DALLAS — In May 1996, I was one of a dozen college journalists around the country invited to participate in a three-month-long internship for The Memphis Commercial Appeal.
For me, it was a monumental opportunity, a dream come true, considering my byline and stories were about to be published frequently in my hometown newspaper.
But within an hour after arriving for my first day at The CA, my internship was placed in serious jeopardy after then-executive sports editor, John Stamm, learned that I did not have a car.
“How can you possibly get around the city to cover your assignments without wheels?” he asked me as I sat seemingly intimidated and dejected in his fifth-floor office.
Luckily for me, Mr. Stamm allowed me to work from the newsroom my first full week and demanded that I “get wheels” within seven days.
That The Commercial Appeal was paying me somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 a week, I managed to put a down payment on a brand new vehicle by the end of my first week on the job.
During my summer break from the University of Tennessee at Martin, I stayed at the residence of my favorite uncle, Marlon Johnson, and his new bride, Kiva. Kiva, in fact, made sure I got to and from the newspaper the first week, this after months removed from having given birth to her first child, Mariah.
Tuesday night, Kiva died as a result of a horrific car crash in Southeast Memphis.
News of her death comes just one day before the sixth anniversary of the passing of my grandfather, Edward Johnson, Sr., who died hours after my beloved Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to capture their 17th world title.
Hours before writing this column, I mentioned in a social media post that it would be virtually difficult to produce any sportswriting today, given the devastating phone call I fielded in North Dallas Wednesday morning regarding my aunt’s tragic and untimely death.
I’ve since had a change of heart.
For starters, Kiva would have wanted to me to do my job. By and large, she have demanded that I exhibit my journalistic passion to the best of my ability, something about which I learned firsthand during my summer audition for The Commercial Appeal 18 years ago.
With my much-anticipated internship suddenly hanging in the balance, it was my aunt who essentially helped salvage my job.
Surely, such a summer-long dress rehearsal — which ultimately gave way to a second internship in May 2000 and my subsequent hiring as a full-time staffer by The Commercial Appeal three months later — was a slam dunk, or sorts, considering my journalism tenure has afforded me to cover the NBA, to attend shootarounds and All-Star Games, to attend pregame and postgame news conferences, to interact with and write about the best basketball players on the planet.
For six years and counting.
Conversely, in assessing a professional sportswriting career that spans nearly 14 years, no doubt the huge assist was obviously handed out by my aunt Kiva who, in estimation, saved my job as a college intern long before my career ever evolved into what it has become.
Which is to say it is only befitting that I borrow two familiar, fervent words uttered recently by Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant.
That is, Kiva, you are the “real MVP.”
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.