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The Best of Times

by Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

As a lifelong sports fan, working at Hawaii’s premier sports radio station is a dream gig. My day-to-day work routine always involves writing about sports, interviewing coaches or athletes, and – well, at least before COVID-19 hit – talking sports with my co-workers. Talk about being a kid in a candy store…

But as I said, sports have been my passion for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I forget that some of my favorite sports memories occurred before I even joined ESPN. Here are a few:

♦ My earliest sports memory is watching the University of Hawaii’s “Fabulous Five” basketball team play on TV. I was in a karate class in Pearl City on the night UH beat Arizona State in the championship game of the 1971 Rainbow Classic. Our sensei stopped the class so we could all watch the second half. That was the game Bob Nash set a new UH record with 30 rebounds.

♦ I remember being a stat freak as a youngster. Every UH basketball game, I would carefully write down the names of each Rainbow Warrior player in my composition notebook, then keep track of each field goal, free throw and personal foul. During the timeouts, I would excitedly update my Mom and Dad about who’s leading the team in scoring that night. (“Tommy Barker has 12 points, but he has 3 fouls!”)

♦ I was nine years old when I joined my first basketball team. It was a parks and recreation league, and we lost every game. Discouraged, I didn’t bother signing up to play the next year, but our head coach came to my house and gave me the “winners-never-quit” pep talk. I wound up playing and we almost won the league that season. (Lesson learned!)

♦ I made our seventh-grade basketball team at Waipahu Internediate. In fact, I was thrilled when our coach made me a starter before our first game. I felt so good that I skipped practice and wound up coming off the bench for the entire season. (Another lesson learned!)

♦ My family purchased season tickets for UH football early on in the Dick Tomey era. We sat in the red section, HH, and we never missed a game. Not only did we witness some of the greatest games and players in UH history, but we got to see them together, as a family. We even had an in-game eating ritual: hotdogs during the first half, then saimin in the third quarter.

♦ In high school, we’d play ball all afternoon at my friend Philip’s house. (The rim was barely seven feet high, so we had a blast throwing down dunks. Phil wasn’t too thrilled, though.) Then in college, we’d play all day on the court behind Leeward Community College, then all night at Highlands Intermediate. Playing ball was fun, but just hanging out with friends was the absolute best.

♦ During my first semester at UH-Manoa, I spotted Dick Tomey reading a newspaper at Hamilton Library. He had  just recently announced that he had accepted the head coaching job at Arizona. I approached Coach Tomey, introduced myself and thanked him for everything he’d done for Hawaii football. I had no idea at the time that, 30 years later, I would be working with Tomey on a book chronicling his time as UH head coach.

♦ In college, Phil and I attended every game of the 1987 Rainbow Classic. The marquee team that year was the Kansas Jayhawks, who were led by Danny Manning. That’s 12 games in four days. I wrote a story on my experiences for my Magazine Writing class. I titled it, “A Hawaiian Hoops Heaven.”

♦ Around that same time, I attended the Iolani Classic to watch a game. While there, I saw Jack McMahon, who was an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers were my favorite NBA team at the time, so I introduced myself and asked if I could interview him. McMahon was incredibly gracious and accommodating. He even let me wear his championship ring that he earned when Philly won the title in 1983.

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