The day was supposed to be about the number raised to the rafters, but perhaps it was the number of people in the stands that better told the story as Carl English was celebrated Sunday afternoon at Mile One Centre in St. John’s.
A season-high crowd of almost 5,500 watched as the St. John’s Edge defeated the Island Storm 109-106 for their fifth win in their last six National Basketball League of Canada games. However, the contest was a sidebar to the main story, which was the retirement of the No. 23 jersey worn by English during the Edge’s first two seasons in the league.
It was a day all about the 39-year-old Patrick’s Cove native, from the CE23 basketball camp shirts being sold in the Edge’s Mile One store and worn by the St. John’s players in warmups, to the standing ovation he received in a pre-game introduction, to the in-game videos highlighting his more than two-decade long career in NCAA and professional basketball, to messages from current Edge players and short speeches by Mayor Danny Breen and NBLC deputy commissioner Audley Stephenson.
The No. 23 banner featuring all the teams for which English has played —from St. Fatima Academy in St. Bride’s to the Edge — was hoisted during halftime, after which English addressed the crowd for about three-and-a-half minutes.
The greater part of the speech was devoted to appreciation for his family, beginning with his wife Mandy — “She’s always the one who keeps me grounded,” — his three children — “They are my world,” — and continuing on to his Aunt Betty McGrath and other relatives who helped raise him and his siblings after the 1986 house fire that led to the death of their parents.
He then took a breath before moving on to his brothers Peter, Bradley, Mike and Kevin.
“I’m trying not to get emotional, but when you go through what we went through at such a young age … and they’ve always been there, always had my back,” he said, adding that no matter where his basketball journey took him, he felt as if his brothers were always with him.
“For that I am extremely thankful. I love you guys.”
He talked a bit about his basketball career — “I was a scrawny little kid, but I had dreams larger than life itself,” — and made a point to thank his high school coach Gord Pike. He also mentioned how the game has taken him full circle, from Fatima, to the University of Hawaii, to top leagues throughout Europe, to playing all over the world with the Canadian national team and then back to Newfoundland to finish up with the Edge.
English said he always knew there was interest in his career from people in his home province, but “I didn’t realize how special it was until I came back home,” which drew one of the many rounds of applause that punctuated the speech and a loud “We love you, Carl!” from a woman in the stands.
After thanking the fans for their support, he added “It’s not the end., It’s just a day.”
He did not mention the Edge, with whom he had a fairly public falling out over the last half year before recently coming to a resolution that led to Sunday’s ceremony.
And while the team had provided the forum and made the arrangements for Sunday’s ceremony, the Edge — quite deliberately it appeared — remained very much in the background through it all. Team president Tyrone Levingston was on hand for the presentation of a framed jersey and Edge head coach Steve Marcus spoke of what English had meant to the franchise and city. But majority owner Irwin Simon was not present, although there were video messages from Simon’s son Trevor and minority owner Rob Sabbagh.
During his speech, English — still looking to be in playing shape — moved a little bit around the centre of the court he once dominated as the NBLC’s 2017-18 most valuable player. Afterwards, when asked how it felt to be back on the Mile One hardwood, especially since it marked the first time he had been to an Edge game this season, English said it was a “pretty good” experience.
“You get out there and you have the crowd and all the energy that comes with them and the adrenaline starts pumping and all the hurts and nicks you have go away,” he said.
When queried as to whether that had him thinking about asking to have the banner brought down and his number quickly unretired, English laughed.
“No, I don’t think so. That’s it” he said, before adding with a smile “but I could always wear 22.”
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