Roby's Unlikely Family Reunion
Isaiah Roby had just finished playing in an exhibition basketball game in Mississippi that, a week earlier, nobody knew would exist.
The Nebraska sophomore wing, after grabbing eight rebounds and scoring two points in Nebraska’s 76-72 victory at Mississippi State, caught his eyes wandering around the Humphrey Center for somebody who, less than a month ago, he also knew never existed.
“We played the game, we won, which was great,” Roby told me, “and we had our postgame talk, and everybody was walking out.”
The bus to Nebraska’s charter plane back to Lincoln would be leaving soon, and Roby still couldn’t find him.
Or, maybe the older man wasn’t there, after all.
“I wasn't 100 percent sure they were going to come,” Roby said.
Then, it hit Roby. He had never met his paternal grandfather. He wasn’t sure what he would say to him under normal circumstances, let alone having only a few minutes after playing a Division I basketball game.
Earlier, as Nebraska warmed up, and even at points during the game, Roby caught himself looking around the arena. Yet, he never detected what he thought may be a familiar face.
He did the same after the game.
Maybe that’s him? No, maybe that’s him? Or maybe him?
At last, as he looked across the gym floor postgame, Roby saw a small boy running down the stairs with a woman. She started waving.
“I went up to her,” Roby said. “She came in and gave me a big hug, ‘This is so neat to finally meet you!' "
She introduced Roby to the 5-year-old boy, Malachi (above), as Roby’s cousin.
“He looks just like my brother, too,” Roby said. “It's kind of crazy – skinny, tall kid, a buzz cut.”
A couple of moments later, the woman, who turned out to be Roby’s aunt, continued.
“And this is your grandpa over here,” she said.
Roby stopped and looked as a man in a full suit used a cane to slowly walk down the arena steps. Tears welled in the old man’s eyes.
“He was crying, and I wasn't sure how to react,” Roby said. “Then these guys just started clapping around him. It was a crazy little moment. I’m thinking, ‘This is beautiful.’ ”
The two hugged, and a short, impromptu celebration began.
Roby’s aunt’s name is Toccara (above), and Roby’s grandfather is Clarence Levy (above and below). Toccara also had in tow another cousin, a fourth-month old boy, Cayden Isaiah (above).
“I could kind of tell, he had that old down south pastor way of talking,” Roby said, noting he learned his grandfather is, indeed, a deacon.
“He was like, ‘I’m real proud of you. This is amazing, being able to meet you for the first time. I want to keep in touch with you. If you come out here again, I definitely want to see you again.' "
That basically ended the short meeting. Roby had to shower and catch the bus, but he, his grandfather and aunt vowed to stay in touch.
“I didn’t really know what to talk about,” Roby said. “It’s kind of crazy. My whole life I've never had a grandpa.”
That is, until about a month ago, when his father, Roderick, showed Isaiah an old picture of a young boy. He asked Isaiah to whom the picture bore resemblance.
Without hesitating, Isaiah said it looked his younger brother, Drew, at that same age.
Roderick responded by saying, “That’s your grandpa,” and Isaiah had no doubt.
“It was kind of crazy,” he said.
Roderick, who moved from Mississippi to Rockford, Illinois, when he was 5 years old, never met his father. Still hasn’t. He talked to him on the phone a couple of times around his high school graduation, but that was it.
Now 42 years old, Roderick recently heard from his sister, Toccara, via Facebook. She wanted to reconnect. He wasn’t even certain his father was still alive.
When he found out he was, he shared the aforementioned picture with Isaiah, when he was home for fall break.
At that point, nobody – and we mean nobody – knew Nebraska would be playing in a hastily arranged charity exhibition game at Starkville, Mississippi, against Mississippi State.
When Isaiah first learned the game was a possibility, he contacted his dad.
Where, again, did his grandfather live in Mississippi?
Turns out, only about 20 minutes from Starkville.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Isaiah said.
Roderick contacted his sister and told her of the game, its location and time. She responded enthusiastically, but still, Isaiah never knew for certain his long-lost relatives would be in attendance that Sunday afternoon in October.
“I didn’t really tell anybody,” Isaiah said. “Coach (Tim) Miles and Coach Mo (Jim Molinari) know everybody in my family. They talk to my mom and dad and grandma, and never really asked if I had a grandpa.
“I got on the bus and they were like, ‘Who was that guy you were hugging?’ I told him it was my grandpa, and I never knew he existed until two weeks ago.”
Roderick now is making arrangements to meet his father for the first time. He comes to games in Lincoln about once a month and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of the reunion happening at a Nebraska home game.
“I’m pretty private with my family stuff,” Isaiah said, “but that was pretty cool, for sure.”
Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.