The Rockets won the Mid-American Conference championship in the 1966-67 season, going 23-2 and making the NCAA Tournament, which was quite a feat because only twenty-three teams qualified for the tournament that year. Mix and his teammates cut down the net after they clinched their spot in the tournament, and the next morning, I was stunned to see it hanging off a kitchen cabinet in the home of one of my friends whose father was a University of Toledo professor with connections to the team. We were living in the well-manicured middle-class enclave of Old Orchard in West Toledo, just across busy Bancroft Street from the university. The old Field House where the basketball team played -- no one called it the men's team because there was no women's team that we knew of back then -- was a five-minute walk from our home. Dad and I had gone to a few games that season, but not the one that clinched the title. Instead, I listened to every minute of that crucial game on the radio. Seeing that net the next day made it real to me.
We went to a few games the next year, Dad and I, and on occasion, Kate and Jim. We went to several more the next, which was the 1968-69 season. Mix was a senior that season, and the March 1 game was Toledo's last, our final chance to see him play. My father did find two tickets -- he bought them from a student -- and we joined the crush of spectators streaming into the Field House. The building held just four thousand fans. It was hard to say if the more remarkable quality about the old barn of a gym was the heat or the acoustics. Let's call it a tie. It was the hottest, loudest place I had ever been.
Dad and I found our seats in the last row, just under the ceiling at the top of the student section. We were a long way from the court. "But we're here!" Dad said, turning to me with a big smile. "That's the important thing. We can smell it." We could smell, see, and hear every second of Mix's finale. I don't remember how many points he scored. I do remember breathing in every moment of the event as if it were pure oxygen. I kept looking around the gym, taking mental pictures of every significant moment. I could feel my heart racing. This was, I would later come to understand, the adrenaline rush of the big event: so many people gathered in one place, and us with them, for a grand, two-hour high-wire act. Nothing that happened within the confines of the usual routine of my young life could match this. Nothing even came close.
When the horn sounded near the end of the game, which Toledo lost, 70-65, Dad nudged me and motioned for me to look toward the Toledo bench.
"They're taking him out," Dad said.
Steve Mix was walking slowly toward the Rockets bench down on the floor many rows below us. Coach Bob Nichols shook his hand. His teammates patted him on the back. Someone handed him a towel. Mix sat down hard.
"And thus a great career comes to an end," Dad said.
I looked at Dad. I tried to blink back my tears. Dad smiled at me. I thought I saw a tear forming in his eye too.