With Wichita State and Tulsa tied at 51 apiece and 3.3 seconds remaining in their game on Feb. 1, Elijah Joiner took an inbounds pass from Brandon Rachal, raced down the floor and launched the game-winning 3-pointer for the Golden Hurricane.
As ESPN play-by-play voice Matt Schick yelled, “Got it!” a sea of Tulsa players stormed the floor and surrounded the junior guard. Broderick Joiner embraced his son amid the chaos while Elijah cried on his shoulder. Those emotions spilled into the postgame press conference where Elijah talked about his father, who’d watched him from the stands at Tulsa for the first time.
With 3.3 seconds on the clock and the game tied 51-51, Tulsa inbounds the ball and Elijah Joiner throws up a 3-pointer at the buzzer to knock off No. 23 Wichita State 54-51.
“Man, I honestly never pictured this moment with my father being here for the first time,” said Elijah, as he sobbed seated next to head coach Frank Haith, who consoled him. “I’m just so happy that he was here for this moment. It means so much for me to see him in the crowd. It just means a lot to me, knowing that he was here and I could do this in this special moment. I never pictured this. I never pictured him being in the crowd, cheering for me and things like that, this far, in my life. But he’s here. And I’m so happy that he’s here.”
Their tale, however, is not about sadness but redemption. Per son and father, who recently spoke with ESPN, today they’re like “brothers” after a rocky start to their relationship. After serving in the U.S. Army as a sergeant and combat engineer in Iraq, Broderick Joiner said he returned home as a young father still searching for himself following a traumatic experience.
“I came home and it was difficult to come back to regular civilian life,” the Chicago resident said.
Meanwhile, Elijah moved forward on the west side of Chicago with his mother, Nicole Matthews, and stepfather, Jermaine Scott, while longing for a stronger relationship with his dad and dreaming of moments such as the one he experienced on the first day of February.
Broderick Joiner eventually got married and started a family, but Elijah and Broderick stayed in touch. Broderick attended basketball games and birthday parties but he could sense that his son wanted more from his father. When Elijah was a teenager, his father called him and told him he would do whatever it took to become a stronger presence in his life. They stayed on the phone for three hours, and both men say that was the night everything changed.
“I never held a grudge against him, nothing spiteful,” Elijah said. “Thank God, he allowed us to have that moment.”
That’s why his game-winning shot at the start of the month (part of a career-high 22-point day) meant so much more than basketball.
Father and son spoke with ESPN about the evolution their relationship and the meaning of the moment:
Now that you’ve had time to reflect, what was that moment like after hitting the game-winner and hugging your father?
Elijah Joiner: It was incredible to actually see my father at a home game, cheering us on, enjoying himself. He was hyped. It was amazing. I told my cousin, win or lose, I was going to hug my dad because I was just happy he was there. God had something to do with it.
Broderick Joiner: I’d come to one of my son’s games at Illinois State a few years ago. But I’d never had the chance to get to Tulsa. I had the opportunity to go so I hopped on a flight. When I got to the game, it was so overwhelming. I never imagined it would be this major.
You were very emotional after the game during the press conference. What were you feeling in that moment?
Elijah Joiner: I grew up on the west side of Chicago. I needed my father. I saw things kids shouldn’t see. There were times when I didn’t know if I’d make it to Tulsa. In high school, our relationship was cool, but it wasn’t what I needed it to be. So, to see him at a Tulsa home game, with his Tulsa gear on, it was amazing. I had an incredible stepfather. But I needed my father. We spent time together when he got back from the war. But it just wasn’t all there. Then he called me when I was in high school and said he wanted our relationship to be better.
Broderick Joiner: When you’re in Iraq for 12 months, you come back a little different. I had to talk to someone. It was difficult. But he was at the YMCA when he was 16 years old and we talked. We now have an organic relationship, almost like a friendship.
As you two were standing there and embracing after you hit the shot, what were you saying to one another?
Elijah Joiner: I really didn’t say much. He was doing all the talking.
Broderick Joiner: I told my cousin [who attended the game with him], “I think that this kid is about to make a big shot.” I really felt like it was gonna happen. I almost jumped from the ninth row and hurt myself when he made it. The emotions came out. We’ve had our times. After all that, I grabbed him [on Saturday] and said, “This is all about you. What did I tell you?!” I had to gather myself.
How have you both responded to all the national buzz this moment has received?
Elijah Joiner: I didn’t know it was going to be this big. Then I got a few ESPN notifications and I was just like, “Wow.” I feel like God put me in a position to wake up fathers that might not be doing what they can for their children. You have to be there for your children. Today, my dad is almost like my brother, my friend. We text every morning. Hopefully this has inspired fathers to do what they can for their children, no matter what has happened in the past.
Broderick Joiner: I told him that it’s good he can show emotion like that. I grew up without a father and sometimes it’s a cycle. But I made some excuses and I’m not proud of them. You always have to push and you have to let them know we’re here for them, no matter what. Fathers, do your best.