Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Mary Oliver had made up her mind. And a million incredulous looks from the funeral director wasn't about to change it. Her beloved Donald would spend eternity inside a basketball. Well, what was left of Don. His cremated ashes. Maybe, said the director, as politely as possible, we could imprint the urn with a basketball. Nope, said Mary. No imprint. The genuine article. Leather and everything. The family had the perfect one available, a ball Don's granddaughter, Caley Onek, and her brother had given him as a birthday present. A section of the ball was cut away. The plastic bag of ashes was carefully tucked inside, and the section replaced. They really hooped it up at Don's service as well. Final Four hats were positioned up and down a small ladder. Pictures of the 23 Final Fours Don and Mary had attended shared space with a big bouquet decorated with mini basketballs, stickers and jerseys. 23 consecutive Final Fours when a nasty cough set in early last year. A trip to the hospital revealed the worst possible news.
Don had lung cancer. Of course, he felt terrible. He must have. For the first time in 23 years, Don and Mary skipped last year's Final Four. Don seemed to be holding his own. Then, last August 1, Don and Mary were preparing to attend -- what else? -- a game. Mary walked out to the car and saw Don on the ground. An ambulance was summoned, but it was too late. Seventy-year-old Don Oliver was dead from a blood clot to the heart.
Donald Oliver loved basketball. No, he really loved basketball. As a boy growing up in Miller, Kan., he played all the time. His passion translated throughout the family. His daughter played in high school, then coached at Allen County Community College in Iola. His granddaughter plays for Flinthills High School in Rosalia, and plays to continue in college. Don would attend her Monday night game, then his grandson's game on Tuesday night. The area's college teams, Emporia State and Washburn University, weren't ignored either. Nor was the state's powerhouse, the University of Kansas. Don wouldn't drive to those games in Lawrence. Too far. Instead, he'd fly, wearing the KU cap with the giant Jayhawk perched on top. "He had a passion for the game that I couldn't even describe,'' said Caley.
Ed.--What can I say but Rock Chalk Jayhawk Go KU!