Press Room Banter

with Katie Dowd

Photo:



Related Articles »





  • Printer Friendly Printer Friendly
  • Comments Comments (0)

Some stories are so moving that they leave you empty inside, because your own softly beating heart doesn't seem capable of feeling the same emotions as the people you've read about.

Over the past few years, Cal basketball players Bak Bak and Jorge Gutierrez have revealed two such stories. It seems, though, that they've been told in whispers. Some of that is because laws were broken along the way, and some of that is because articulation is complicated when English is your second, or your seventh, language.

But these stories should be shouted, because they are important. Their stories both begin with despair but also with hope. And, somewhere along the way, they become stories about a deeper truth.

Bak was born into war. By the time he was six months old, the civil war raging in Sudan had taken the lives of his sister and three uncles. With death closing in around them, Bak's father helped him and his mother, Elizabeth, flee. They made it to Kenya.

As a young man, Bak was poached by an agent, one of those many shadowy figures who "manage" the careers of potential basketball talents in Africa. The man took Bak all the way to America, only to disappear with Bak's passport.

Bak had to fly to Sudan to get his papers reissued. Alone, the airport officials detained him for two terrifying days. He lost everything - suitcases, clothes, family photos - but left Sudan with his identity in hand. He returned to America where he enrolled at Village Christian High in California. There, he started anew.

On the other side of the world, Gutierrez was born into a dead end. As the boy grew into a basketball player, his parents saw no future for him in Chihuahua, Mexico. So they made the decision Bak's father had made years before: They sent their son away.

Gutierrez crossed the border with his parents - illegally - and they enrolled him at Lincoln High in Denver. Then, they left. They sent money from their jobs back in Mexico so Gutierrez could survive.

In the dark of their cheap apartment, Gutierrez and two other boys from Mexico ate soft lettuce for dinner and fell asleep cold. When bruises bloomed all over Gutierrez's body, he ignored them. Once, he played a game left-handed because his right arm turned blue. A trip to the doctor revealed what must now seem obvious: The growing teenager subsisting off school lunches and lettuce was horribly anemic.

Coaches and teammates' families pitched in, but Gutierrez's home was turning into a prison. At games, there were protestors, calling Gutierrez and his teammates names. Legally, he could not stay. Gutierrez moved again, this time to Nevada to attend Findlay Prep.

There, Mike Montgomery found and signed him. And a year later, Montgomery signed Bak.

Today, Gutierrez is the heart and soul of Cal. The junior scored 34 in its overtime win over UCLA last weekend. He is the Bears' figurehead and their sparkplug. Bak is a sophomore, and he plays here and there. There will be more of that in the future. He has time.

Each time they lace up, a small miracle is at work. Each time Gutierrez and Bak tread the court, something greater, much more meaningful than sport alone, comes to life. They are the embodiment of the power of sacrifice, struggle and, more than anything, love.

They remind us that there are sports. And then there is life.

Tags: JORGE GUTIERREZ, BAK BAK


Take in the small miracles with Katie at [email protected]



Comments (0) »

Comment Policy
The Daily Cal encourages readers to voice their opinions respectfully in regards to both the readers and writers of The Daily Californian. Comments are not pre-moderated, but may be removed if deemed to be in violation of this policy. Comments should remain on topic, concerning the article or blog post to which they are connected. Brevity is encouraged. Posting under a pseudonym is discouraged, but permitted. Click here to read the full comment policy.
White space
Left Arrow
Sports
Image McLachlan's win helps Cal advance
Riki McLachlan wasn't supposed to play singles in Saturday's second round...Read More»
Sports
Image Bears run by Utes, into the national final
For many Cal students, Saturday marked the end of their collegiate caree...Read More»
Sports
Image Bears fall short in first ever NCAA final
Battling furiously near the front of the cage, Stanford's Annika Dries re...Read More»
Sports
Image Cal dispatches Trojans, advances to round of 16
With the Cal women's tennis team needing one more win to clinch a v...Read More»
Sports
Image Tedford picks Maynard as the Bears' starting quart...
In recent years, Cal football coach Jeff Tedford has kept...Read More»
Sports
Image Bears drop weekend series in Corvallis
Sundays haven't been kind to Cal's starting pitchers lately. A week ago, O...Read More»
Right Arrow




Job Postings

White Space