It began with an e-mail.
A guy who seemed to be a girls basketball junkie in the Midland area wanted to tell me about a player he thought was being overlooked.
That led to another e-mail and then another.
Soon it became text messages, and then it was about more than just a good player here or there. Eventually it became a list of players from Midland on north, all the way into the Upper Peninsula, he thought I should consider for my preseason list of the top 100 girls basketball players in the state.
He was right on every one.
That simple e-mail was my introduction to Jim Richter, one of the nicest, most unassuming people I have ever met.
For years, he has been a mainstay at the Breslin Center for the girls semifinals and finals, always sitting in the same spot behind one of the baskets.
Over the years I have come across plenty of people who wanted to recommend players for recognition — and almost all of them were either blood relative or had a personal connection.
Richter, 72, had no such agenda. He simply wanted the best players he saw to be recognized.
We spoke Sunday for what may be the last time. Months ago, he e-mailed me about a tumor in his brain doctors were battling. Last week, an e-mail described cancer eating away at his pancreas, liver and lungs.
“I may have a few days, no more than a week or two,” he said Sunday. “It’s just gone all through me.”
Richter began following girls basketball 15 years ago after he left his job of 38 years as a banker. He got to know many coaches and players across the state.
“I was coaching AAU and this guy kept showing up,” said Midland Bullock Creek coach Mark Juengel. “We thought he was somebody’s grandpa. I ended up striking up a conversation and he had a love and interest of following good girls basketball.”
Girls basketball is something Richter discovered late in life, much to the delight of his wife of 51 years, Sue.
“He needed a hobby instead of driving me crazy and he found a good one that kept him busy,” she said, laughing. “He’d been doing a good job of that.”
Over the years, Richter began attending more and more games and scrimmages. One of his favorite trips was to the summer team camp at Gaylord, where he could see teams from across the state.
“So many of the kids say he’s their grandpa,” his wife said. “He never used to like kids all that much to hang around with, but these girls … there was just something about those girls. He could see so much potential in so many of them.”
Over the last few years Richter would send me story ideas, and they weren’t necessarily about basketball players. One of my favorite suggestions of his turned out to be a feature on Bay City Western’s Hannah Leppek, who suffered through four knee surgeries but battled back to become one of the state’s best pitchers and eventually led Western to the state championship.
It will be difficult to be at the Breslin Center and not see Richter sitting in the bleachers in the end zone.
“I hoped to at least be alive for the games at Breslin,” he said. “I could watch the finals on TV, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
As we said our good-byes, he thanked me.
“I just wanted to try to help a little bit,” he said.
I ended up thanking him — and I’m certain girls across the state want to thank him, too.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1