Playing for love and life, on and off the court

In the scheme of things the game of basketball is just that; a game.


As players, fans, communities, supporters and even naysayers, we place whatever else we desire on top of that distinction and it becomes something more.

For Kake Masters guard Myron Martin, 49, the game has always been about love; the love of the game, of teammates, and of community.

Over the years his uniform included a bandana and it aptly fit his profile of being a tenacious defender, a ruthless ball hawk and a deadeye shooter.

During last weekend’s championship game of the 2012 Gold Medal Basketball Tournament, the bandana was one representing breast cancer and it stated his participation in the battle in the game of life he undertook with his wife Cindy, 48, diagnosed in September 2011 with the disease.

“It is a huge impact on your life definitely,” Cindy Martin said. “His wearing the bandana for me meant everything. It was like he played that whole tournament for me, just to show me that I am not alone.”

Cindy has lost a brother and a brother-in-law to cancer, Myron’s mother passed from breast cancer in 1972.

“No matter that I was going through it, he was going through it too, right beside me,” Cindy said. “He has been taking care of me the whole time. If I have bad days or bad chemos he is right there. For him to wear that meant the world to me.”

Like he does for his teammates on the court.

“He has always been like that,” Cindy Martin said. “He has always done what was best for the team.”

Martin’s show of love spread on the floor as well. Teammate Kip Howard wore specially designed Nike basketball shoes in support of Breast Cancer awareness and survivors.

One of Howard’s plus-sized shoes bore the name of Cindy Martin and the other had the name of Kake’s Selma Jackson who was diagnosed with breast cancer the same day as Cindy.

“Kip wanted to support the cause,” Cindy Martin said. “To show that he too was behind us and thinking about us.”

There were a lot of bandanas worn behind the Kake bench as well. Myron and Cindy Martin, who met at Sheldon Jackson College and were married at 19 and 18 respectively, have five daughters and one son; Cassandra, 29, Samantha, 27, Miranda, 25, Ashley, 23, Kalli, 11, and Chayton, 10. The family lives in Juneau now so all got to attend their dad’s final game.

“We did actually get divorced six years ago,” Cindy Martin said. “But we got back together. We couldn’t stand being apart. He never gave up on me.”

At various points of the tournament one or more of the siblings and numerous fans from Kake wore a bandana for support, both for breast cancer and the fact that Myron was playing in his last Gold Medal event.

Cindy Martin usually wears a hat or scarf, as she has lost her hair, but this tournament she wore a bandana in honor of her husband.

“He gave me one of his red bandanas to wear,” Cindy Martin said. “I wore that in the championship game.”

What fans couldn’t see on the court was what happened off the court during the tournament. On Tuesday Cindy felt ill and an x-ray revealed a possible tumor on her hips. A bone scan couldn’t be done until this Monday when it was revealed to be arthritis.

“All that Gold Medal week we tried to stay positive,” Myron said. “We tried to stay strong. She helped me through that, she wanted me to play.”

Myron’s daughters Samantha and Miranda, professional massage therapists, rubbed out the kinks in his aging body after games while Cindy encouraged him to play on and all proudly wore the signature Martin bandanas.

Myron’s wearing of a bandana came out of the respect he had for Angoon’s Ivan Gamble. Growing up Myron would listen to Gold Medal and American Legion Tournaments and was fascinated by the legendary play.

As a high school junior Myron played in the Kake Fireman’s Tournament against Angoon’s men’s team and Gamble, who wore a bandana when he played. Myron would face Gamble in three Gold Medals.

“Each time we played he would dribble right around me,” Martin said. “He was very fast and a good ball handler.”

When Gamble died in a car accident in the late eighties Myron started wearing a bandana and has in every game since.

It was sad to hear Myron Martin whisper after Saturday’s championship game that this tournament was his last. He has scored nearly 900 GM points and many more in other games around southeast.

“I remember those Fireman’s tournaments,” Martin said. “They were the week after Gold Medal and teams would recruit while at the Gold Medal Tournament to bring a stronger team down to Kake.”

Martin has other favorite memories; His first Gold Medal in 1983; the 1987 GM tourney where Kake upset the defending champion Hoonah (Bill Hutton, Howard Starbard, Jim Dybdahl, Don Starbard, Stuart Mills) in the opening game and Martin made his first all tournament team; After the 1991 championship win signing an autograph for a small boy, and then having the boy return in 2004 and show him the book where Myron’s signature was neatly taped (and signing the book again).

As the final buzzer sounded in this years tourney Myron, Howard, brother Mike Martin, and Michael Nannauck hugged at center court.

The embrace moved to the bench with Willis Cavanaugh, Tim James, high school teammate Paul Rostad, Royal Jackson, Al Jack, Lonnie Anderson and middle school teammate Delbert Kadake.

The physical emotion spread into the stands to relatives and fans.

Myron’s game-high 21 points included the final two free throws to clinch the 64-62 win over Klukwan. While his all around play made him a unanimous choice for the All-Tournament Team, the points allowed Cavanaugh to get less attention on the wing where he knocked down five three-pointers; the points allowed Howard to get less attention inside and solidify his Most Valuable Player selection; the points allowed the community of Kake to come together for a cause.

Myron’s uniform number 12, the same number used since high school, was wet with another out pouring of hustle, grit and determination.

If ever a player has aged, and played, gracefully it has been Myron.

I have been privy to being on the court against Myron Martin. The first time I was a high school senior and his Kake Thunderbirds came to our gym for a game; I remember this feisty, although skinny, underclassman. Fast forward a few decades and he was my teammate on the 2010 Hoonah Masters in our championship game loss (Kake didn’t have a masters team yet).

In between those dates I have played against him on various city league tournaments that Petersburg attended such as the Kake Fireman’s Tournament, Gold Medal Tournaments, and a few other tournaments where the Kake name is both feared and respected.

Feared and respected for players like Myron; battling you with elbows on the rebound, slipping away for a cherry pick fast break, burying a jumper from the wing, lofting a floater from the key, and pressuring you full court… his bandana resting above a chiseled and expressionless face, waiting to poke the dribble away or to sacrifice his body in your path.

Sacrificing like he does for all things he loves.

Cindy Martin has had a mastectomy and 13 chemotherapy treatments.

“Three more to go,” Cindy Martin said. “There are a lot of women in southeast, and all over, that are diagnosed with breast cancer. I like the awareness that was brought out by the team.”

Three more to go.

Through the years it has been Cindy that has pushed Myron out the door to go to tournaments, even if money was tight.

It was Cindy who would save the money she made working for the City of Kake specifically towards the Gold Medal week.

“There were some Gold Medals I probably shouldn’t have come to because we were broke,” Martins said. “She packed my gear and said I would die without it.”

When the Gold Medal Tournament directors said he would have to sit out a year after playing for Hoonah in 2010 and couldn’t play for the Kake team until 2012, Myron wanted to retire.

It was Cindy who said no, that he should retire playing.

Myron Martin retired Saturday with a championship; for his team, for his community and, more importantly, for his wife.

“She has been my biggest fan,” Myron Martin said. “Now I am her biggest fan. It is just time. Time to watch basketball and to play our biggest game yet. Cindy is my hero now.”


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