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Updated Monday, February 4, 2013 at 12:40 PM

Farewell: Thanks for 30 years of friends, acts of kindness

By Steve Kelley
Seattle Times staff columnist

The Coliseum looked like a war zone as the Seahawks quickly left the field following their 30-14 loss to the Raiders in the 1984 AFC title game.

Dozens of bloody fights had broken out in the late stages of the game, and along the sidelines medics were stitching and bandaging the victims. The sound of sirens pierced the thick air, and choppers flew in to take out the most seriously injured.

As a precaution, Seattle sports writers were herded into the Seahawks' locker room, where we got the distinct impression we weren't welcomed. Finally. it was obvious Hawks guard Reggie McKenzie had enough of this intrusion.

"Send Kelley out," McKenzie yelled. "Sacrifice Kelley."

As much as I've loved covering the games, what I'll remember most from my 30-plus years in Seattle sports will be the associations and enduring friendships, the silly gives and takes and the great off-the-field, away-from-the-camera acts of kindness I've been fortunate to witness.

A few years back, I asked Sonics swingman Desmond Mason if we could pay a visit to a 16-year-old friend of mine who was dying from brain cancer. Mason didn't hesitate to say yes.

He had visited Ari Grashin once before, when Ari had first been diagnosed, but I told Mason this visit might be more difficult emotionally for him.

For weeks, Ari hadn't allowed his friends to see him. But on this day, there was an excited buzz in the Grashins' house. Because of Desmond Mason, Ari agreed to invite about a half-dozen of his lifelong friends into his bedroom. Mason sat on the bed, held Ari's hand, told stories and jokes for several hours and made Ari's final days just a little bit easier for Ari, his family and his friends.

These are the indelible moments.

I was lucky enough to watch then-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren sit in an oversized rocking chair and talk to a group of respectfully enthralled fourth-graders about sportsmanship and education.

Holmgren volunteered to come to the New School after I told him about some problems I was having, as a volunteer, directing the kids in kickball games.

For an hour, Holmgren answered every question the 40 students threw at him. And after he left, we never had another problem on the kickball field.

Similarly, Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar and then-Sonics assistant Dwane Casey not only took the time to help another high-school student with his term paper, but opened up their offices, turned on their computers and gave Isaac Oppenheimer a one-on-one course on coaching.

Isaac was a friend of Ari's, and through their kindness and generosity Romar and Casey helped Isaac through a very difficult time. That summer, Casey gave Isaac a job working at the Sonics' summer camp. A decade later, we still talk about the experience.

I'll get carpal tunnel sending emails of thanks to all of the players, coaches and team officials who have made this job a joy and reminded me there was more to life than games.

Jim Marsh, who scored 119 more points in the NBA than I did, has been one of the great mentors of kids for more than 40 years. Coach Chris Gobrecht accelerated the growth of women's sports in this state by making Washington women's basketball a must-see on the local sports calendar.

Thank you, George Karl, Nate McMillan, Bill Walton, Dave Harshman, Maurice Lucas, Terry Stotts, Lionel Hollins, Mike Lude, Karen Bryant, Adrian Hanauer, Dan Wilson, Jay Buhner, Mike Cameron, Jamie Moyer.

I've been lucky to watch maybe the two best players in the history of women's basketball, the Storm's Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, and discovered they were even better people than they were players.

When I was a foundering writer in Centralia, I helped high-school coach Ron Brown with his summer basketball camps. His head clinician was Washington coach Marv Harshman.

I learned so much basketball, sitting with them at one of the local watering holes and talking basketball every night until closing time. For the past 40 years, I've felt so lucky to have spent so much quality time with Harshman, one of the truly great men of local sports.

The Sonics had just upset the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 1987 playoffs. Tom Chambers, who had been mentioned seriously in trade talks with New Jersey at midseason, was one of the series' stars. After the game, he couldn't hide his excitement.

"I love it here. Seattle is where I want to play. I never wanted to go to New Jersey," he told me. "I don't want to raise my kids on the East Coast."

"Hey Tom, I was raised on the East Coast," I said to him.

"That's what I mean," Chambers said.

Jousting with Tom Chambers was one of my favorite pastimes in my early days as a columnist.

On a dreary spring afternoon last year, after Sounders FC forward Roger Levesque played in a scrimmage against Gonzaga at Starfire, he raced across town to sit in front of group of star-struck elementary-school students at Barnes and Noble and read poems by Shel Silverstein.

Levesque had spent hours finding the poems that meant the most to him, and I think he had as much fun as the kids.

Thank you, Lenny Wilkens, Bernie Bickerstaff, Jim Mora, Chuck Knox, Bob Melvin, Jack Zduriencik, Eric Wedge, Jim Lefebvre, Gary Wright, Sigi Schmid, Mike McCormack, Kasey Keller, Mauro Rosales, Taylor Graham, Bob Whitsitt, Don James, Jim Lambright, Scott Woodward, Pete Fewing, Howard Mudd, Ken Bone, Jeff Hironaka, Cameron Dollar.

I remember the night Gary Payton refused to talk with us after a game. Payton never told us why he was leaving in such a hurry. It was none of our business. He left the locker room, ran down the hallway and jumped into a waiting car, heading for Children's Hospital.

That night he sat at the bedside of a young girl he had met in a previous visit to the hospital. He stayed with her all night and was there when she died.

Ken Griffey Jr. was just as generous with his time with Make-A-Wish kids. All these years later, Junior remains a hero to that remarkable foundation.

Shawn Kemp was willing to get out of his comfort zone and do a Shakespearean skit with me to raise money for the Seattle Shakespeare Company. Wearing a green apron with his name and number 40 across the front, Kemp stole the show.

If called upon, he'll drop everything to speak to a classroom or to a team.

Thank you, Steve Largent, Dave Krieg, Cortez Kennedy, Gil Haskell, Jim Zorn, Dave Wyman, Paul Moyer, Hersey Hawkins, Detlef Schrempf, Edwin Bailey, Sam Perkins, Xavier McDaniel, Eldridge Recasner, Chris Welp, Paul Fortier.

After my father died, I wrote a column about his love for college football, especially my alma mater, the University of Delaware. A week later, I got a letter from athletic director Edgar Johnson thanking me for my donation to the football program. Huh?

Months later, a Sonics official asked me what I thought of Brent Barry's generosity. Before that, I had no idea it was Barry who made the donation. It remains one of the coolest things anyone has done for me.

Thank you, Brandon Roy, Will Conroy, Bobby Jones, Jamal Crawford, Spencer Hawes, Jason Hamilton, Martell Webster, Elise Woodward, Karen Deden, Willette White, Anne Donovan, Brad Jackson, John Johnson, Jack Sikma, Slick Watts, Sonny Sixkiller, Hugh Millen.

After a Mariners win over Kansas City, I asked manager Lou Piniella if he had a minute to meet a friend of mine who was sitting outside the clubhouse door. Joel Pineiro had pitched well that night, and Piniella was almost giddy when he came out to shake hands with Ari Grashin.

For the next 15 minutes, Ari grilled Piniella about the team and the game, asking questions that probably were tougher than any of us asked in the news conference. Piniella answered every one as if Ari were Peter Gammons.

A few summers ago, I was with friends on Flathead Lake in Montana. Former Sonics center Frank Brickowski had arranged a day of water sports.

Swimming off my buddy Jeff's dock, I heard the roar of Brickowski's Jet Ski heading toward me, full throttle. I felt as if he were about to create a new X Games event and I was one of the obstacles on his course.

"Look out," Jeff yelled a little too late.

"I've been waiting a long time to do this," Brickowski hollered above the engine's roar.

He pointed the Jet Ski right at me, turned it sharply and washed a tsunami's worth of the lake over my head. His laughter bubbled in my ears as I coughed out lake water.

Once more, I want to thank all of these players, coaches and administrators for all of the laughs and all of the moving moments inside and outside of the arenas. They've made my life and all of our lives richer.

OK, I'm going to stop now before I think a little longer about this decision and turn into Brett Favre and un-retire.

So long.

Want to say farewell to Steve Kelley? Email sports@seattletimes.com

Read more columns by Steve Kelley at www.seattletimes.com/columnists


BETTY UDESEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Steve Kelley remembers many acts of kindness from the athletes he wrote about.




ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Steve Kelley takes a second to pose while writing a column at the U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee Country Club in 2010.




TOM REESE / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Steve Kelley finds his way to the Safeco Field outfield seats before the ballpark opened in 1999.




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