June 10, 2004 -- After years of struggling with the pain of being ignored by her basketball star father, Cheryl Ford — a star in her own right with the WNBA — is ready to forgive, but she can never forget.
While growing up in Summerfield, La., Ford, 23, said she wanted nothing more than to have her father, basketball legend Karl Malone, acknowledge her existence and show her some affection.
"It still hurts. Don't get me wrong but, you know, he knows what he did," said Ford on ABC News' Good Morning America. "He learned from what he did and we moved on and I don't wanna go back. Oh, it maybe took a couple of years. I mean, we forgive but we don't forget."
Ford and her twin brother, Daryl, were born to high school sweethearts Bonita Ford and Malone 23 years ago.
But just weeks after their birth, Malone left to play college basketball and he vanished from their lives.
Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA history, who now plays for the L.A. Lakers, said he was young and had little life experience when the twins were born.
"I never say that they were a mistake because they're definitely not. It's just a decision that I made as a young kid," Malone said.
Holding Out Hope
Ford didn't learn that Malone was her father until she was 8 years old. The discovery came after her mother filed a paternity suit that was settled out of court. From that point on, Ford grew up a Malone fan and enjoyed seeing him play. But Ford always left those games heartbroken.
"It was fun until after the game and we went down to get his attention and he wouldn't say anything," Ford said.
Her mother said she tried to comfort her young daughter with the promise that some day things would change.
"She would cry and I had to hold her in my arms and tell her it would be alright, you know, one day he will speak to you," Bonita Ford said.
During the 1998 NBA finals, Malone — who was now married with four children — was portrayed on television as a strong family man."He appeared as being nominated for the father-of-the-year award," said Ford. "Whatever, and he got two kids down in Louisiana that he does nothing for."
A Father’s Support
Then, when Ford least expected it, Malone reached out to her and her twin brother, who were both 17 at the time.
"It was very shocking," Ford said. "He just all of a sudden decided to just want to come and talk to us," she said.
Malone admits that it took him a very long time to do the right thing, but he's happy that the day finally came.
"I take responsibility for it but sometimes you don't take it right then, sometimes you take it later. It don't make you a bad person," Malone said.
Ford, a forward for the WNBA's Detroit Shock, is now an honored guest at Malone's games.
"He'll wink at me or something like that, so it's pretty good," Ford said.
Malone also attended Ford's WNBA games. He was even there when her team won the title during her first season in the WNBA.
Meanwhile, after 19 years in the game, Malone is still trying to achieve his first championship as the L.A. Lakers get ready to take on theDetroit Pistons in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
While Ford plays for Detroit, she says she can't help but cheering for her father.
"Like I've been telling everybody all week, you know, I love my Pistons, they're my boys," Ford said. "But I also love my dad, too. And I think he well deserves a ring. So I'll be rooting for him."