By Nikos Varlas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
He left us before eight years, but he will never be forgotten. The reason is simple. He chose in his sort lived life to put aside his grave health problem and gave to every one a shining example. He knew deep inside him that the photo album of his life will have less pictures than usual. That’s why Alphonso Ford made sure that this album is unique.
He left this world at the 4th of September 2004 and this date will always be identified by him in European basketball. On this occasion Eurohoops.net reached one of his closest friends during his years in Europe, his former agent, but also his beloved friend Nick Lotsos. He and his cousin who also has the same name, shared with us their memories about Al, with whom they were in constant communication until the last hours of his life.
The best of them all
The Greek agent remembers… “Al was something different, something unique. I think that he lived having in mind the possibility of leaving this world early, so he tried to make everything possible. I have been an agent for 23 years and I never experienced something similar. From the first moment you met him, you felt familiar with him. And he trusted you immediately. You had to decide if you would be honest with him, or not. He reminded me the role of also recently deceased actor Michael Clarke Duncan in the movie “Green mile”. That was Al! A giant with a kid’s heart. And I believe that in order to be so good in such a role you have to feel like that… The one left us when he was 33 years old and the other at his 53 years. That’s what I was thinking when I heard the news of Duncan’s death, almost the same day that Al died. Honestly, Alphonso’s character and nature was the same as the one of Duncan’s part in that movie. I am lucky enough to work with many important players and huge talents. If you combine the sport value and the character of Ford, he was by far the best. I have never met anyone else like him…”
Julius, you are going to explode!
Truth be told, Ford had an intimidating body. His friend, Nick Lotsos, remembered the way him and his cousin teased Al. Their running joke was Danny DeVito’s line from the movie “Twins” when he was looking at his “twin brother” Arnold Schwarzenegger and said: “Julius, you are going to explode”! They always used that line, seeing him so fit and buff! Alphonso always smiled and replied: “I don’t lift many weights. I am like this by nature”!
Is he your cousin?
Wherever Alphonso Ford player, he was always the leading scorer, at least on his team, and scoring 30 points was just an other day in the office for him. Once legendary coach Dusan Ivkovic, when he was in charge of AEK BC, got so desperate seeing his players being torched by Al, that he called a time out and started asking everybody: “What’s the deal with Ford? He does whatever he wants! Are you going to try at least to stop him? Is he your cousin, or something?” The panic of his players was so big, that only few of them got the joke and the motivation to try and play harder defense.
When Ford played for Olympiacos back in 2001-2 season, he had some bad games below his level and that led to some bad results for the team. His agent, Nick Lotsos, met him on his office and tried to push him in order to help him react and produce. “To tell you the truth, I pushed him hard. I wanted to motivate him, I wanted to see him taking initiative, playing hard. I noticed that he was taking it hard. Tears welled up in his eyes. I didn’t expected a reaction of that kind. He got up and walked out of the room. I waited and then went to see what was going on. He talked to my cousin Nikos and he was crying. He was so sensitive. Many players with a big contract, don’t give a damn. Alphoso was different”.
I feel like an alien…
Alphoso had a great 2003-4 season as a player of Italian club Scavolini Pesaro. It was also his last season… Just after the end of the season, his team renewed his contract. He want to Florida for vacations with his family, but the countdown had already started. His condition was getting worse. He announced through a press release that he would not play basketball next season, wished the best for his team and urged them to continue without him. He didn’t want to say anything else. He was in constant agony. There were big blisters all over his body and he started to realize his situation… He talked by phone with Lotsos who tried to lighten the mood, asking Al if he was feeling like an alien. “Yes man, that’s what I feel with all this happening”. His agent couldn’t keep talking. He hang up the phone, because he didn’t want Alphonso to hear him cry. He called him back after five minutes and told him that it the line was disrupted. It was one of the last times that Ford talked to his friends in Greece.
His end and his funeral
Al got hospitalized at Memphis and on the 4th of September 2004 died. He was 33 years old. The news were a shock to the basketball community. Everybody knew his leukemia problem and everybody expected the worst. Scavolini was playing in a preparation tournament, which had television coverage. The television rights were sold, but his teammates, being led by Serbian guard Sasha Djordjevic, left Italy in order to attend in person Alphonso Ford’s funeral in the States. It was rumored that Djordjevic’s relation with Ford was bumpy, but he just said: “I am off for the USA. Whoever wants, can follow me”. Everybody followed. They arrived to Memphis after a stop over at Amsterdam, Holland, because that was the only flight which could get them in time to Greenwood, Mississippi. Even American forward Rodney Elliott who played with Ford in Scavoloni and had already signed with Croatian club Cibona Zagreb found a way to be there and attend the funeral…
The trophy, his tomb and the jeep…
After efforts mostly by the Italian clubs in which Ford had played, Euroleague named after him the competition top scorer’s trophy at the 2004-5 season. Who was the first recipient? The player whom Scavolini had signed in order to replace Ford, American swingman Charles Smith. He got the trophy at the Euroleague gala of Moscow’s final four from the hands of Ford’s wife and he… immediately returned it to her: “It’s yours. You must keep it”, Smith said to Ford’s wife. And she did, unlike stubborn Al who was offered a…real crown by an Italian fan, after a big Scavolini win and he denied it, because he considered the gesture over the top.
Alphonso will still live in the heart of every man with a passion for basketball. His tomb, in his home town, has a picture of him, wearing the red jersey of Olympiacos, keeping his head high, That’s how he lived, that’s how he fought, that’s how he left. His wife Paula still cherish his memory. His son, “Al Junior”, at his 16 years continue the family tradition, playing basketball in his highschool team. The big brother of the family, the son of Paula from her first marriage and was a kid growing up under Alphonso? He drives a Chevrolet Tahoe with the license plate “AL FORD 4”, the number of his stepfather in college…He gave strength to everybody he loved and everybody who lived close to him. And now all of them are living also for him…