The point? Fatherhood & faith

pg2_g_kanderson1_400It was a strange story from the start. The Washington Post dedicated a lot of newsprint the other day to a story about an ex-hoops star, an urban basketball legend who, strangely enough, lacked strong ties to the D.C. area. As you would imagine, the heart of this feature wasn't really about basketball.

No, story of the rise and fall of ex-NBA superstar (or almost superstar, which is crucial) Kenny Anderson focused on another issue altogether -- fatherhood. Reporter Dave Sheinin wrapped this drama in the language of moral choices right from the start.

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -- He ran the production like a former point guard, which Kenny Anderson is, and as if his life depended on it, which, in a way, it did. He lined up the consents of five women -- the mothers of his seven kids, some of them more amenable to the idea than others -- and coordinated the kids' flights, same days, same arrival times, so as to minimize the waiting-around time at the airport. There was no time to waste. He was finally getting his kids together. ...

From the comfort of his home, Anderson, who didn't know his own father until his early 30s, contemplated the blessings of fatherhood and beamed. In the faces of his kids, he could see the evidence of his own past mistakes -- the womanizing, the failed marriages, the hollow attempts at fatherhood he made during a 14-year NBA career that ended in 2005.

But over the course of those few amazing, late-summer weeks, he could also see the seeds of his new beginning, a new chapter for Kenny Anderson -- now a 38-year-old, full-time, stay-at-home father to Kenny Jr. and Tiana, and an aspiring college basketball coach who wants nothing more than to distance himself from those past failures as a father, as a husband, as a man.

It's a long story, full of poignant details, fast cars (lots of them) and millions of dollars that seemed to vanish into thin air.

However, as you might expect, there is a woman standing behind this fancy player who is now trying to mature into something else. That woman is his third wife, a clinical social worker named Natasha. And that's where the story uses interesting language that points to where it is going.

Thank God for Tasha, say those who are closest to Kenny Anderson. ... Natasha, to be sure, was unlike any other woman Anderson had had in his life. She was salt-of-the-earth. She was strong. She "held Kenny accountable for Kenny," as she puts it.

Just to make sure you get the point, the "thank God for Tasha" language shows up again.

That's when I started to worry that this was going to be another one of those stories with a sprinkling of vague Godtalk and no actual reporting. It's one thing to pull God into the picture. It's another thing to try to figure out -- with on-the-record details -- the role that faith may actually play in a human life.

You see, playing the "Jesus card" is easy and reporters often let athletes get away with that. In this case, Sheinin didn't settle for vague labels. He showed that Anderson is trying to build faith and faithfulness into the ordinary details of life. It's called journalism and here's a small sample:

It's a beautiful life Kenny Anderson leads these days, beautiful in its simplicity and its structure. He gets a call every morning, between 6 and 7 a.m., from Al Taylor, his pastor back home, whom Anderson has known since junior high, and who married him and Natasha back in July 2007.

"Sometimes we talk about Scripture, but sometimes there's something else in his heart, and I just wind up listening to Kenny," Taylor says. "Sometimes, Kenny is going deep."

Next, Anderson drives Kenny Jr. and Tiana -- Natasha's daughter -- to their public elementary school and finds something to do until it's time to pick them up again at 2:15. He's a prolific Twitterer, particularly between, say, 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.

It seems easy to do this kind of reporting, but it isn't.

I was afraid that this story would be haunted by a religion ghost, but that isn't the case at all. It's a story about a man learning to be a father and, as often happens, faith is playing a role in helping him keep his vows.

It's a nice story. Read it all. And if you happen to be a conservative reader who loves to take shots at the Post, please drop the editors a line to compliment this story. Shock them.

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