Published March 9, 1988/The New Orleans Times-Picayune
THE HEART OF A TIGER
BATON ROUGE—It’s nearly noon and LSU’s Assembly Center is quiet. Every now and then someone will walk though, mostly maintenance people preparing the arena for the SEC Tournament. Other than that and the tapping of the keys on this computer, the only sounds are in my head. Those are getting louder.
It’s raining outside, as it should be. It’s quiet in here, and it should be.
Don Redden died this morning.
He was 24. I am only 28, but the confusion just begins there.
They said it was a heart attack, and I don’t understand how that could be. His heart was full and strong and good. Heart was what made Don Redden such a good basketball player. And heart was what made everyone who knew him know he was someone special.
Heart was the best part of Don Redden.
He was always in the newspapers for what he could do on the basketball court, but the games I actually saw him play I can count on my fingers. It was away from basketball I knew him best. It was evenings on the porch with buddies or in a booth eating cheeseburgers or riding in his pickup truck.
Playing basketball was just something he did now and then. Having heart was something he practiced all the time.
The gym is quiet this morning, but I’ve heard it explode after a Redden jump shot. I can see him running back down the court, arms pumping in the air. No one loved the competition, the battle and the winning more than Redden. He had the heart to play the game as well as the good Lord gave him talent to. He didn’t cheat on his gift.
I thought this might be a good place to sit and think about him because he made himself and a lot of other people happy here so often. But it could have been the gym back at Ouachita High in Monroe, where his name started to grow. Or it could have been the driveway at his home, where he’d shoot basketball before leaving for elementary school in the morning and then again until dark in the evening, all the time dreaming of getting here and then to the Final Four.
All that eventually happened because he had the heart to make it so.
I just looked at my watch and I guess it was 15 minutes ago I started writing this. But the time reminded me that 24 hours ago nearly to the minute I walked into a little grill on Nicholson Drive and Don was sitting there waiting for me to eat lunch. He looked the same as always, smiling and healthy and happy. The only difference was he had on a coat and tie because of his new job, and I told him to wear a T-shirt next time so I’d recognize him. Joking, he asked me about plugging his new insurance job in the paper, and I said during the SEC tournament I’d write something like “this guy or that guy could shoot almost as good as former LSU star Don Redden, who, by the way, would appreciate your business and can be reached at this number.”
And then here his name shows up in the newspapers for all the wrong reasons.
He told me he had stopped dipping tobacco two weeks ago and reminded me of a story I wrote about him during the Final Four season. There was a line about the crease the tobacco can made in his hip pocket, and that was his favorite part of the whole story. Don was always more blue jeans than coat and tie, more porch swing than Cadillac. He liked it that way, and that’s the way people liked him.
I live farther away from campus than I need to, and he thought maybe we’d buy a house over here, something old that we could re-do and fix up. We figured that would be fine since neither of us spends a lot of time at home anyway. “It’s a good idea,” he said, “if you can stand living with me.”
I could have.
Lots of people are better off having had the chance to see Don Redden play basketball with so much desire. And others are even luckier to have known him and known he lived the same way he played games, trying all the time to get better, playing and living with a heart he kept strong and full.
It’s quiet in this place except for the one thing I keep hearing. If I could stand living with him, he said.
For people like me who love him, it’s going to be a whole lot harder living without him.