WASHINGTON — Tuesday evening offers a varying scope of D.C. sports.
You can watch the Capitals take on the Flames, Tanner Roark try to pitch Team USA into the World Baseball Classic final. Or, you can flip over to HBO at 10 p.m. to witness how Juan Dixon, 15 years removed from leading Maryland to its only men’s basketball championship, has discovered his life wasn’t at all what he thought it to be.
“Juan Dixon was the stick-figured kid who became a legend during the 2002 NCAA Tournament,” David Scott sets the scene for an HBO ‘Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’ profile. “Not just for his fearless play, but for his heart-wrenching personal story recounted by broadcasters over and over.”
‘His mother and father died of AIDS,’ an announcer is overheard saying over a 2002 tournament broadcast.
After Dixon’s parents died, he was orphaned as a child growing up in a drug-plagued Baltimore. It was a story of torment and trauma, and Dixon overcoming long odds en route to personal achievement.
“The people that I love with all my heart, they’re being taken from me,” Dixon looks back on his journey in present time. “Like, they’re either dead or they’re dying. And that was hard to witness.”
“But while millions of fans were being told that story,” Scott said, “one watching at home realized it couldn’t be true.”
Bruce Flanigan remembers watching Maryland play that season, thinking at the time, ‘That’s my son.’
“His demeanor, the way he smiled,” he told Scott. “It was just an image of me out there on the floor.”
Flanigan himself was once an undersized guard growing up, as HBO tells it, and had been All-City in Baltimore, even. Twenty years after ending a brief relationship with a woman from his old neighborhood who, at the time, he tells HBO, was separated from her husband, Flanigan felt like he was watching himself on that TV screen. That woman was Dixon’s mother, Juanita Dixon.
“Do you remember how broadcasters were playing Juan’s life story on a loop?” Scott asked Flanigan.
“It was, like, almost every game,” Flanigan said.
“An orphan’s triumph over adversity,” Scott said.
“Yes,” Flanigan agreed.
“It must have been tremendously ironic to you,” Scott said.
Flanigan: “I thought to myself, ‘Juan’s father is alive.'”
But Flanigan already has a family of his own, and rather than interfere in Dixon’s life, he remained in the shadows, quietly following his son’s career. When Dixon was drafted 17th overall by the Washington Wizards, Flanigan frequently attended their home games, always sure to never get too close.
After a 10-year professional career, which spanned seven NBA seasons and three internationally, Dixon, now 38, is head coach of the University of the District of Columbia’s women’s team. Last summer, he finally met his real father.
“When I saw him, I was like, ‘Oh, crap,'” Dixon told HBO. “Like, that’s my dad.”
“You knew right away,” Scott said.
“Yeah,” Dixon said. “Could just look at him and tell.”
Shortly after meeting, the two underwent a paternity test confirming Bruce as Juan’s father. Now, they’re making up for decades in lost time. Bruce watches Juan coach from the stands. Only, now, he no longer has to watch from the shadows.