racehorse.)
- The Stanley Cup does not, in fact, float.
- Once stuck to the bottom of a swimming pool, the Stanley Cup creates a suction seal that makes it extremely difficult to remove from the bottom of said swimming pool.
Today, the National Women’s Hockey League awards the Isobel Cup (keeping it in the Stanley family), which was won this year by the Metropolitan Rivers. One can only guess where the daughter of the Stanley Cup may yet end up.
And, really, who could resist a sport that’s so much fun both on and off the ice?
A Shout Out to Basketball
In 1981, when the first Montreal teams were still passing a wooden puck, another winter Canadian sport was born (No, Seriously!).
Although basketball has been dominated by African Americans for decades, the origins of the sport actually lie with Canadian Colonel Sanders look-alike, Dr. James Naismith.
At the time, Naismith was living and working in Springfield Massachusetts, where he needed to come up with an indoor sport to keep his rowdy YMCA group busy during the harsh East Coast winters. He analyzed the most popular sports at the time (including hockey), and decided to borrow the ball from soccer, but to avoid violent player contact (as in rugby and hockey) with strict passing rules, and to replace the traditional goals with a peach basket mounted about 10 feet off the ground. It apparently took the players a while to adapt:
I blew a whistle and the first game of basketball began. The boys began tackling, kicking and punching in the clinches. They ended up in a free-for-all in the middle of the gym floor.
But eventually the sport came into its own. It was distributed internationally to YMCA centers, and later adopted by the University of Kansas, where Naismith joined the staff in 1898.
Although Naismith was an orphan who wasn’t yet married at the time when he invented the sport, he created his own family heritage through the hundreds of boys that he coached, and his legacy of championship players and coaches at the University of Kansas is still going strong. He saw the introduction of basketball as an international sport, an intercollegiate sport, and an Olympic sport, dying just 8 months after the creation of the NCAA Basketball Championship.
Naismith’s legacy can still be seen in the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy, which, while having fewer shenanigan-based stories than the Stanley Cup, has a sleek modern design (unlike the original Walter A. Brown NBA Championship Trophy, which apparently emulated the dimensions of Naismith’s first peach basket.)
But Naismith’s legacy wasn’t only passed father-to-son. The early women’s teams clearly had relatively tiny players and peculiar concepts of “dunking,” but women’s basketball has long been at the cutting-edge of athletics, launching at the collegiate level at Smith College in 1892, the intercollegiate level by 1896, the Olympics by 1976, and the WNBA by 1996.
Shout Out to Father’s Day
In various forms, Father’s day has actually been celebrated since the Middle Ages, when St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th (honoring the putative father of Jesus Christ) also became a broader celebration of fathers and fatherhood.
Here in the U.S. Father’s Day began as a minor Catholic tradition, but became more mainstream in the wake of Mother’s Day, which was first celebrated in 1908 and passed into law by 1914. But Father’s Day was much slower to arrive as an official holiday, and largely came into being as the result of two women. The first push was made by Sonora Smart Dodd, who wanted to honor her father, a Civil War veteran who raised his six children alone after the death of his wife. Dodd organized celebrations in her hometown and then raised awareness at the national level until a bill to recognize the holiday was put before Congress in 1913. It failed to pass, and wasn’t reintroduced until 1957, when Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith persuasively argued that having a Mother’s Day without a Father’s Day was unfairly honoring “just one of our two parents.” After several years of political wrangling, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a presidential proclamation making the holiday official in 1966, and President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.
The American tradition honors fathers with cards, gifts, and family gatherings, but other countries give their own spin to the holiday. In China, Father’s Day was originally celebrated on the 8th day of the 8th month (August), because the Chinese word for 8 (“ba”), when put together sounds like the informal Chinese word for “papa” (“ba-ba”). In Australia, it is traditional for children to handmake presents for their fathers (with some predictably hilarious and endearing results).
So, while you may want to avoid recreating the historic “tackle and free-for-all” first basketball game, consider grabbing a bollerwagen and sharing this summer sports season with the people that you love like family—the sporting events and the holiday have a powerful legacy for fathers and sons, but also sisters and daughters, mentors and proteges, friends and colleagues. The professionalism, the athleticism, and the sheer exuberance of sports are a heritage that we can all share.
Do you have a favorite Father’s Day story or tradition?