How Watching the Warriors Helped Me Process My Father’s Death

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a young white man in a flannel shirt and an older man, his father, in a blue button up shirt, with their arms around each other, smiling for the camera at a basketball game
The author and his father, John, at a Warriors game. (Courtesy Brent Rose)

Some of my clearest memories from childhood take place around basketball courts. While I never really played beyond the school yard with friends, my dad did. There was a rec league at his work, and my dad had games every week, it seemed. These games often happened to be on the Tuesdays or every-other-weekends that my brother and I spent with him starting around when I was seven.

A chemical engineer by trade and standing 6’2”, my dad wasn’t an amazing athlete, but he would work his ass off out there. He’d make the occasional shot, but he was an absolute pest on defense. He always took us home straight after the final whistle blew, and the scent of his sweat would take over every cubic inch of airspace in his big brown Buick. It smelled aggressively sweet, somehow, and he never stank, aside from his shoes — the original Nike Air Jordans from 1985. One year he hurt his leg on the court but kept playing for the rest of the game. He only realized that he’d broken it the next day when it swelled up like a balloon, and I believe that was the end of his intramural career.

a black and white photo shows a high school basketball team from the 1960s
John’s high school basketball team — he’s fourth from the left, No. 5. Chevy Chase, MD, 1965. (Courtesy Brent Rose)

Dad was always looking for cheap things he could do with us when it was his weekend with the boys. We lived about 20 minutes from the Oakland Coliseum, so that meant a lot of bleacher and upper-deck seats for A’s games. But once a year or so we’d get to go see the Warriors as a special treat. This was back during the Run TMC days, when they were so good, yet somehow only ever won a single playoff series. We blamed Don Nelson, who we agreed was a great coach, but somehow also very bad at coaching. I remember seeing Manute Bol taking impossibly long strides down the court, still the tallest human I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. Then our hopes fell to Latrell Sprewell and then Chris Webber to be the team’s savior, but it never panned out. We would still go every year, if only as a pretext for hitting Flint’s BBQ before the game.

As rosy as that all sounds, the truth was my dad and I didn’t get along very well. He and I fought bitterly and frequently. By the time I was a junior in high school, I’d stopped going to his house at all, and we didn’t go to games anymore, either. While we’d still see each other, it was better when we kept our distance.

Time has a way of mellowing people, though. We started actively — if casually — working on repairing our relationship when I was in my 20s and living in New York. Then, in 2007, he called me to tell me that he had prostate cancer, and I realized that I needed to try to let go of whatever grudges I still harbored and do my best to enjoy however much time I was going to get with him. He was 60 years old and stage 4, but he assured me that there were a lot of treatment options available, and he was going to do everything he could to stick around for a long time. And he did.

a group of four men, two younger, two older, pose behind a sign that reads 'Bright angel trailhead'
The author, his father, his brother Matt, and his dad’s best friend Butch after they climbed out of the Grand Canyon for a camping trip to celebrate John’s 70th birthday. (Courtesy Brent Rose)

I moved back to California in 2013, and though I lived in LA, visiting the Bay was a whole lot easier. At the same time, my dad started showing interest in the NBA again. “We should go see a Warriors game again next time you’re in town,” he said one day. “They’ve got these three young guys named Steph, Klay, and Draymond, and they’re just amazing!” I think I just harumphed. I hadn’t paid attention to the NBA in years, and I think I flashed back to the close-but-not-quite trio from my youth. I’d been hurt before. But I was still looking for ways to reconnect with my dad, so I said sure. We started going once a year again, and obviously it turned out to be a pretty good era to reemerge from a 20-year basketball coma as a Warriors fan.

It’s not a stretch to say that the Warriors brought us closer together over the next decade. We’d watch games on TV together whenever I was in town. We’d even pick which nights I’d come over based on whether a game would be on. When I was away, if one of us texted the other, “You watching?” we both knew exactly what that meant. If we were both tuned in, we’d text back and forth, or sometimes after the game. “Curry got 51 tonight — did you see it?” (Feb. 25, 2016), or “Klay got something like 51 in 26 minutes (including 14 threes)” (Oct. 29, 2018). Even when we weren’t together, watching those games and talking about them made us feel closer. I got sucked back into NBA fandom, and my bond with my dad was stronger than it had ever been.

My dad was lucky that his treatments were generally mild, and he experienced virtually no symptoms for most of his time living with cancer. That streak lasted for the better part of a whopping 13 years. Things took a turn, though, right around when COVID hit. It had spread throughout his lymphatic system, and it was in his spine, all of which caused him incredible pain in his back and legs. His treatments got more aggressive, his side effects got wildly more unpleasant, and he got less and less benefit from each subsequent treatment.

In February 2022, he told the family that he was done fighting and would be entering home hospice, receiving palliative care, but no more treatment. I asked him if he was sure he was ready to throw in the towel. “The wheels are coming off, Brent,” he told me. “This body is used up, and it’s just no fun being in it anymore.” How can you argue with that? A couple weeks later he announced that on April 18, he would be making his big exit. California recently became a Death with Dignity / Right-to-Die state, and my brother and my dad’s siblings could all be there the weekend leading up to that Monday. As hard as it was, none of us tried to talk him out of it.

I was fortunate that I had booked a TV gig shooting in San Jose that started that January. Since retiring, my dad lived just over the mountains in Santa Cruz, which meant I got to visit him pretty much every week. After their two injury-riddled seasons, the Warriors were finally good again, and we watched any weekend games they played — along with his new wife, who was now hooked on the Dubs, too. Dad was over the moon to see Klay Thompson come back, his wife’s favorite was the promising rookie Jonathan Kuminga, and we all marveled any time Curry was on one. Pops was less mobile by this point, but he could put his feet up, pop an edible, and still enjoy the game, sometimes while donning his inflatable lymphedema compression pants.

an older woman and man with grey hair smiling at a dinner table. she wears an orange hoodie over a striped black and white shirt and he wears a blue and yellow warriors jersey
John — wearing the jersey he would later give his son, claiming it was new — and his wife Teren in 2020. (Courtesy Brent Rose)

The last thing we ever watched together was Game 1 of the Warriors’ first playoff series against the Nuggets on April 16. The Warriors won 123 to 107, but my dad had fallen asleep by halftime, and though he had DVR’d it, we never got around to watching the ending. He used every last bit of his energy that weekend spending time with his family, tying up loose ends, and, ever the goofball, wearing gigantic, fuzzy bunny ears on Easter. While going through some boxes in his garage, I found that pair of original Jordans he used to play in. I was amazed that he’d had the good sense to keep them. He said I should have them, and my brother and stepmom agreed.

On the morning of Monday, April 18, the whole family showed up wearing Hawaiian shirts, as he had requested. He didn’t want his death to be a somber affair. The prior Christmas he had gifted me a Steph Curry jersey, making a point of telling me it was brand-new, which I thought was a bit odd. I’ve never been the jersey-wearing type, as I always kind of thought of it as “big boy cosplay for bros,” but for the occasion I wore the jersey with the Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned so he could see it. I would later find out that it was actually his jersey, which he was sneakily regifting to me, but that just made it more special to me.

He had decided a month in advance that he would take the life-ending medication at 10 a.m., and that, before then, each of his family members would go into his bedroom to have two or three minutes of one-on-one time with him. I was the second-to-last to go in.

“Hey! You’re wearing that jersey!” he exclaimed when I came in and sat on the bed next to him. “It looks good on you! Boy, Curry is just amazing. I don’t think there will ever be a better shooter.”

“Yeah, he’s great, Dad…”

“You should check my dresser, though, because I used to have a Kobe jersey, too. Did you ever watch him? Man, 81 points in a game! I’ve never seen anything like it! He could score from anywhere…”

At this point I had to interrupt to remind him that these were my last two minutes with him ever, so maybe we should talk about something other than basketball. “Oh yeah, okay, good point, good point,” he said, but he added that if he could, he would try to help the Warriors in their postseason run from the other side. He also thought it would be a good time to take one last selfie together.

a young man in a blue and yellow warriors jersey next to an older man with grey hair in a white coat, both smiling for the camera.
The author and his father. (Courtesy Brent Rose)

My dad’s death was about as sweet and as perfect as any of us could hope for. More importantly, it went just the way he’d hoped. While that helps soften the blow a little, it was still an emotional A-bomb. My dad lived with stage 4 cancer for an incredible 15 years, finally giving up the ghost at the age of 75 (like his father, and his father before him). When I sent out the email to all his friends and relatives, he instructed me to use the subject line, “John has left the building!” He was a funny guy to the very end.

I’ve never been religious or prone to magical thinking, but something happens when, minutes before your dad dies, he effectively says, “I’ll try to help the Warriors from the spirit realm.” Even if you don’t really believe it, you’re hoping for some sign or confirmation that your loved one is still out there, existing in one form or another. It wasn’t subtle for me. Starting with Game 2 of the series, the evening after he died, I found myself looking for meaning in every clutch three, like, “Was that you, Dad?” The Warriors won that game by 20.

I probably don’t have to tell you that the Warriors won the 21/22 Championship. Watching Game 6 in a hotel room in San Diego and wearing the Curry jersey, as a win looked inevitable in late the fourth quarter, I felt like I was losing my mind. The Warriors had been considered underdogs that season. After that final conversation with my dad, it was just too poetic, too storybook-ending to be real. When the final horn blew, I cheered and cried like I never had before while watching any game in any sport in my life. It felt like the closing of a chapter.

a pair of vintage red, white and black Nike Air Jordans
John’s original Air Jordan 1 sneakers. (Courtesy Brent Rose)

My dad’s well-used Air Jordan 1s now sit in a case on my bookshelf. To this day, I still watch almost every Warriors game, and now my stepmom and I text about it, like me and my dad did. It’s been the weirdest season for the Dubs — maybe my dad had better things to do in the afterlife than try to shepherd them along to another title. But as the one-year anniversary of his passing arrived, and as the Warriors continue in the playoffs again, watching them has continued to be a great comfort. I still miss him a lot, and I imagine I will for the rest of my life. But when a game is on, I can still hear him hooting and hollering. Remembering his almost cartoonish “Yahoooo!”makes him feel not quite so far away.

I’m still watching, Dad. I wonder if you are, too.

Brent Rose is a journalist, actor and filmmaker. Find him online at