Final Four: Buddy Hield brings Oklahoma fandom to the Bahamas
HOUSTON – Back in the Bahamas, the prime minister will be watching Saturday night.
“He wanted to come,” Charles Fisher of the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas was saying. “But he had some important business he needed to attend to.”
That’s what the woman who answered the phone in the Right Honorable Perry Christie’s, the Bahamian Ambassador to the U.S., office reported Friday, too. “Government affairs,” she mentioned. But yes, he would be in front of a television by tipoff.
Back in the Bahamas, the streets will be empty Saturday evening.
Back in the Bahamas, it will feel like Norman, with Oklahoma fervor, when Buddy Hield – native son of Eight Mile Rock – leads the Sooners against Villanova in the Final Four.
“This is Buddy’s nation now,” said Fred Sturrup, general manager of the Freeport News, over the phone Friday from the Bahamas. “The most popular teams in the Bahamas have always been UCLA and North Carolina and Indiana. Now the Oklahoma Sooners are the most popular basketball team in the entire country, all because of Buddy Hield.”
Back in the Bahamas, the kids will gather round to see their hero Saturday night. They know his story. How he was one of seven kids of a single mom who cleaned houses to feed them. How the children slept together in a home with no hot water, and young Buddy put a milk crate up on a light pole and honed his love for the game, as if it were Madison Square Garden.
And they know where he will be Saturday night, in a glitzy arena in a faraway place, draining 3’s, while the announcers talk of the unstoppable guard from the Bahamas.
“It’s a real Hollywood story,” said Fisher, who is here for the Bahamian government to cover the tale. “He’s showing the country, always go after your dream. He has said this, if he can do it, anybody can do it.
“A couple of years ago, kids in the Bahamas, when they were asked, `Who do you want to be like?’ they’d say LeBron or Dwyane Wade, because Miami is right there. Now everybody is saying they want to be like Buddy. So he is our version of Steph Curry.
“He’s still in touch with the youngsters. Some of them still have his number. They’re back and forth texting, him giving advice, saying hi.”
Buddy Hield Oklahoma shirts?
“They’re everywhere,” Fisher said, and never mind they aren’t the official brand. “They’ve airbrushed it on, some way or another.
“The town is going to shut down, especially where he lives. Game comes on at 7 back in the Bahamas. By 6:30, everybody’s going to be in front of the TV.”
Back in the Bahamas, Hield is everything. That’s a lot to put on a college kid, but he said Friday at the Final Four that everything is good.
“There’s no pressure, it’s all fun. No matter what, they still love me. They love the way I’ve represented them. I don’t think it’s pressure. Just being here is a joy and it’s a blessing.
“I think my country is very proud of me so I have nothing to worry about and nothing to hold my head down about.”
Yeah, but winning would be nice.
“I know they’ll be watching so I know not to disappoint them, because I want to go back home. I know they’re going to talk a lot of smack to me,” he said. “You never can satisfy the people back in the Bahamas. You don’t know those people, they’re different. If I win, they won’t say nothing to me. So I don’t want to talk about any losses.”
Before the game, he will read some of his mother’s favorite Bible verses. Psalms 23, 27, 35, 37. He does before every game.
There has been talk of NRG Stadium’s vast open spaces, and how they might vex a shooter. Hield scoffs. “It’s a regular court. Just you and the basket,” he said. Besides, he grew up playing the game outside. A dome the size of a zip code wouldn’t scare him.
There has been talk of his insatiable work ethic, his hours upon hours in the gym, and from where that might come. His answer Friday was simple enough.
“Just a kid, having nothing. You just want to keep on shooting and being the best.”
Back in the Bahamas, they can’t get enough of the journey of Chavano Hield. That’s how some of the newspapers refer to him, by his legal name.
“I keep telling people this is so reminiscent of 30 years ago and Mychal Thompson, when he went to the Lakers and won two NBA championships,” Sturrup said. “The whole town, women, young boys, young girls, became Lakers fans. Now with Buddy’s rise, the similarities are kind of eerie. It’s almost like the same thing.”
Villanova has a challenge Saturday, with the most prolific scorer the Final Four has seen in decades. As Wildcats coach Jay Wright said, “You just don't play against anybody like that.”
Back in the Bahamas, they want to see a championship. And then what a parade it would be.
“When he comes home for the summer,” Fisher said, “everybody’s going to just want to touch him. It’s going to be crazy.
“This is big. Normally it’s like an election time to see all these people gathering in the Bahamas. This is how it is right now.”
Consider the world of Buddy Hield Saturday night. Every player in NRG Stadium will have a school’s fan base rooting for him Saturday night, but only one will have an entire country.