When I heard UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad is a year older than his old man has been telling people, it didn’t come as a surprise: The first time I saw him play for Bishop Gorman, he looked like Grady from “Sanford and Son.”
He had a beard, and he looked like a grown man, and he played like two grown men, at least when he stopped shooting perimeter jumpers and started taking the ball to the hoop with slashing drives. I was impressed.
Muhammad would become the nation’s top-rated basketball recruit. It was a year after another precocious teenager, Bryce Harper, was selected first in the major league baseball draft. Man, were we ever proud around here.
Some around here still are kinda proud. Shabazz Muhammad still has mad basketball skills; like that kid in the AT&T commercial, he’s Nicky Flash on a 50 x 84 slab of hardwood. Even if Nicky Flash doesn’t rhyme.
If it came out that Justin Bieber really is 20 years old, instead of 19, would his prepubescent fans think his latest haircut any less dreamy?
So, no, the first thing that came to mind when I heard Shabazz Muhammad is 20 and not 19 was the teams Bishop Gorman was playing against when he supposedly was 18. Forfeits are forthcoming, I thought.
But forfeits are not forthcoming, because in Nevada one can play high school basketball so long as one is under 20.
No rules were broken.
So this wasn’t Danny Almonte firing fastballs past Engelberg and Ogilvie and Timmy Lupus and the other Bad News Bears, or some team from State Park, Pa., in the regionals, when Almonte was 14 pitching against 12-year-olds. Little League Baseball frowns on that sort of thing.
So, yes, Ron Holmes told a lie, and then he tried to offer a reporter a gig as his son’s publicist to cover it up, and now he should be thankful his son is one-and-done at UCLA, because people up in Oregon would never let Shabazz hear the end of it.
But it’s not as if Ron Holmes came up with the idea of “redshirting” his son, so his son might gain an edge in sports.
Fathers were doing this when I was in high school. My buddy Dan was redshirted. Only we called it “held back.” When I was in high school, a redshirt was something you wore with red pants that had stripes and bell-bottoms.
If you wanted your son to be good in sports, you held him back. Before junior high. That way, hardly anybody would find out and give your son a hard time. Especially when he grew to be a head taller than the other kids.
When I learned my pal Dan had been held back, it wasn’t a big deal. It did explain his sideburns where I had only peach fuzz. He got a scholarship to play sports at a small college in Wisconsin. Good for him.
As for lying about one’s age, a lot of people do it.
For instance, Charo said she was 10 years younger than her actual age. Toni Tennille was advised by her record company to lie about her age, because it would look odd for a 35-year-old woman to be breaking into the music business. More odd than being married to a guy named “The Captain” even.
When Grandpa on “The Munsters” died, his son claimed the actor Al Lewis was 13 years younger than reported. A New York Times reporter launched an investigation. I find this even more incredible than Al Lewis’ claim he helped recruit Sidney Green for UNLV.
So now it turns out Shabazz Muhammad is a year closer to collecting Social Security, and we’re supposed to be shocked?
In trying to make this into a big story, people are questioning whether Muhammad being a year older is going to affect his NBA draft status.
Maybe these people think blowing out one more candle on his birthday cake is going to hamper Shabazz’s endurance and thus his ability to get up and down the court.
In revealing Muhammad’s age, the Los Angeles Times portrayed him as being genetically engineered to be a professional athlete. That Ron Holmes, who had played ball at Southern Cal, chose his son’s mother, a former point guard, sprinter and hurdler at Long Beach State named Faye Paige, based, in part, on her long limbs.
But how can any of this come as a surprise?
It’s human nature for parents to want the best for their children, whether their kids play ball, or play the stock market, or play the French horn. You just hear about it more when the kids play ball, and human nature crosses some sort of perceived line.
It’s called living one’s life vicariously through one’s children. Mothers and fathers have been doing it since Grandpa Munster was a little boy. Whenever that might have been.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.