The account of my short stay in Kent Bazemore’s Uno Tournament

Uno, it’s a cruel game.

I was reminded of that childhood memory during me entry – albeit very brief – in a tournament hosted by Hawks player Kent Bazemore on Sunday. The card game has become a staple of Hawks’ off-the-court activities in recent years. Bazemore shared the experience as part of a three-day fundraiser for his three-year-old ARMS Foundation.

So there I was Sunday evening in the rotunda of the Fernbank Museum seated at a table with nine other competitors, including 92.9 FM The Game’s Mike Conti and Carl Dukes and their lovely spouses. The room was filled with about 200 competitors and spectators.

At the front of the room was the grand prize. An Uno championship belt produced for Bazemore by Mattel, the manufacturer of the game. The toy giant also provided decks of Uno cards in the Hawks’ colors of volt green, torch red and granite gray and complete with the team’s feather pattern. The company produced a set for the team last year after a national article described the team’s obsession with the game. Bazemore carried the team’s well-worn set with him during the event.

Lil Ronnie (Jackson) took the seat to my right, the last available at our table. We became fast friends. Or not. The local DJ was dealt a seemingly endless supply of Skip, Reverse and Draw 4 cards – the “lay the heat” notices as referenced by Bazemore.

In the opening game of the first 20-minute round I played ONE card. That’s it. My new-found friend sent two of the Draw 4 cards in my direction when he was not skipping my turn or reversing the direction of play. When I was finally able to discard, I stood with arms raised. Others in the room might have thought I was celebrating a victory. No, just a chance to get in the game.

By the time the game ended with a winner, I sat with 14 cards in my hand. Quite a mitt-full we used to say. It was a considerable increase from the seven to start the contest.

I had a chance in the second and what turned out to be my final game. There I was playing, actually getting a chance to discard. I even hit Conti with a Draw 4 card, somewhat illegally played since I could have used another card. (We moved on although I did inform the poor recipient a challenge would have been in order.) Revenge – although misdirected – was sweet.

Then came a chance at victory. In one trip to the draw deck I discovered a new card. There is now a wild card that enables the holder to switch hands with another player. Who knew? I switched with a young lady who was holding Uno – a lone card. Victory was in my grasp. The hand would end with me holding four cards. Game over. Night over. Thanks for playing.

Oh, I’m not bitter. Although it did bring back childhood memories of card games abruptly ended with one last straw being delivered on a sibling.

Perhaps it was fitting that the tournament was eventually won by 11-year-old Gracie Weeks. Congratulations kid.

It was well-run and worthy affair and a humble Bazemore was a gracious host. Teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. also represented the Hawks. The event was part of a three-day fundraiser which included a bowling event on Saturday and a golf tournament on Monday. The proceeds from the events will go to support schools and Boys and Girls Clubs in Bazemore’s native North Carolina, collegiate home Virginia and new home Georgia.

“We are laying the foundation for his foundation,” said Rob Kremer, one of the organizers.

As Bazemore did at his press conference to formally announce the four-year, $70 million contract he signed to remain with the Hawks this summer, there was talk of his ultimate goal to build a student-athlete academy.

“I’m a student athlete and graduated from college with two degrees,” Bazemore said of his time at Old Dominion. “I played in two NCAA tournaments. … I want to install the blue prints for youth to be successful. At my basketball camps, we don’t have Most Valuable Camper. We have Best Teammate. We have Hardest Worker. We have Leader by Example. We have those types of awards because those are traits that can take kids far beyond just making a layup.”

I just may keep the family Uno deck out for periodic practice sessions. I want another crack at that belt.

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