I wrote a long column today about former Charlotte Hornet Bobby Phills, who died 10 years ago in a crash in Charlotte on Tyvola Road.
The column is focused upon whatever happened to Bobby's wife Kendall Phills and the couple's two children (now 13 and 11), as well as David Wesley, Phills' best friend and teammate at the time. Both Wesley and Bobby Phills were speeding excessively at the time in their separate Porsches, headed toward breakfast at a pancake house after a game-day shootaround before a Hornets home game. (Although police theorized the two were racing on Tyvola, Wesley has always denied that. He was acquitted of racing charges -- but convicted of reckless driving -- six months later).
I remember that day distinctly -- Jan.12, 2000. I was in the same job as a sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer back then, too. My boss, Mike Persinger, called me with the news.
It was hard to grasp it, of course. Phills had been a favorite of media members who covered the Hornets regularly -- he was good to have a conversation with, and a natural leader, and honest. He was a family man with one, ultimately fatal flaw -- he loved speed. He drove too fast on a regular basis -- it was a terribly irresponsible thing to do, and he's fortunate he didn't kill anybody else because of this addiction.
The guy Phills hit was a local insurance adjuster named Rob Woolard, who was just minding his own business when Phills' black Porsche came skidding toward him. Woolard is the subject of this nicely-written sidebar by Peter St. Onge, also published today.
Seems like even longer than 10 years in some ways. The Hornets are long gone, to New Orleans. The Bobcats have been here for six seasons now, and finally have a team that may make the playoffs.
Wesley is 39 now, retired, living in Texas and hoping to become a basketball coach. Kendall Phills is now the shortest member of her family -- both her 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter are taller than she is. She jokes that she has to wear five-inch heels just to seem more like a Mom so she can get up above them occasionally.
But in some ways, it seems like it couldn't have been that long ago.
Ten years?! Oh, man.
"I just wish..." Wesley said, when we were talking about Phills at one point in our interview. And then the call got dropped. He was driving on a rainy highway in Texas, fading in and out already, before I lost him.
When I got hold of Wesley again a few minutes later, he started telling a story about how he and Phills were way down once at a blackjack table in Las Vegas, and he wanted to walk away, but Phills kept encouraging him to stay with it, that they could make it all back up. And finally, they did, and a lot more after that, and Wesley still considers one of the most fun nights of his life.
Wesley never did say exactly what he wished for -- but it's not hard to guess. He misses his friend. A lot of us do.