Editor's Note: It is my absolute pleasure to present an interview with Dossie Bee Greenberg, my mother. She and her four sisters grew up on the West side of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. Her life journey has taken her from the inner city of Chicago to Santa Rosa, California, where she moved after marrying her husband (my father) in 1980. She is now a classroom aide and math tutor, as well as a wife, daughter, mother, grandmother, and best friend. I hope you enjoy this interview about basketball, and its greater meanings in her unbelievably eventful and interesting life.
She's also the best mother and the strongest woman in the world. But I may be biased. Let's get to it.
I've been looking forward to this. I hope none of the questions offended you or anything.
No, none of them did. Thank you for asking.
No problem. Well, why don't we just jump into it, then?
Let's start from the beginning. Who are you? Where are you from?
Well, my name is Dossie Bee Greenberg, born Nesbitt, originally from Chicago, Illinois. I've been in Santa Rosa, California, since 1980. So, more time spent on the West Coast than in the Midwest at this point.
Crazy. Well, at one point, you were in Chicago. Was your house a sports house growing up? Was Grandaddy a fan of the Bears, or the Bulls, or the Cubs, or the Sox? Anybody like that? Do you have any memories?
Well, yeah, I do. And to some reasonable degree, my father was a sports fan. We didn't watch football. We didn't watch any football. I knew about people like Walter Payton. I mean, I heard of him. But we never sat down -- or at least I didn't, with my dad -- we never sat down and watched football. But we spent many, many afternoons watching the Cubs on TV.
And really got to know the players, and really got to love those players you know. Ernie Banks and Ron Santo were, you know, what was happening. Randy Huntley on the Chicago Cubs team. No White Sox. But I watched the Cubs, and really enjoyed it. Growing up with my dad, we didn't watch basketball. That was something I did later. But when I was a high school student, I did play. I played myself in high school.
Well, that's a good transition into the next question. I know you, and I know playing basketball played as important of a role, if not a more important role in your childhood, than watching basketball. So describe to me, and our readers, Dossie Bee Nesbitt, the basketball player.
Well, I started playing basketball on the streets of Chicago. We played what we used to call H-O-R-S-E, where you would have to make free throws, or mimic the play in front of you...
They still call it H-O-R-S-E.
Well, but that primed us to where you could stand on the court, and what your strengths and limitations were. And taking that into high school, as part of my P.E. courses, I had to take a sport. And I chose basketball, not because I thought I was any good at it, but more that it was something that I wanted to do. And then I found out that I was actually pretty good at it! Our team -- I don't recall us having a name, and we only played teams within our school [district] -- but we were good! I can't remember what position I was.
I'm going to guess at 5'3'', you were a guard.
[Laughs] At 5'3'', I probably was a guard. It didn't feel like it was very defined, you just kept the people from the other team from shooting and making points, and if you had to guard another position to do that, you did. So they let us get away with that. But I found out that I had a knack for making the long shot. I would stand pretty far from the basket and I would jump shoot, and more times than not, make the basket. It was pretty awesome.
That is pretty awesome. Would you say you were more of a scorer, or more of a passer?
I probably scored more points than I prevented. But I was a little guy; I was little. I was very short; when I entered high school, I was only 4'9''. I grew into my adult height of 5'3'' over the coming years. So it was pretty amazing that I was playing at all. One of the biggest compliments anyone paid our team was when the other team would be leaving the court after we would win, they'd say, "these bitches play like men." And you couldn't say anything better than that, because we played to win, and we did win. And it was nice. So that's how I got my taste of basketball as a player in my high school years.
Well, real life ended your basketball career somewhat prematurely, and in somewhat dramatic fashion. Do you mind retelling the story about you and your coach, and what ended your basketball career?
I found myself, in my junior year, pregnant with my eldest child. I was very young, but it wasn't evident to anyone that I was pregnant. So my parents realized that, and it was confirmed by a doctor that I indeed was pregnant. So that Monday, I went to school and suited up to play, and my coach pulled me off the floor. She said, "Nesbitt, you're sitting this one out." And I looked at her, and I said, "well, why?" And she just kind of looked at me, and said, "you know why." So I guess even though I didn't share the information [with her], it was known that I was pregnant, and could not play. It wasn't the same as it is now. Then, as soon as a girl became pregnant, she's yanked out of the school, and sent to another facility where she could continue to go to school while she carries her baby, and then deliver, and then after some time, be put back into her regular school. So that was the end of my playing for any high school team. The unfortunate timing of my first pregnancy brought that to an end. And it was sad to me, because I really enjoyed playing.
Well things turned out okay. I like my older sister (Happy Birthday, Shavon)!
Yeah, things did turn out okay. It was just early. It was early for everybody. Early for me, early for her. Early for my family. But I have no regrets that I continued that pregnancy.
Do you think you would've continued to play competitive basketball had things been different?
You know, sort of knowing that this question was coming, I thought about that. There was no doubt that I was smart enough to go to college. As a matter of fact, you know, I had been kind of groomed to to go on to college. I had a very high ranking my senior year in terms of GPA, and likely I could have been picked up to go to college. Maybe not necessarily on a scholarship, but with some nice financial aid package. And knowing that I had a liking and a talent for the game, I probably would have continued to play. I probably would have played for a college had that route been left open to me.
But college was out of the question. I had a child I had to take care of, and no other means but myself in which to do it. So I knew that I couldn't pursue my educational career, and I knew that I certainly couldn't go and play ball. I had to turn to real life -- I had a year of high school to finish, and I had a child to take care of, and that meant employment. So that was the end of any of those other...aspirations.
You're very strong mom.
Thank you, Jake. Thank you.
Well, let's turn to professional basketball, which seems to pale in comparison to your childhood. Did it play any role in your early childhood? Did you watch games? Did you go to any games?
No. No. You know, living in Chicago, everything was connected by public transportation, and any time we needed to take the bus downtown, we would always pass...I can't remember the name of the place the Bulls used to play. But it was right on Madison Avenue, right on the line headed straight downtown. And the nice big Bull head would be up there. And I mean, I knew we had the Bulls, but I didn't know anything about the Bulls. Like I said, baseball was what we watched on TV. Basketball was something that I did because I did it, but it was never anything I knew as a professional sport. Not until I got married did I start following any professional games in earnest.
To your first husband.
No, married to husband number two, actually.
Well, let's sit on that for a minute.
So the Bulls started playing in 1966. If I'm doing my math correctly, you were 13 then, right?
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, I was 12 most of that year.
Okay. Do you have any memories of pre-Jordan Bulls?
None. It's so interesting. No. None. None at all. Kind of sad, considering it's a city that's lucky enough to have a professional franchise. But, you know, at 12 I was busy trying to survive other aspects of my life, and sports was not anywhere on the radar. Certainly not basketball anywhere on the radar. So no, I have no perceptions of the pre-Jordan Bulls.
So the names Johnny "Red"Kerr, Bob Love, Chet Walker or Jerry Sloan, they don't mean anything to you?
Jerry Sloan. You know, I hear Jerry Sloan, and all I can think about is that he was the coach for somebody else.
The Jazz. He coached the Jazz in the finals [against the Bulls].
That's right! That's why I remember his name. I guess that was put in as the red herring.
No, Jerry Sloan was a Bulls great. His number is retired by the Bulls organization.
I feel so ashamed.
Don't. I mean, most people didn't know the Bulls were a franchise until Jordan arrived.
So I fall in the majority with that, huh?
I would say you do. I mean, I don't know anything about these players. There are just guys I looked up on Wikipedia.
Okay, okay, good. Because I knew that name was familiar, but I wasn't sure why.
Yeah, I mean, it's for reasons against the Bulls. But let's get back to you and Dad. You said you got into professional basketball watching with Dad. You mind talking more about that?
Well, when we first got married...now what's really interesting, I need to just jump back a little bit, but in Super Bowl...I was to say...which one did we just have? Super Bowl what?
Oh, I have no clue. But are you thinking about the Super Bowl that the Bears won?
The Bears won two months after you were born (in 1985), and that was the year that I actually did follow professional football, but I can't tell you who they won against.
Sure. Super Bowl shuffle, etcetera. But it was marked by a very memorable event, which was your birth. It was Super Bowl something-five. Okay. Good story? But when Stan and I got married, we used to watch college basketball, and we were really into it. We would kind of know some of those players' names because they were going through their little elimination rounds, and, you know, getting down to the Final Four. But then after college ball ended, it seemed like a natural transition to start watching pro ball. And we watched, and we followed teams, and we used to really, really enjoy watching some of the greats in their heydays.
Well, one more question before I let you go. Now that you've thought harder about it than ever before, did basketball have any real, meaningful impact on your life? Or do you think of it as something you've enjoyed now and again throughout the years?
What I can say is that I think that at one point, it pulled this family together; to all be in one place, at one time, enjoying a common thing. And that it did for many years. In terms of personal impact, I think that in itself is pretty personal, that something like a sport could pull a fragmented structure back together as a whole. That's important.
And I thank it. We laughed. We joked. We screeched. We hugged, we cried together. That's pretty amazing.
We came up with long-limbed-loose-legged-large-lipped-Luc Longley together.
How could that not be memorable? The fact that we saw how many L-words we could string together before that guy's name? And from that, I have really fond memories, of those afternoons and evenings we would spend together, in one room, watching and laughing, hoping and cussing.
And in the end? Winning. The Bulls always won.
Yeah! There was a payoff. Absolutely. And it was pretty amazing. Sometimes, I wish I could get that back. But now you're telling me that mayhap it's there to rediscover.
I mean, even when Jordan retired, the Bulls stayed there. And I think Derrick Rose is a superstar you could get behind.
And most importantly, he's a Chicago kid, born and raised. Just like you.
I'm willing to give that a try so we can have a follow-up interview.
Well, when I come home, we'll watch a Bulls game together. How's that sound?
That sounds like a plan.
Mom, I think this is going to be the best thing this blog has ever done. Thank you so much.
I love you, Mom.
I love you too, Jake.