The caller ID wasn't necessary. Neither was the voicemail. I knew who was calling. No one else was going to bother me on a Saturday afternoon during basketball season.
Yet, each and every Saturday, my phone rang and I let it go to voicemail. The message made it worthwhile.
Typically I'd be covering a conference doubleheader involving the Quincy University men's and women's basketball teams or possibly tracking John Wood Community College. Either way, I was in a gym covering basketball like I have been for the last 25 years.
My oldest brother, Steve, always seemed oblivious to that.
After the games ended and I had packed up my gear, I'd listen to his voicemail. It started the same way every time.
"Where in the world are you? It's Saturday," Steve would say.
I'd laugh. Always. He called because he wanted to talk college basketball, and when I'd call him back and remind him where I'd been, he'd laugh at himself.
Still, the call came the next week at the same time like clockwork.
Steve liked routine. On wintry Saturdays, he'd start his day with a walk, a visit to a farmer's market if one happened to be open or some sort of outdoor activity. He'd stop and have lunch with a friend or at a neighborhood restaurant in one of the small New Jersey communities near where he lived, and by early afternoon, he'd be home watching a college basketball game.
He didn't follow many sports and was far from being a fanatic, but college basketball piqued his interest. He rooted for Duke, became fixated on certain talented players and always asked who I thought the best teams in the nation were.
I'd rattle off the teams near the top of the AP Top 25 poll, those I thought were playing well and those I felt had a chance to make a magical run in March.
When I finished, he'd ask, "What about Kansas?"
I told him I didn't know anything about a team from there.
He'd laugh. Out loud. A real belly laugh.
Then he'd try to get philosophical about it.
He'd drop a line like, "Since you're a sports writer who covers college basketball, in your professional opinion, don't you think Kansas is No. 1?"
I'd respond the way a true Mizzou black-and-gold product does. I'd tell my brother I'll never root for a team from that state, and I swore to him I'd never write that school's name down on any line on an NCAA Tournament bracket.
He'd laugh, but he wouldn't relent.
He changed his angle of attack ever so slightly. He remembered I am a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association and tried to tell me I needed to give him an answer in accordance with that. I refused, often telling him I get to be a fan when he and I talk.
He'd cackle some more.
Steve thought it was the funniest thing that I wouldn't write that school's name on a bracket or even say it in conversation. He told his New Jersey friends about it and they'd laugh, too. I questioned his loyalty since he received his master's degree from the University of Missouri in 1984, but he said he never worried much about the rivalry.
I joked he'd have his degree revoked for comments like that. He told me I take such things too serious.
We agreed we viewed it differently.
We saw life through a different lens on several topics. His vacation destination was a beach, while mine is a mountain cabin. He listened to classical music when he worked. I listen to hard rock when I write. He enjoyed a five-course meal at an elegant restaurant. I prefer dining at a corner bar.
Those differences made us unique, forced us to learn more about each other, and brought us closer together even if the miles and the time zones kept us apart.
He moved to New Jersey 35 years ago, but this was always home and we were always family. That's held true for all of my siblings. The heart, soul and love we share has kept us close through the years no matter our age differences or the paths we chose.
It's why I'm going to miss him dearly.
He was my brother, my godfather, my idol.
As we lay Steve to rest this week after he passed away at the age of 61, I'll make him one final promise.
I'll write Kansas on an NCAA Tournament bracket sheet the next chance I get.