As you most hardcore, dedicated to the point at which your family is beginning to worry about you fans of Xmastime know, I've spent the past few years wondering where in the hell on the Internet Jeff Lamp is. Yes, he graduated from college in 1981, way before the Internet (so was WWII but there's plenty of photos/info on that!) but for a guy who led UVa in scoring 4 times, was all-ACC 2 years and an All-American while playing alongside Ralph Sampson, I've always been surprised at how little stuff on him I could find online. It's not like he was a damn scrub, he was one of the ACC's all-time great players. Yet he's always remained a bit of an enigma, an enigma draining yet another 17-footer in his Adidas.
Incredibly, a coupla weeks ago longtime Xmastime buddy The Gnat let me know that the 1981 Final Four team was being honored as part of a scholarship program in Richmond. This was my all-time favorite college basketball team. It's hard to imagine now, but back in those days UVa was the biggest team in the country, veritable rock stars like teams like Duke et al would become later on. Well, in my eyes anyway. It was the prefect storm of their being a great team, me being a 9 year old boy living in the sticks with nothing else to do and the time being what many people still consider to be the ACC's Golden Age.
I was of course absolutely thrilled when I saw Jeff Lamp's name on the "expected to appear" list for the event. Now, as great of a college player as he was, and he had a cup of coffee in the NBA, it's not like anyone really knows where he is, or what he's doing. His is not exactly a universal name. It's not like he's popping up on ESPN every week - you have to be a pretty hardcore fan of that era to know who he is. As years (decades, ugh) have passed a sort of mythology has built up in my mind, my childhood idol worship of him intertwined with his lack of presence on the Internet. I mean hell, of course Ralph was a bigger, more famous player but if you REALLY wanted to meet him you probably could, at any of the events he participates in throughout the basketball season. Or just go to Harrisonburg and sit around for a while. Lamp, meanwhile, seemed like a character dreamed from a past life, fantastical unicorn out there never to be seen or heard from again.
I was thrilled, but also skeptical...what if I went to the event and he didn't show up? Don't get me wrong - it'd still be a thrill meeting the other guys: Sampson. Gates. Othell. Ricky. Jeff Jones. Terry Gates. But the dream meeting, my white whale so to speak, would be Jeff Lamp.
So the Gnat and I walk into the Virginia Historical Society lobby in Richmond, and there’s a spread of appetizers along with a small and surprisingly open bar, and before we could really adjust ourselves to the setting we practically bumped into "The Blitz Brothers," "The Smurfs", Othell Wilson and Ricky Stokes. We were like wow, Othell & Ricky! And they couldn’t have been more welcoming; it was as if they spent all their days greeting complete strangers to gawk at people who hadn’t touched a basketball court in decades. Boom – right away, it was arms around shoulders and pictures being taken and The Gnat & I talking about going to school in a neighboring country from the high school his brother Bobby had starred at before going on to be a part of the first (and only until 2 years ago) Virginia team to win the ACC Tournament. And of course as we’re talking to them you couldn’t help but notice a particular 7’4” guy lurking within a few feet of us, greeting and taking pictures with anyone who came up to him. We waited our time to see Ralph with Othell & Ricky, and Othell mentioned “yeah, plenty of the guys are here, there’s Jeff, and…” and I looked in the direction where he was waving a hand at and even with his back turned, I knew I was looking at the great Jeff Lamp.
HE HAD SHOWN UP!!!! HE WAS THERE!!! I WAS GOING TO MEET HIM!!!!
Playing it super cool, natch, we got our turn to talk to Ralph, and he was cool too. I told him about my brother going to his basketball camp and how pleased he’d been with the experience re: how hands-on Ralph was throughout it, which Ralph seemed to appreciate. More so, he got a kick out of me telling him that my brother had attended the camp under false pretenses by claiming to be me, what with my not being allowed to go thanks to my shitty grades.
So then it was finally time. Jeff Lamp was kind of standing there by himself in a small sea of moving bodies, and I moved in (with the Gnat guiding my ass which was in a bit off a stupor – were it not for him I’m pretty sure I woulda just stood around commenting on the cheese plates all night.) Jeff Lamp happily shook my hand, and I told him how much he was my favorite player as a kid, he was my hero blah blah blah. He laughed and said something like “gee, don’t tell me you were like in third grade or something!” which I laughed off as in oh don’t be ridiculous of course I wasn’t that young when OMG IN 1980-81 I WAS EXACTLY IN 3RD GRADE!!!!! Then I moved on to my whole thing about not being able to find him online and suddenly he says oh yeah, someone found and passed that along to him and he’d seen it.
JEFF. LAMP. HAS. SEEN. XMASTIME. YA’LL!!!!!!!!!!!!
Long story short, I did not hold back on the gushing. What the fuck, I know I’ll never see him again, and I wanted him to know how much he'd meant to me as a kid. He didn’t seem like the type who was really used to strangers coming up to him and telling him how awesome he is, but he was nothing but incredibly friendly and polite.
Meeting Jeff Lamp is something I’ll never, ever forget.
The rest of the night was great – there was a panel where the players told stories and answered questions, and then The Gnat and I met Terry Gates and Jeff Jones as well. The event was only half-filled so there was total access to the players, all of whom happily received anyone who wanted to talk to them.
Then somehow we all found ourselves next door at the bar, where I quickly decided not to stalk my hero. I played it cool, casually hanging out talking to Jeff Jones and Terry Gates while Jeff Lamp spent most of the time talking to the woman who’d coordinated the event. He was the first to leave, after about 20 minutes. He had to catch a flight back to LA in the morning. I didn’t try some last-ditch “let’s be BFF!!!” thing; I simply watched him walk out of the bar into the parking lot and then into the night, and I was fully satisfied with the friendly encounter we’d had earlier that would be burned in my mind forever.
Once my hero was gone I exhaled and just had a blast over the next couple of hours with Othell, Ricky, Ralph & Terry Gates, who let me look at his 1980 NIT ring. I didn’t even ask to hold it, I simply asked if that’s what the ring was and before I even realized it he was giving it to me to hold and look at. Very cool.
Although I’ve blathered away for a few thousand words here, none of them could actually convey what it meant for me to meet Jeff Lamp. I don’t even feel silly at all for being a man in his 40s acting like a schoolgirl meeting Taylor Swift. After all, if you ever had a hero as a kid, a part of them never truly goes away. If you’re lucky.
Xmastime & Jeff Lamp hanging out, no big whoop.
Xmastime & The Gnat chilling with Ralph fucking Sampson.
Othell & Ricky! And Xmastime! "The Guys!"
Xmastime & The Gnat with point guard Jeff Jones
(l-r) Othell Wilson, some guy, Jeff Lamp, Ralph Sampson, Terry Gates, Ricky Stokes, some guy
Stumped by my thoughtful question, "what the hell IS dry ice?"
Ricky Stokes just as I'm cutting one. Whoops.
Terry Gates' 1980 NIT ring. I'll prolly send it back, found out it's only worth $19.95 on ebay.
Othell Wilson, just before I hit him up for some cash.
Xmastime, Ralph & The Gnat on a Saturday night. No biggie.
A big thank you to The Gnat for making this possible for me. Here he is with Jeff Lamp.