How Glen Rice and the number 41 strangely helped shape my marriage proposal (and so many other things)

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m here to tell you a love story. But I’m not going to go with the typical love story here…you’ve heard those. This isn’t a story of how it took close to four decades to find the person I’m meant to spend my life with and all of the reasons I love her. While some of those things might come up here, I want to go in a different direction today. This is a love story that revolves around my favorite number, the basketball player that made me love that number and how that number plays into this story as a whole. As I tend to do sometimes, I might go a little over the top and stretch some things to fit the narrative I’m rolling with…but I’m a storyteller. And what storyteller doesn’t take things over the top sometimes?

It’s 1989 and I’m nine years old, just a couple of months away from turning 10. Now, my 10th birthday isn’t an issue here but my day of birth does come into play later on. So as most boys of that age do, I love sports. For the most part, I’d been a baseball kid, that Midwest kid dreaming of one day being the guy that finally helps the Chicago Cubs win a World Series. My hometown of Peoria, Illinois had the Single-A affiliate of the Cubs, the Peoria Chiefs, and I was going to start there and move my way up to the big leagues someday…you know, typical kid dreams. Spoiler alert…that did not happen.

But my attention was starting to shift to the game of basketball. Just a few years earlier, I’d turned on a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, still the greatest rivalry that American sports has ever seen, and I fall in love with Magic Johnson and the way he controls the game. So I instantly become a Lakers fan and have been ever since, which wasn’t easy given the fact that I live in Illinois…you know, the state that houses the Chicago Bulls, who at that time had this youngster named Michael Jordan (maybe you’ve heard of him) that was rapidly becoming the top draw and player in the game. But I stuck with my Lakers, even when Jordan & Co. became the hottest thing in sports.

So, we’re still with my nine-year-old self in the spring of 1989 and I’m patiently waiting for the baseball season to start. The Cubs were looking good that year and actually did go to the playoffs for the first time in five years but I’m looking for some sports to watch and spring training baseball just isn’t getting it done for me. Now, I hadn’t watched a ton of college basketball at this point in my life. Growing up, I’d go to the Bradley University games down at the Peoria Civic Center to watch Jim Les and Hersey Hawkins, both of whom went on to play in the NBA, but that was really the only team I rooted for. That was about to change because of one guy.

The NCAA Basketball Tournament is one of my favorite sporting events but it wasn’t always that way. As I said, I hadn’t watched a ton of college basketball but I became hooked in 1989 and it wasn’t because of the team that I was “supposed” to be rooting for. I had heard some kids in school talk about the “Flyin’ Illini”, the team from the University of Illinois (which was only 90 minutes away from me) that had Kenny Battle, Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Marcus Liberty and others…just a dominating squad that at one point held the No. 1 ranking in the country that season. But it wasn’t them at all. It was their Big Ten rival, the Michigan Wolverines, that grabbed my attention and it all started with No. 41, Glen Rice.

Glen Rice was an absolute monster that tournament and I was glued to the television, glued to No. 41 and his ability to take over a basketball game. The No. 3 seed in the Southeast Regional, Michigan opened the tournament with a 92-87 win over Xavier behind 23 points from Rice, his lowest output of the tourney. He scored 36 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists in a second-round win over 11th-seeded South Alabama…that was a crazy year in which all four No. 11 seeds advanced to the second round…and followed that up with a 34-point game in the Sweet 16 over second-seeded North Carolina, the Tarheels squad that was led by J.R. Reid.

Rice continued his stellar play in the Elite Eight as the Wolverines blistered fifth-seeded Virginia, who had upset top-ranked Oklahoma in the previous round, beating the Cavaliers 102-65 as No. 41 poured in 32 more points. Now, it wasn’t just Rice that was winning these games…the Wolverines were stocked with future NBA talent like Terry Mills, Loy Vaught, Sean Higgins and Rumeal Robinson…but it was Rice that was dominating the tournament and a Final Four matchup with Illinois was set.

The Fighting Illini were the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and they really were a fun team to watch. They won their first 17 games that season and brought a 27-4 record into the tournament, including an 89-73 win over Michigan to close out the regular season, their second win over the Wolverines in Big Ten play. But the Final Four matchup didn’t have the same result. In an amazing game that saw 33 lead changes, the Wolverines prevailed by two, an 83-81 victory that took them to the national title game. In a true team effort, Rumeal Robinson dished out 12 assists, Loy Vaught grabbed 16 rebounds and leading the way with 28 points…you guessed it, Glen Rice. The Wolverines finished things off two nights later in a thrilling 80-79 overtime win against Seton Hall, once again led by Rice, who scored 34 points and nabbed 11 boards, easily clinching the Most Outstanding Player trophy.

Now, I obviously didn’t know all of these stats when I was nine years old…that’s just the fun of researching as a sportswriter…but I knew I had seen something special. To this very day, nobody has scored more points (184), hit more field goals (75) or sank more threes (27) in a single NCAA Tournament than Glen Rice did in 1989. I was in and I was hooked. I was a Michigan guy, a Glen Rice guy, a No. 41 guy. I remain a Michigan sports fan to this day and that’s all because of No. 41.

Now, I hadn’t forgotten about Magic Johnson and his No. 32. I wore that number when I played ball in grade school but that would change as I continued to follow Glen Rice as he made his move to the NBA. And this is the point in the story where I start to have some fun with the number 41, which really is the point of this whole thing as the number continued(and continues) to play a huge part in my life. And this is where the stretching part comes in…but it’s my article and I want to have some fun with it so just let me be. With the 4th pick in Round 1 of the 1989 NBA Draft, the Miami Heat chose Glen Rice. See what I did there? Okay, that really is stretching it but at least the first one is out of the way.

With basketball replacing baseball as my main sport of choice as I rolled into my teen years, I obviously watched along with the rest of the world as Jordan, Pippen and the Bulls became the focus of the NBA. But I was still following No. 41. With no NBA League Pass available back in those days, I didn’t get a ton of opportunities to watch Glen Rice play, especially seeing as how he was on an expansion team that was trying to find its way. But I watched as much SportsCenter as I could with the hope that I’d catch some Rice highlights here and there. And I was a stats and numbers junkie and I had this book  a sort of almanac with all of the numbers of the players in the league and I specifically remember turning to the Glen Rice page to put his averages together for a class project and it was here that I discovered something truly awesome. He was born on May 28, 1967. I was born on May 28, 1979. Yep, I share a birthday with Glen Rice. See, I told you that would come back around. And since we’re on that, let’s go ahead and do this now. So my birthday is 05/28/1979, right? 0+5+2+8+1+9+7+9=41. Yes, I actually took the time to do that last week while doing some prep for this piece and I love it.

As I got into high school, Glen Rice was becoming a solid player in the NBA. After a couple of years being in the background behind guys like Rony Seikaly (bet you haven’t thought about that guy in a while), he had become the focal point of the Heat offense, averaging more than 21 points per game in his last four seasons in Miami. He was 10th in the league in scoring in his final season with the Heat and also won the NBA All-Star Three Point Contest (a HUGE All-Star Game snub that year) before being shipped to the Charlotte Hornets ahead of the 1995-1996 campaign.

By this time, I was wearing No. 41 for my basketball team in high school (I had dropped a career high of 41 the season before) and Glen Rice had become a force in the league. He FINALLY made an All-Star team in his first season in Charlotte and would be an All-Star all three seasons as a Hornet, including being the All-Star Game MVP in 1997, a game in which he dropped 20 points in the third quarter alone, a record for most points in a single quarter that he held on his own for two decades until it was matched by Anthony Davis in 2017.

And then it happened. After three years in Charlotte, Glen Rice was traded to…the freaking Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, after all these years of hoping that I’d see him wearing No. 41 in the purple and gold, it was here. Brought to L.A. to be the third option behind Shaquille O’Neal and a young Kobe Bryant, Rice scored 17.5 points per game in the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season and added 15.9 per night the following season as the Lakers won the first of their three consecutive titles to begin the new millennium. I was in heaven watching this. Kobe had become my new favorite Laker and watching he and Shaq dish to Glen Rice on the perimeter…are you freaking kidding me? This was amazing. Unfortunately, Rice was shipped to the Knicks the following season but he had gotten an NBA Championship to go along with his NCAA title from 1989…and it also prompted my best friend to get me this for my birthday, which seems even more fitting now.

Michigan 41 Glen Rice and Lakers 41 Glen Rice. Awesome, right?

For the next four years, Rice’s career would wind down as he jumped from New York to Houston and finally the Clippers and his numbers would wind down as well as injuries to his foot and knee would bring an unceremonious end to his stellar career. As of this moment, Glen Rice has scored the 73rd-most points in NBA history with 18,336 and hit the 29th-most three-pointers with 1,559. Not bad at all, I would say. Honestly, I was sad to see how his career ended. Even with a few All-Star nods and that MVP performance, he was often underrated as a player. Think about how many thousands of players have come and gone in the NBA and here he sits at 73rd in points…by the way, that’s more points scored in the NBA than Hall of Famers like Chris Mullin, Lenny Wilkens, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Earl Monroe, Steve Nash, Kevin McHale, Grant Hill, Joe Dumars, James Worthy and so many others…and 29th in threes. That’s pretty impressive. But I was lucky. I got to watch his career from start to finish and I was one who appreciated what I was watching. So watching him have to hobble at the end of his career and then just walk away was sad for me. For 15 years, I followed this guy’s career and wanted to wear that No. 41 because of him. Little did I realize at the time that the number 41 would continue to be a factor in my life and would help shape so many things.

Okay, okay…so you may have gotten through all of that and started thinking that this was just one big ode to Glen Rice. Well, I wanted to go through all of that to get here. And honestly, since I’ve become a sportswriter, I’ve never had the chance to write about him for any of my sites and this was my opportunity. So I took it and I loved researching all of it. But how does a basketball player like Glen Rice and No. 41 play into my own personal story here?

In the years after Glen Rice retired, the number 41 would still come up for me from time to time. I had actually moved to Florida during his last season and would have to answer questions down there constantly about why I was a Michigan fan when I was from Illinois. It usually had to do with Michigan football but I would tell the story of that 1989 tournament where I saw No. 41 light up everyone. I think most people assumed that I started liking Michigan basketball when the Fab Five came around in the early ’90s but that wasn’t the case. Sure, I loved those teams, especially Jalen Rose (he was a guard and I’ve always leaned towards guards since that’s what I was) but my Michigan fandom always went back to Rice. In my mid-20s at this time, I obviously wasn’t playing basketball competitively anymore and didn’t have a jersey to wear but I always kept the number in my head. I probably shouldn’t say this but I would use it for passwords or pin numbers or something like that and the number just became part of who I am. That might sound a little silly but I think everyone has a favorite number for one reason or another and I just stuck with 41.

And then life happened. I got married, moved back to Illinois and had two amazing identical twin daughters, Ashlyn and Brooklyn. They were born on October 7, 2010, 11 weeks early and it was hard. They were kept in the NICU for quite a while and I was really hoping that they would be released on their 41st day as it neared. Their health was improving every day and as the day inched closer, the amazing staff at the hospital said they were almost ready. It didn’t happen on that day but it did on the 44th day, which was November 20, 2010. Yes, that’s 11+20+10=41. I told you, I can twist anything to fit this narrative. But I do honestly remember going through some of the big events that would happen in their life and how old I would be when they happened…when they graduated high school or college or maybe even when they got married or had their own kids. Or hitting those big milestone ages…like 10, which they’ll turn later this year, when I’ll be…41.

And then the other side of life happened…and I’ll keep this as brief as possible as I don’t want to turn this into a pity party. But I got divorced and while all of that mess was unfolding, my father got sick (again) and passed. Not long after that, I lost my job. Certain areas of my life were an absolute mess but I had people behind me, keeping me up when I got down on myself, which unfortunately happens quite easily. But I pressed on. I started this website in 2013 to start writing again as writing has always been therapeutic for me. In 2014, I quit my new job to try sportswriting on a full-time basis, something I’d always wanted to try but never really went after. It was going fine but I wasn’t making a ton of money and have always had to take some other jobs to keep myself afloat…all the while still hoping that this dream of mine might someday work out.

Fast forward to 2017 and things are still a little shaky at points. I still had my daughters to always lift me up but I was coming out of another long relationship that had ended and I was in a very confused state of mind. And then I met LeeAnn. Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that our relationship had the most romantic of starts but I was into her. I was working part-time at a local bar and I had met her sister, who is a hilarious stand-up comedienne whom I would make tell me jokes for shots, and she thought we might hit it off. And we did.

I told LeeAnn I wasn’t looking for anything serious at the time, and she really wasn’t either, but by the end of the year, we were all in with one another. We met each other’s children and talked about a future together and everything that goes along with that, including me getting married again, which is something that frightened me to no end and had been the biggest part of the previous relationship ending. I thought I had gotten to a point where I could again, even saying I could again, and when I couldn’t, things were over and that was all on me. But I had moved on and I knew that I was in love with LeeAnn and I knew I had to grow, had to get to a different way of thinking because I wanted a future with her.

Fast forward again towards the end of 2018 and I thought I had blown it. It was early November and I had royally screwed up…I mean, royally screwed up…the kind of thing you don’t come back from. Things were getting even more serious as talks amped up about what our future held and I was an extremely confused person and to put it simply, I became somebody I’m not. I got scared and ran away, gave her a reason to leave me. And yet she didn’t. I mean, she did, but not long after we split up, which involved a gut-wrenching conversation with my daughters about her not being around as much anymore, LeeAnn let me back in. It started small with a concert but then it was still Christmas with my family and I wondered if we really could get back to the place we had been before. I had to do some real soul searching and I came to the conclusion that she was what I wanted and who I wanted forever. And I was going to do everything it took to make that happen.

LeeAnn turned 40 on January 15, 2019 and the following night, I made her a private birthday dinner. We had done the things with the kids the night before…another good sign that we were close to getting back…but I didn’t know for sure where things were going. But at that 40th birthday dinner, she told me she was back in and I couldn’t have been happier. I told myself that night that if I could get back to this same dinner a year later, I was going to ask her to marry me…honestly not even thinking about what that meant at the time.

2019 was an absolute whirlwind. I turned 40 myself in May, which I didn’t make into a big deal as I’d told myself for a while that I wanted 41 to be the big one. I mean…that makes more sense for me, right? So it came and went and that was okay because we had bigger fish to fry that week as we were taking the kids down to Florida. In July, we bought a house together and moved in August after so much freaking painting. I was still writing on the side while working for this wine company, in addition to doing some other side jobs that I absolutely hated. But life was good in most aspects. I still wasn’t where I wanted to be professionally but I kept pushing forward and doing what I could. As 2020 neared, I knew something was going to be special. I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions or anything like that, but I just had a feeling that the year I turned 41 was supposed to be something different.

The first couple of weeks of 2020 went really slow. I knew what I’d be doing soon and had the ring ready to roll and the day couldn’t come fast enough. I joked with her about not being 40 anymore but in her 40s soon…you know, talking to a woman about her age is always the smart thing to do…and a day or two before her 41st birthday, I actually talked with her about the number and Glen Rice and all of it. I had originally wanted her birthday dinner with just the two of us to be on the 16th, which was one year after she had let me back in. But it worked out best on her actual birthday and I was okay with it.

The day of her 41st birthday didn’t start smoothly. One of my daughters had to stay home sick from school and I still needed to get all the things to make dinner that night. I didn’t really want to drag her around to a couple of stores but she was amazing and I so badly wanted to tell her what I was doing that night but I couldn’t let it slip to anyone. Not even my mother knew. My daughters went back to their mom’s that night and I got to work. I made a nice steak dinner, opened up some beautiful wine and we ate. I had told her that in the days leading up, she would get smaller presents and then 1 big present, which she thought was just the dinner. But after dinner was the real present.

Now, I like to think that I’m usually pretty decent with words but I had never been so nervous in my life and I’m still pretty sure I fumbled through everything. I had the ring in my pocket and I just started talking about how amazing the last year had been, how we had this new house and this new family together and how I was right where I wanted to be. I don’t know exactly how it came out but I told her that for the longest time, I thought I’d been waiting for my 41st birthday for something great to happen but that it wasn’t mine I’d been waiting for all this time. It was hers. The ring was in my hand at this time and I dropped to one knee, tears already flowing down my face (I really thought I was gonna get through it) and I asked her to marry me. At this point, she was crying as well and we embraced and she said “yes” ever so softly and it was absolutely perfect.

In the month since the engagement, if you can believe it, life has gotten even better. Just two weeks ago, the dream job finally came to be. I was offered and accepted a full-time position with a great site called Sportscasting, a job that comes with a nice yearly salary, benefits, retirement and I get to do all of this from the same spot where I’m writing this piece, right here in my own home, this wonderful new home that LeeAnn and I share with our family. I’ve got a couple of days of orientation this upcoming Monday and Tuesday and I really get going on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. 2+19+20=41.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “you just can’t write stuff like that.” Well, I can tell you that “stuff like that” can happen. Sure, I thought that things like this might happen for me sooner. And I’ve never really believed in things like destiny or a divine plan or anything like that but maybe I was supposed to go through all of the things I have to get right here…right here to this year I turn 41, right to that day when LeeAnn turned 41 and I finally let go of so many fears, right here to this life that I’ve always dreamed of having.

Sure, this has been a silly story that started with me talking about some player at Michigan that I saw on TV more than three decades ago that wore No. 41. But that number somehow became something for me, something I held onto. I never knew why, but as I said previously, it stayed with me. And now I’m just running with it. LeeAnn and I are getting married in late summer but will likely have to wait a couple of months for the honeymoon. We have kids in school and it’s hard to get away for a week at a time. My idea? Let’s wait until winter break and go somewhere over New Year’s, when the calendar hits 2021. 20+21=41. Yeah, I know, it’s goofy and weird but it’s fun.

The wedding date, you ask? September 12, 2020. 9+12+20=41. You think that’s an accident?

And there’s an open invitation for Glen Rice.

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