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BILL DWYRE

Father's Day takes time

During college, Mike Bibby made it known he was estranged from his dad, but Henry says they began bridging the gap during the 2002 Lakers-Kings series

June 15, 2008|BILL DWYRE

On July 22 in Las Vegas, Michael Bibby will be playing in a basketball tournament. That's Michael Bibby, age 10.

His dad, Mike Bibby, 30, star guard of the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, will be in the coach's seat.

No big deal there. Fathers coaching sons is the American way, especially when your father has been one of the best pro guards of this era.

In the stands, chest all puffed up, watching every move of both Michaels, will be grandpa Henry, 58.

Now that's a big deal.

There was a time not long ago when grandpa wasn't part of his son's life, and certainly not his grandson's. That split was well-documented, especially in a February 2001 article in The Times. A quote that became a dagger in the heart of Henry came from Mike, who had been a star at the University of Arizona while Henry was a coach in the same conference, at USC.

When Mike, a high school All-American at Shadow Ridge in Phoenix, picked Lute Olson and Arizona over Henry Bibby and USC, the questions were inevitable. Even more so when he led Arizona to the NCAA title in 1997. When pressed, Mike responded with the dagger.

"My father is not part of my life," he said.

Henry Bibby had long been separated from wife Virginia and his family in Phoenix by years of coaching in the Continental Basketball Assn. and places such as Puerto Rico. Eventually there was a divorce. But that one comment by his son stayed with him like a label.

"I'd go out recruiting," Henry said, "and the mother of the player would look at me and say, 'If you can't have a relationship with your own son, how are you going to have one with mine?' "

As Mike Bibby became more prominent, starring with the Sacramento Kings for years before his trade to the Hawks, his high profile made his estrangement from his father a topic that wouldn't go away.

But now it has, and Henry calls that one of the more important things in his life.

So are the phone calls that will be exchanged today.

"I'll call him, wish him happy Father's Day," Henry said. "He's a father now too. And I'll get a call from him, sometimes the day before if he is traveling. That's usually how it is."

Mike agreed that Father's Day is different now that he acknowledges he has one.

"We're good now," he said. "He calls. He calls the children. For a while, there was nothing. But you let things go. It was a long time ago."

In October, Henry will have more children to call. Mike's fourth child, and third girl, will be born.

"Nine grandchildren then," Henry said. "She will be my ninth."

Henry and Virginia had two sons -- Mike and Hank, a former baseball player at USC -- and one daughter, Charlsie. Charlsie is married to Eddie House, the Celtics guard who starred in Thursday night's stirring rally against the Lakers.

To be clear, this is not a story of a family gathering at the dinner table on Father's Day and joyously celebrating the end of all hostilities and the beginning of an Ozzie-and-Harriet future. Henry and Virginia have been divorced for more than a decade.

Virginia, who raised the family, remains its anchor.

"We still have problems," Henry said, "but those are my problems. Not the children's. I am still their father."

Mike keeps his permanent residence in Phoenix, close to both his brother, Hank, and his mother. Henry, who just completed his third season as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, makes his permanent residence in Las Vegas and runs several basketball camps in the off-season, including in Los Angeles.

Father and son said that they speak at least once a week on the phone and that their best chance to get together is when the Hawks play the 76ers.

"That's when I have the most time with him," Mike said.

Said Henry: "Sometimes, we go out to dinner if we have a day before the game."

And when they get to the game, Henry sits on the 76ers' bench and feels conflicted, just as he felt when he coached his Trojans against his son and Arizona.

"People always ask how I feel about that," Henry said. "I told somebody before one game that I hope Mike scores 40 points and we win. The next night, Mike got 44 against us and we won. It was perfect."

Henry said he recalls playing one-on-one with Mike when Mike was about grandson Michael's age.

"I sure wouldn't get in a game with him now," Henry said. "I always knew he would be good, but I never realized the magnitude of player he'd become."

It was when Mike Bibby's NBA magnitude was at its height as a member of the Kings that the cold war between father and son began to melt. Henry said it began during the Kings-Lakers series of 2002 that has recently been in the news because of an officiating controversy.

"I called him during that series," Henry recalled. "I encouraged him, talked a little basketball. He called back. We talked some more, and it got better.

"I sent his kids some gifts; I let them know I loved them. I kept reaching out and Mike started reaching back. I knew one thing for sure. I would always be his dad. Now, I'm involved with all my kids and grandkids."

Mike Bibby said he wasn't sure exactly when he and his father began to reconcile, but he said, "It's been awhile now, and it's been good."

Henry said that one of his favorite family memories is when Mike played in a youth basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

"Mike made a key steal, and we won," he said. "We beat one of Izzy Washington's teams."

Henry Bibby coached that youth team, just like Mike Bibby will coach his son, Michael's, in July in the same city.

Even in families, what goes around comes around. With Henry and Mike Bibby, it just took longer.

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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