Fighting For Possession: The Greg Willard Story

Basketball, Columns, J. Tinsley, Sports — By on October 25, 2012 at 12:01 am

Washington, D.C. is a beautiful city. There’s the history. There’s the culture. There’s the late Chuck Brown. There’s the ever-evolving demigod Robert Griffin III who, somehow, in less than a half a season has etched his claim as the most beloved athlete Chocolate City has seen since some guy named Sean Taylor. There’s the sex, drugs, lies, controversy and video tape that is politics. There’s Stadium, if you’re into those sort of establishments (I am). And certainly not to be forgotten, there’s mambo sauce.

I can’t speak for every resident of the DMV. Yet, “Lucky Star” – located only a few blocks away from FedEx Field – is a national treasure. It isn’t in D.C., but I’m only about 20,000 signatures short from taking this petition to the Capitol in hopes of making this hood spot a national monument. The place stays open til 5 in the morning, resulting in the perfect hangover elixir food.

“Three piece with fries. Drown in mambo.” That’s all that needs to be said to the small Asian lady who runs the place. Within 10 minutes, the order’s there. Completed. And correct. Such consistency is easy to be taken for granted. It’s human nature. We want to feel comfortable because we like feeling comfortable. The only time I’ve ever cared who cooked my food there was when my order was wrong.

The same logic applies to being a referee in sports. Call a game perfectly, no one ever knows you’re there. For a cook, prepare a meal perfectly and no one ever cares to know your name. Call a controversial penalty and you’re the scapegoat for an entire fanbase, country and media monster (what say you, replacement refs?). For a cook, mess up somebody’s order and all hell breaks lose. Being a referee isn’t an easy job, but someone has to have the balls to do it.

Perhaps the name Greg Willard rings a bell. Perhaps it doesn’t. I’m not judging either way because until a week ago, I had no clue who he was. Then again, it’s not like I had a reason to. He is an NBA ref who does his job and by all accounts does it quite well. He’s run up and down sidelines for years covering superstars like Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and the list goes on.

J. Tinsley

@JustinTinsley is stuck halfway between a dream and reality. The plan? To make that dream a reality.

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  • “God bless Greg Willard and anyone battling cancer.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Quite literally, my grandfather recently passed away from pancreatic cancer … after a four and half year battle. I watched as this proud marine, a mountain of a man and literally the strongest man I’ve ever known, completely wilt away. By the time I saw him last before his death, he was completely emaciated, less than 100 pounds and couldn’t even roll over.

    I was a pallbearer at his funeral, and I couldn’t help but harken back to all those great times, even as he was suffering, that he just kept on being him, kept up his self-depricating humor, kept on insisting he could do things himself even when he couldn’t. And you’re right, it was the best way.

    God bless Greg Willard and anyone battling cancer, indeed.

  • J. Tinsley says:


    It’s a helpless feeling for real. And it’s one of those feelings that’s always going to stick to your ribs as time passes. It gets easier to cope with over time, but the memory will always be there. Vivid as hell, too.

    My only hope is they caught Willard’s in time and they’ve got him under some intense chemo and/or radiation to help combat it. Granted, those two treatments take A LOT out of a person.

    But yeah, not to be all sad and everything. I just felt like Willard’s story was one that at least had to be addressed. We all know someone who has either died/battling cancer, so these sorts of stories hit home.

  • Chris Costello says:

    Greg passed away tonight after his hard fight.

    He will be sorely missed..

    May God rest his soul and give his family peace in this difficult time..

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