Anybody old enough has vivid memories of what happened 20 years ago on Sept. 11.
We remember where we were, what we were doing and how it all shut down when terrorists brought down the World Trade Center towers. It was a “new normal” event, nearly two decades before the more recent earth-shaking change for humanity.
Mark Cuban won’t ever forget. He was working from the office at his house, 19 years before it became mandatory (ahead of his time, as usual).
“I remember exactly where I was,” Cuban said. “I was at home working and had the news channel on. I remember calling Tiffany (then his fiancé, now his wife) to come see what happened, thinking it was an errant plane.
“Then – boom! – it happened again. I remember being shocked, horrified, sad and not quite sure what would happen next.”
It was one of those moments in history that, indeed, rearranged priorities.
Negotiating free-agent contracts and sweating out every referee’s whistle no longer seemed all-important.
It was an equally powerful day for Mavericks’ CEO Cynt Marshall, who had no clue who Cuban was in 2001 and certainly could never have envisioned working for him.
Marshall was a high-ranking executive at AT&T in 2001, based in San Francisco.
The attacks happened early in the morning, Pacific time. And Marshall remembers preparing breakfast for her kids when things got crazy.
“That day was surreal,” Marshall said. “I remember getting ready for work when the news broke about the first attack. We were very confused about what was going on. I watched the news and made breakfast for the kids . . . my normal routine was that I would have breakfast with them since I always got home late.
“But on this day I wanted to get to San Francisco to my office to make sure we evacuated the building. As one of the top leaders in the building, with 20 years of service, I knew I had a responsibility to ensure people’s safety. We also needed to make sure the network was intact. There was so much confusion about whether something was getting ready to happen in California. I prayed for the kids and drove to work from the East Bay to San Francisco. This is when it got scary.”
On her commute, Marshall got a phone call from her husband, Kenny. She was stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge, which was typical at that time of day.
But on this occasion, the commute seemed to drag on longer than normal.
“He (her husband) frantically asked me if I was at work yet,” Marshall said. “I told him I was still on the bridge. He started yelling for me to try to get off at the first exit because a plane was headed to San Francisco.
“The kids (ages 6 and 9) started crying. They didn’t really know what was going on but they could hear Kenny telling me to come back home because either one of the San Francisco bridges (Bay Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge) or a high rise was a likely next target. I worked in one of the tallest buildings on the 18th floor.”
Marshall tried to stay calm for the kids’ sake. She felt a responsibility to see about her employees. She told her husband to take care of the kids and she went to her office.
“We cleared out the building, called employees and told them to stay home and kicked into our emergency preparedness drill,” she said. “Except this time it wasn’t a drill. It was real. And for hours we sat in that high rise not knowing if we were a target.”
Meanwhile, her husband stayed home from work and picked up the kids early from school.
Marshall stayed a few hours at her high-rise office, mostly spent praying.
“I prayed for our nation, aloud and on my knees throughout the day,” she said. “I prayed for wisdom for our President. I prayed for the people in the towers. People on the planes. I checked on the kids. I went home once they were home.”
She made a stop at her mother’s house to check on her. She also checked on a nephew, Cameron. Interestingly, Cameron, celebrated his 18th birthday on Sept. 11, 2001. Now, he’s 38 and has been a police officer in San Francisco for the last eight years. He had just started college at New Mexico State.
There are stories galore about athletes who were impacted by Sept. 11.
As fate would have it, that was the day golfer Phil Mickelson was flying from his home in Arizona to Houston for a media interview to promote the Tour Championship, one of the PGA Tour’s premier events that Mickelson had won the year before. His flight to Houston was more than half over when the unthinkable happened.
When the attacks began, planes were grounded. Mickelson’s private aircraft was forced to land in Austin. He weighed his options and elected to rent a car and return to Arizona, a 15-hour drive.
This was the same golf tournament, by the way, that had been gut-punched two years earlier when golfer Payne Stewart tragically died in a plane crash en route to Houston’s Champions Golf Club, site of the event.
I was a reporter in Houston at the time and was supposed to be part of that interview with Mickelson. While making the drive to the club, radio stations quickly relayed information.
When I arrived, televisions at the facility – usually showing some sort of golf – were all tuned to the news. That tournament was played six weeks later. But a lot of sporting events, like the Ryder Cup were correctly postponed or scrapped altogether.
It was truly a moment in history when a “new normal” was created, which seems to happen every so often in history.
“As we all know,” Cuban said, “it changed everything.”