When I saw his name pop up on my phone Friday morning at 9:19 a.m., it was the ultimate sense of relief. For the past week, I wasn’t sure there would be any more calls like those I’ve consistently fielded from Maury Hanks for the past decade-plus.
“Sonny, since you have no F-ing clue what you’re doing, I’ve got a great story idea for you,” they would almost always begin.
We all missed the calls from Mo Hanks. To name a few: Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis, ETSU’s Steve Forbes, Oregon’s Dana Altman, UCLA’s Mick Cronin, former Charlotte Head Coach Bobby Lutz and veteran NBA scouts Scott Howard and Brian Hagen.
“You always know where you stand with the left-hander,” Davis said. “He’s been a great friend for over 30 years, and nobody makes you laugh more than Maury. He’s maybe the most connected guy I know in the basketball world!”
And for a while there, we weren’t sure we’d get another one of those calls from Mo.
Hanks doesn’t remember anything after being transported to the hospital in the ambulance on March 23. The 57-year-old veteran NBA scout, who works for the Detroit Pistons, didn’t have a fever and was in good health.
Then he was quickly fighting for his life.
“I was circling the drain,” Hanks told me from his hospital bed on Friday morning.
Maury was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center on Monday, March 23, and was put on a ventilator the next day after being diagnosed with coronavirus. He wasn’t able to speak. His wife, Susan, who was quarantined at home, had her only communication via ear buds through which she would talk to him for hours.
“He says he didn’t hear me, which is probably good so he can’t uphold all of the promises I made to him,” she said.
Susan sent out daily text updates to those close to Hanks in the profession and fielded no shortage of calls, whether from Howard, Hagen, former Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and current Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem.
Finally, Hanks started to make progress earlier this week and was able to breathe on his own. It took a week from when he initially went on the ventilator, but on Wednesday he was able to utter a few words into the phone to his wife and also called his buddy, Howard.
“He told a story, one I can’t tell on the record, that made me realize that he’s back,” Howard said, “that his spirit is back.”
On Thursday, there were full sentences. Friday brought about huge improvement: Hanks sounded almost like the old Hanks, albeit without the booming voice and profanities.
“It’s a miracle,” Susan said. “I don’t know how we got so lucky.”
Hanks is a one-of-a-kind individual, difficult to describe. He’s a straight-shooter, no BS, sarcastic, a high-level smart-ass.
“He thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and is often correct,” Lutz added. “He’s the most loyal friend I’ve ever had.”
Hanks crosses over from college basketball to NBA circles like few others in the profession. In addition to his job as an NBA scout, he also runs several exempt college basketball events and organizes preseason overseas tours for college teams.
“Mo has something to say about everything,” Altman said. “If he’s your friend, you have a loyal, trusted friend.”
“He’s a loud, proud, fiercely loyal straight-shooter that doesn’t always play well with others,” Hagen said. “But he’ll walk the plank for those [with whom] he’s closest.”
“He’s maybe the most quick-witted jokester I know,” Cronin chipped in. “He’s authentic and trustworthy. He’s as good of a friend as I’ve ever met through basketball.”
His annual Final Four party was supposed to take place Thursday night in Atlanta – the one you have no choice but to attend if you are fortunate enough to earn an invite. One year I got held up at another function, didn’t attend, and he wouldn’t let me forget it until I showed the following year. When you walk in, you are handed two drink tickets, and then you’d better be careful.
It’s open season.
“When I first started going, I didn’t say anything,” said Forbes, who Hanks always called Friar Tuck in a reference from “Robin Hood.” “I was scared. If you eat more than two shrimp, he’s going to ridicule you in front of everyone.”
Hanks is set to begin physical therapy, and the doctors are hopeful that he will go home sometime in the coming days, maybe as soon as this weekend. And he’ll leave the hospital with a completely different outlook on life.
“There will always be another game, always be another practice to see,” he said. “I won’t take things for granted anymore. Anyone who tells you differently hasn’t been through something like this.”
And next year at the Final Four in Indianapolis, we’ll all use one of our two drink coupons the same: to toast Mo Hanks.