Today is March 26th, my uncle Rob Babcock’s birthday. The first birthday since he passed last May. In honor of his memory, I’d like to reshare a tribute I wrote for him.
On many occasions, I have begun articles, conversations, interviews, and meetings with something along the lines of I am Matt Babcock and I come from a ‘basketball family’, the Babcock family. Without hesitation, I can say that I am unapologetically proud to be a Babcock. Today, I would like to share a story with you about one specific member of my family, my uncle, Rob Babcock.
First, to give you a little bit of background on our family, my dad, Dave Babcock, and my two uncles, Pete and Rob, have all had long, successful careers working as front office executives in the NBA. Pete is the oldest Babcock brother followed by Rob and then my dad, Dave — only ever referred to as Peter, Robert, and David by their mother, my grandmother. Before any of their NBA careers began they had a relatively modest upbringing as they came from a military family. My grandparents settled in Phoenix, Arizona in the early 1960s once my grandfather retired from the Air Force. There, all three brothers were high school and college basketball players. Following their playing careers, they all became high school and college coaches and they all eventually worked their way into the NBA. The three brothers have always been reliable and hardworking but, most importantly, they have lived their lives with integrity; the main reason they have had success, in my opinion. Impressively, the Babcock brothers have accumulated nearly 100 years of combined NBA experience.
From what I have been told, growing up the Babcock brotherhood was a very typical one; they could never go more than a few minutes without teasing one another or getting into a childish disagreement. This is something, to this day, they have never outgrown. However, there is one thing that they could never argue: Rob was, undeniably, the best shooter of the three brothers. He was a standout high school basketball player at Maryvale High School in Phoenix, Arizona and he was heavily recruited to play in college. He decided to stay near home to play at Grand Canyon College, just down the road from his parent’s house. At 6’4”, he was a good all-around player but outside shooting was his key attribute. The guy could flat out stroke it from anywhere on the floor.
Once Rob’s college playing days ended, he coached at the high school and college levels. During that time he married my aunt, Laura, and they had two sons, my cousins, Chris and Nate — who are also two of my best friends. Some of my favorite memories as a kid were with my Uncle Rob, my dad, and my cousins, playing ball. Chris, one year younger than me, and Nate, two years younger, we had some great battles playing all different sports while we were growing up, but especially playing basketball, the sport that has kept all of us so closely connected throughout the years.
When I was growing up, every year at Christmas time we would all meet in Phoenix at my grandparent’s house and, with the weather generally allowing us to be outside that time of year, we would often walk down the street to the nearby elementary school to play some hoops. On Christmas Day one year, 1994, if I remember correctly, we had planned to play our annual game but before we were able to go we had to take a family photo in my grandparent’s backyard. Just as we were finishing taking the photo, my cousin Chris pushed me into the pool. Although the temperature outside was comfortable the pool was freezing cold and I was wearing my brand new red satin Atlanta Hawks jacket that my Uncle Pete had given to me as a gift. The jacket would be completely fine but I cried hysterically. My Aunt Laura had her camcorder handy and got it on film, of course, she filmed everything back then. In the background, you could hear my Uncle Rob shouting at Chris, ‘Christopher’! When Rob would address Chris with his full name, you knew he was in trouble. That happened a lot. Subsequently, our basketball game that day was canceled — thanks a lot, Chris! Although not funny at the time, a really funny story for our family now. There are a lot of great memories from that time period. I miss those years!
Years ago, my great grandfather retired in Newport, Rhode Island, and my dad and two uncles would visit most summers in their younger days. Once my cousins, my sister and I were around, our family continued the tradition as we routinely had family vacations there at my great grandfather’s house. During those trips to Newport, if we weren’t at the beach, chances were you could find all the Babcock boys at the old YMCA. As Chris, Nate and I got older, Rob would lead us through some epic shooting workouts at the ‘Y’. Having been taught by their dad growing up, it’s no surprise that Chris and Nate are now assistant coaches in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks, respectively. As a result of the tutelage that Chris and Nate have received from their ‘Pops’, I have zero doubt that both are sure to have a great amount of success in their careers moving forward.
When I was a kid, Rob was the ‘goofball’ uncle, in a good way. Uncle Rob’s crazy, elaborate scary stories were a regular occurrence and a favorite pastime among the Babcock cousins. Stories featuring a fictional character named ‘Jimmy Castillo’ were what we grew up on. Rob would also send out a Christmas poem each year which was always one of the highlights of the holiday season as it never failed to provide a good laugh. His sense of humor and creativity was unmatched. As I got to high school I suppose that I graduated to some advanced life lessons from my Uncle Rob. For example, he educated me about germs in public restrooms and taught me his secret tactic of avoiding these germs. The tactic was simple: when using a men’s urinal, absolutely do not flush by using your hands, as pretty much everyone does — instead, do a karate kick to the handle with your foot. This is a perfect example of Rob’s quirkiness and sense of humor but also his intelligence and practicality. Another example, was his outlandish idea of planting a bunch of evergreen trees outside of his house in Rhode Island so that he could have a Christmas tree at his disposal each year, instead of having to worry about purchasing one. I don’t think he actually executed this idea but this is definitely another perfect example of Rob’s personality in a nutshell.
Rob had a long, successful career working as a front office executive in the NBA which lasted for nearly thirty years. His NBA career began in 1988 with the Denver Nuggets. After working in Denver for a handful of years, he was hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1993 where he spent the bulk of his career, allowing him to raise his family in Minneapolis.
As I became an adult and began working as a sports agent, I would cross paths with my Uncle Rob at games while we were on the road somewhat regularly. I would call to discuss my clients with him, as I would with executives in comparable roles with every team. He always gave me great advice but was understandably hesitant to become directly involved with anything business-related with me or my clients as he wanted to avoid any conflicts of interest with me being his nephew. This was certainly the best thing for both of us professionally. For example, in 2015, the Minnesota Timberwolves signed my client Miroslav Raduljica. Rob, vice president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves at the time, took a major step back when those discussions and negotiations began between the team and me. All of my dealings, on that specific deal were done with the head coach and president, Flip Saunders, and general manager, Milt Newton. As a result of that approach, Rob and I never really had the opportunity to deal with each other on a professional level all that much while he worked in the NBA.
However, in 2016, the Minnesota Timberwolves decided to do an overhaul of their front office and let go of a large contingent of their staff, my Uncle Rob included, unfortunately. At the time, I was running my own sports agency and I approached my uncle about getting involved in some capacity. After numerous conversations, we came to an agreement that he would work with me in an advisory role. In the spring and summer of 2017, my Uncle Rob and I had the opportunity to work together. We did several road trips together and even shared a hotel room as I recruited prospective clients and serviced existing clients. He also visited me at my home in Colorado to work with one of my clients that was based locally that summer. During this time period, we talked about everything you could think of: we talked about life, our hopes and dreams — and basketball, of course. I expressed to him my frustrations with the agency business and my desire to one day work for an NBA team. We talked for hours as he shared with me some of his philosophies and just gave me great advice overall. He told me some of the successes he had experienced and some of the mistakes he had made in his career and he shared with me some personal stories from his life. I felt like I was given the opportunity to get to know my Uncle Rob on a deeper level than I ever had before. We established a better mutual understanding of one another and who we were as men. Many of the lessons he taught me I will value and incorporate into my work and life forever. I am very thankful to have had that time with him.
Later that same year, in September of 2017, my dad called me. He had bad news. My Uncle Rob had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They caught it early and there was a lot of optimism that it could be treated effectively. He would proceed to go through different treatments: radiation, chemotherapy and then a surgery called a Whipple procedure. The treatment and surgery went well. He lost his hair and lost some weight but overall everything went as we had hoped it would. His hair grew back and I joked that I was happy to be the only balding Babcock again — he got a kick out of that one. He was working out every day and he even beat my dad and me in tennis. I thought he was going to be ok.
Then the cancer came back.
On New Year’s Eve, we found out the cancer was not only back but that it had spread. The plan of attack was to start chemo again right away. I went to visit him shortly after and we were able to spend some quality time together. He opened up to me about his mental approach to his sickness. He told me he would like to live another twenty years and that he was going to do everything he could to beat it but that he was okay if it was his time. He told me that he had lived a great life and that he knew that his boys were raised right. He said that although he had always been an extreme worrier as a dad, he knew that they would be okay without him. I told him that I would always be there for them and be a key part of their support system. I also told him that he had inspired me to be a better dad and a better man. I thanked him for that. That was the last time I had a one-on-one conversation with my uncle Rob.
On May 15, 2019, my Uncle Rob passed away.
This has been a devastating loss for my entire family, especially for my aunt, my cousins, and the Babcock brotherhood. And although this has been the saddest of times, I wanted to share this story to acknowledge my uncle and celebrate him. He was a great man and I will always be proud to be his nephew. He will forever be missed.
Rest in peace, Rob.