Thursday, August 29, 2013

Flashback: Former Lakers Coach, Author, North Dakota Alumnus Reminisces On Growing Up In The Peace Garden State

A reader sent this story by Phil Jackson, published in Sports Illustrated back in 2004. It begins:
My parents told us one spring morning in 1956 that they had accepted a pastorate in Williston, N.Dak. My two teenage brothers weren't happy about the decision to move 500 miles east from Montana. I was 10, and I couldn't have cared less, as long as I could play ball -- any kind of ball.
Williston, on North Dakota's western border, had recently gone through an oil boom that had almost doubled the population to just over 10,000 brave souls. It had brought in folks from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas who knew the "ahl bidness" to join all those Norwegian immigrants who had come over at the turn of the century. The Lutheran church services were broadcast on the radio in Norwegian, and the lutefisk dinners at any of the 12 Lutheran churches during the holiday season were the social events on the Williston calendar.
Growing up a pastor's kid wasn't a cakewalk, but Williston was a good place to be when the chance to play arrived. We had school teams and recreational leagues, and the local 4-H county agent organized the eight counties in western North Dakota and eastern Montana into a rec-basketball conference. Some players came from the Indian reservations, and they liked to play run-and-gun style. We had fun playing with and against them, even though our parents and theirs didn't socialize.
North Dakota is large; there isn't a major U.S. city within 500 miles of Williston. If we wanted to see pro sports, we would drive three hours to Regina, Saskatchewan, to watch the CFL Rough Riders. But the adults in Williston didn't want us to think small-time. They regularly reminded us of the NoDaks (our term for North Dakotans) who had made the bigs, such as fomer secretary of state Warren Christopher and actress Angie Dickinson. 
In 1956, I was starting elementary school at Wilkinson, or maybe it was one more year at "Williston High" before Wilkinson opened up.  Unfortunately I never crossed paths with Angie, who was a bit older than I at the time. We are probably about the same age now; I've noticed that after 50, "ages" tend to converge.

But Mr Jackson's essay brings back a lot of memories. By the way, my closest childhood friend lived in the home in which Phil Jackson grew up in while attending Williston High School. I have been in that house many times. They should put a heavy iron plaque on the house designating it an historical landmark.

By the way,  Phil Jackson has written several books. I remember really enjoying Sacred Hoops and highly recommend it to anyone.

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