An unbreakable bond
Published: Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 21:07
He'd talked about his mom's drug addiction. He'd talked about his biological dad's lack of presence in his life. He'd talked about the tragic death of his father figure.
Johnathon Hoover rehashed it all without the slightest quiver in his voice.
He was confident, unshaken, like a man who'd come to terms with the fact that life dealt him a bad hand; a man who held no grudges.
But as soon as he recalled the people who once questioned his best friend Roberto Nelson's loyalty, his tone began to change drastically.
Tonight, Roberto Nelson will take the floor of Gill Coliseum looking to help the Oregon State men's basketball team snap a five-game losing streak.
Johnathon Hoover will watch from his row eight seat in section K, the same spot he takes in each Beaver home game.
Because he was born with cerebral palsy and without Achilles tendons, Hoover has never been able to play sports competitively.
So he's reduced to watching.
But that's just a footnote in this 20-year-old's remarkable journey — a journey he's shared with Nelson.
Johnathon Hoover spent the first four years of his life living under his grandma's roof.
That was because his mom was a drug addict. The only time he'd see her, he says, was when she'd come around to take his urine for her drug test.
"Then she'd leave," he said.
His biological dad was never a part of his life — Hoover has only seen him three times.
After his grandma's passing in 1995, Hoover (then Johnathon Green) moved in with James Hoover, his mom's friend, who he refers to as his dad.
Johnathon has called half a dozen households in Santa Barbara, Calif. home, but James Hoover's was the only one he truly felt comfortable in.
"He was my best friend, in addition to being my dad," Hoover said.
Two days after Johnathon started seventh grade, James Hoover was diagnosed with lung cancer.
A month later, he passed away. Johnathon was devastated.
"I was on the verge of giving everything up," he said. "I felt like I had nothing else to live for."
Enter: Roberto Nelson.
The two had been friends since elementary school. In junior high, they grew closer. After James Hoover's death, they became inseparable.
"I didn't really want to be at home after my dad died," Hoover said. "So I started going to Roberto's more. He made sure I kept my mind off things. When I needed someone to talk to, he'd be the one who would listen to me."
"He opened up to me a lot, and I respected him for that," Nelson said. "And I respected him for making it through all the things he'd been through and not ever complaining."
Johnathon was in and out of several homes after the passing of James Hoover, but no situation felt right.
Naturally, he started spending nights at Nelson's.
Hoover estimates that by his sophomore year of high school, he was staying at Nelson's three weeks out of a month.
"We became closer and closer each day," Nelson said. "I didn't really see him as a friend anymore, I saw him as a brother. He became an instant family member to me and my family."
Home was technically the house of James Hoover's cousin, but the only time Johnathon would go home was if he worked the late shift at the local Albertsons. That was because he didn't want Nelson to have to stay up late to pick him up from work.
On the surface, it may have seemed as though their friendship revolved around Hoover's dependence on Nelson.
But it worked both ways.
When Nelson's dad was sent to prison in 2008, it was Hoover who helped him cope.
"Him having such a positive attitude and such a positive outlook on life, it just made it a lot easier for me to realize that life didn't stop there," Nelson said.
Freshman year was when the pact was made.
College was still four years down the road, but Nelson didn't care.
"I was like, ‘Man, I want you to follow me wherever I go,'" Nelson said.
"At first I thought he was joking," Hoover said.
Apparently, everyone thought it was a really bad joke.
"Everyone was like, ‘He's not going to look out for you like he says he is, he is gonna have you come up there and he's gonna leave you, he's not gonna let you stay with him," Hoover said. "Any excuse in the book.'"
As Hoover recalled the conversations he had with countless people at Santa Barbara High, he began to spit his words out quicker and his voice began to rise.
"I would tell them, ‘What is he getting out of taking me to Oregon, what is he getting out of it?'" Hoover said. "He has everything he wants, he's playing basketball, doing what he wants to do … what is he getting out of it? What is he getting out of it?"
It got so bad, Hoover said, that one day four school administrators pulled him out of class, locked him in a room and begged him to stay in Santa Barbara. They told him about a program for foster children — a program that would help him find a job, help him buy a car.