The mechanics of a jump shot or the finer points of posting up are skills that can be taught and honed through years of repetition.
Leadership, grace, humility and desire, however, are intrinsic: you either have them or you don’t.
A former basketball star at the University of B.C., Vancouver College and internationally, John Dumont had all those qualities in spades: on the court, on the job or at home.
His legacy is such that long-standing rivals can take a moment of pause from competition and revere and respect his true command of a sport.
Dumont died Sept. 1 after a year-long battle with an aggressive form of cancer known as sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma. He died one year to the day of his initial diagnosis.
He was 41.
The Courier spoke to Dumont’s friends, family, teammates and coaches one day before his death. Unanimity can be elusive in any walk of life or pursuit, but unanimity and love dominated the memories shared.
“He’s a wonderful father and a wonderful husband — a gentle, caring, bright guy,” said Bob Corbett, who coached Dumont at Vancouver College in the early ’90s. “When I went to see him when he first got sick, he was more worried about how I was doing versus how he was doing. I had to keep pulling the conversation back to how he was doing. Everybody likes John, whether you played with him or against him. He’s a wonderful man. This is just a tragedy.”
Dumont’s diagnosis was preceded by frequent nosebleeds, which led him and his family to initially think it was just a case of bad allergies in a particularly bad allergy season.
A biopsy confirmed the presence of cancer and rounds of chemotherapy and surgery followed.
He was moved to a palliative care home prior to his death.
“He is someone who has had a great life and feels very lucky for the life that he’s lived,” said his sister Margot Jagger. “He’s amassed a lot of friends along the way but he’s not a flashy guy in any way. He’s humble, but confident. I think most people would say that he’s just a really good guy.”
Those sentiments were illustrated en masse Aug. 20. Scores of people from the basketball community convened on Vancouver College to participate in the John Dumont Classic, a fundraising tournament for John’s family, which featured 800 attendees and 200 participants.
The guys who Dumont went to war against 20 years earlier were all there: from Richmond high, from Kitsilano and from perennial ’90s powerhouse St. Michael’s University in Victoria.
“There were a number of players out there and people watching that we used to compete against,” said Gerald Cole, Dumont’s life-long friend and teammate. “The basketball community in Vancouver is pretty small and there’s a lot of respect that everyone has for one another. For everyone to come out was a huge sign of respect and support.”
There was also an element of celebrity factor: former under-19 provincial squad teammate and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash was also in attendance. Initially unable to attend, Canada’s most celebrated basketball player of all time, made time.
“He was heartbroken to hear the news about John when I told him at the beginning of summer,” Cole said. “The first question he had was ‘What can I do?’ Initially he wasn’t able to come, but he made some adjustments to his schedule so he could be there. I know Steve has incredible respect for John.”
The relationship Dumont and Cole shared stretched over more than three decades and transcends huddles, free throws and fast breaks.
They met in Grade 2, at the age of eight, and attended Vancouver College together until graduation. They both went on to play together at UBC. The pair then played professionally in southeast Asia: Dumont in the Philippines and Cole in Taiwan.
Because Cole grew up in North Van, he would often swing by the Dumont household — 10 minutes away from Vancouver College — to pass the time before 7 p.m. practice.
A week hadn’t passed in 33 years where they went without speaking.
“When were introduced to basketball in Grade 3, that was it — we fell in love with it,” Cole said. “For the rest of our lives up until adulthood, that’s what we did together almost daily. John’s neighbourhood became my second neighbourhood. I spent a lot of time over at his place, and to a large degree his family was my second family.”
Dumont’s acumen on the court is described in almost mythic terms. He played at every level possible: for provincial and national teams, and abroad professionally.
He stood 6’5 and played any position: in Grade 11 he played point guard and switched to the post in his Grade 12 year, a remarkable feat considering the shift in roles, responsibilities and the players he’d have to match up against.
His quiet demeanour off the court belied his relentless attitude on it.
“Once he got on the floor, he was there to win,” Corbett said. “He’s a wonderful man, don’t get me wrong, but he was there to win and you better be there with him to win, otherwise he wasn’t too happy with you. He was an incredible teammate and in practice he made everyone better. You either got better or he stomped you, at least in a nice way. He was the guy that brought everybody’s play up. He was so intense, everybody had to be intense at the same time.”
Bruce Enns was at the helm of the T-Bird program from 1985 to 2000 and recruited Dumont out of high school.
Speaking to the Courier from his home in Bremerton, Wash., he remembers Dumont as already being a complete, polished player by the age of 17, a time when most kids are still growing into their bodies and figuring out the intricacies of having to play against men.
“The thing that I really enjoyed was that I could see that he really loved to play,” Enns said. “He was having fun all the time on the court as a high school player and that continued for us. He had talent, he had skill. He was not only highly effective on the court, but he was a very inspiring guy to be around. He was an absolute leader.”
Now 72, Enns recalls a night in Calgary early in Dumont’s post-secondary career that spoke to his devotion to victory. Down by a considerable count in the latter stages of the game, Dumont came in to the huddle and said his piece.
“He came into the huddle and said, ‘Coach, we’ll be OK.’ We won the game. It’s because he played everywhere and anywhere.”
Current T-Birds bench boss Kevin Hanson didn’t coach Dumont, but saw him on the court during his playing days.
“John was a very inspirational player. You could tell he was a leader by the way he interacted with his teammates,” he said. “He is a feisty competitor that competed every second when he was on the basketball court. John has always been passionate about basketball and had a tremendous career.”
Dumont is survived by his wife Trixie and three sons, Cole, Hunter and Jack.