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This morning just felt different. I was awakened by the loud cackling of thunder. I looked outside to see nearly horizontal rain and trees that looked as if their roots were holding on by a thread. I walked downstairs to make some breakfast and proceeded to my computer to check my e-mail. Shortly thereafter, I received a text message from a friend of mine who works in Phoenix. It read, “Bro, did you hear the horrible news about Daryl Hawks.”

I first met Daryl at a high school basketball game in Milpitas, California on February 13th, 2007. We were both covering the same story, Steve Cain’s final home game as head coach at Milpitas High. The winningest boys basketball coach in Central Coast Section history, Steve Cain finished with 669 wins in 38 seasons. A couple of hours before the game, Steve and I sat down for his interview. We talked about his legacy and what he’d miss about coaching. He began tearing up when talking about team fishing trips, saying he’d miss those the most. Now, here I am years later, sitting at this computer with tears streaming down my face as I recall this night. My reason is different from Steve’s, but also very much the same. Just as those trips helped him build an emotional bond with his players, that night helped me establish a friendship so important that I’ll never be the same person.

Daryl was in the gym that night as a sports reporter for the NBC affiliate in San Jose. He was there with a cameraman and they interviewed Steve before the game as well. Afterwards, we exchanged friendly nods and I told Daryl how much I enjoy his work. He was extremely polite and genuine as we made small talk. However, I had to shoot the game so I got to work as we both hung out on the same base line. After the first quarter, we talked some more and then did the same at halftime. He was so down to earth and easy to talk to, I felt as if I’d known him for years. Him and the cameraman had to leave before the game was over, so he asked if he could call me later for the final score. I gave him the post-game report later that evening and he told me if I ever needed help with anything to give him a call. I’d been told this by people in the broadcasting business before but Daryl was different. He really meant it. While I covered a great story that night, I gained an even better mentor.

The next time I saw Daryl would also be the last. Four months later, he and I both attended the Northern California Area Emmy Awards. I won an Emmy with my grandparents, mom, and step-dad in the crowd. Daryl gave me a big celebratory hug when he saw me after the awards presentation. We talked about the upcoming summer and he encouraged me to send him some of my work for feedback. He and I stayed in contact frequently over the phone and e-mail, with him giving me constructive criticism on my resume reel. I’d make the appropriate changes and put his tips to work out in the field. For instance, I began thinking of more creative stand-ups and started bringing a pen on set to relax my hands at the desk. He schooled me on the ins and outs of the broadcasting business, what news directors like to see from a job applicant, and how I could better market myself. Priceless advice in itself, even more special when considering the warmth with which he offered these tools to success. We weren’t best friends from childhood but he sure treated me like we were.

The next year, Daryl was hired by NBC in Chicago as a sports anchor. He and I talked before news of his move was public and I’ll never forget how excited he was. Daryl, his wife Sandy, and their 2 young children made the move, but I knew we’d keep in touch. There, he continued to hone his craft while inspiring viewers. I’d send him links of my resume videos and he’d e-mail me back suggestions. Then, two months ago, I landed my first network gig. I called him a couple of weeks after I arrived in Texas to update him on my situation and ask him for some more advice. We ended up talking for more than an hour that night. Here’s an extremely busy man,  making time for a person he’s only seen twice in his life. I always made it a point to tell him how grateful I was for his guidance and direction as I tried finding my place in this business. He would always respond with a simple “pay it forward.” Meaning, it was up to me to pass along this information and help others just as he was helping me.

After reading the text from my friend this morning, I went online and typed in ‘Daryl Hawks.’ The headline I read left me in utter shock and disbelief.

“Dead at 38.”

Instantly, I started sobbing. Daryl was in Atlanta to cover game 6 of the Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks series. Just yesterday, he tweeted, “I’m sitting in a steakhouse in Atlanta rooting for the Heat (first time ever). What can I say, I want to take my talents to south beach :)” This morning, hotel employees found him unresponsive in his hotel room and he was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. I took refuge in the same place Daryl liked to: the gym. Holding back tears, I made it through an hour-long workout. I talked to my mom on the phone and received encouraging text messages and Facebook posts. A moment of silence was held in honor of Daryl prior to the singing of the National Anthem tonight at Philips Arena. I’ll always remember his infectious laugh and his devotion to being a loving father, husband, and friend. I still can’t believe he’s gone. Yet, with all the advice he’s given me, Daryl never really will be. Time for me to pay it forward.

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