The Grammy-winning musician and the aspiring teenage basketball star traveled along a mystical stretch of Highway 50 six years ago, meandering through tiny Nevada towns separated by miles and miles of scenic nothingness.
Bruce Hornsby had been directed to The Loneliest Road in America by basketball wanderer Phil Jackson, a kindred spirit who found inspiration in the heart of the Pony Express Territory, where life and spirituality tend to collide.
The trek would be an ideal setting for Hornsby, a basketball junkie, to bond with a teenage son frustrated by an injury that had taken him away from the game he, like his father, loved so much.
Basketball has always provided Bruce and Keith Hornsby with a common ground. But here, along an unencumbered road oft traveled by eclectic soul-searchers, the ties between father and son would only become tighter.
More recently, March Madness connected Bruce and Keith Hornsby. Each spring, father and son penciled picks into brackets for nothing more than family bragging rights and a friendly bet than never amounted to anything more than a meager $5 reward.
Bruce made selections with his heart, pushing Cinderella entries like East Tennessee State or an unheralded 16 seed farther into March than any straight-thinking prognosticator had any business doing.
Keith was the logical one, evaluating match-ups and trends, rarely allowing emotion to enter the equation.
But this year, March Madness became something much more.
Keith Hornsby, now a 6-foot-4 freshman reserve guard who averages 12 minutes a game at UNC-Asheville, sat surrounded by his teammates on Sunday, waiting for the Big South Conference regular season and tournament champion's name to scroll across the screen.
In years past, Keith had always shared the start of the NCAA Tournament with his father. This year, he found himself in the thick of it: His senior-laden Bulldogs will face No. 1 seed Syracuse this week in Pittsburgh.
"I've waited for this day my whole life," Keith says in a phone interview with ThePostGame.com, hours after he and his teammates had learned of their tournament fate. "I've watched so many teams on screen celebrating and I never imagined how exciting it could be until I was actually placed in their shoes."
Bruce, now 57, is again in the midst of a 22-city solo tour. After weekend dates in Santa Barbara and Phoenix, he watched his son's tournament travel plans from New York, where he's prepping a Broadway play he and friends have been commissioned to write.
Like with Keith, Selection Sunday had a different feel for Bruce, who realizes the friendly wagers shared between father and son must be put on hold.
"I guess that's a by-gone era," Bruce Hornsby says.
Bruce's mind flashes back to a previous tour, when, like now, his music carried him from one faraway destination to another.
He was scheduled to drive from Steamboat Springs, Colo., to Reno, Nev. Back in Virginia, Keith had been sidelined by a nagging injury that had started with a rare circulatory disorder in his left foot. Bruce arranged for Keith to fly to Salt Lake City, where father and son would begin a weeklong road trip. Bruce planned an impromptu trip that would take them through two Western states before they reached the stretch of Nevada highway Phil Jackson recommended.
Bruce made sure the trip also involved basketball.
After reaching Nevada, Bruce pulled his rental car off the road every 70 miles or so. He made four stops between Ely and Fallon, each time stumbling on small town basketball courts where Keith could shoot free throws and where Bruce could continue to monitor the evolution of his son's game.
Keith had always shown promise, developing a keen shooting sense on a seven-foot rim by age 3. By age 5, he hit 34 consecutive bank shots on a 10-foot basket. By the end of his high school career, he had reached perennial powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, a place championship dreams come true.
Bruce had played high school basketball in Virginia and was determined to be an active participant in his sons' lives.
He told them at an early age that if they wanted to play music for a living, he could hand-deliver the keys to the Kingdom.
But if they chose to chase other pursuits, he would help where he could.
Even if it meant rebounding free throws along Highway 50 in the middle of nowhere.
Keith Hornsby can't recall a time when his father didn't have a hand in his basketball career.
Bruce Hornsby may have made a name for himself in music, having toured on his own, with his band, and even with The Grateful Dead. But he's done a great job building a relationship with his son that didn't necessarily involve music.
"For all the years he has worked with me, I've kind of forgotten about the whole musician part of it," Keith says. "I just thought of him as my dad."
Throughout his own career, Bruce had always considered himself a grinder, spending hours practicing the smallest of details. The piano was such a complex instrument, filled with so many moving parts, that even the tiniest of miscues could spell disaster in front of a live audience. Bruce's quest for perfection carried over to basketball, a game he appreciates for all of its technicalities.
He would work with Keith, who possessed a special skill set Bruce realized could lead to big things. Father and son spent hours pouring over fundamentals much like Bruce has spent time perfecting chord progressions or lyrics in one of his hit songs.
That's the tiny curse that comes with such a big blessing: Over the years, Bruce has come to know his son's game as if it were his own. He notices the little things -- like a missed backdoor cut -- much more than an absent father would.
When fundamental ends wouldn't meet, Bruce's inner-coach would cringe.
"C'mon, man -- we've worked on that," the voice inside him would bark out. "Why aren't you doing it right?"
But then Bruce's side fatherly side takes over, reminding him that Keith is just a kid with three years left to master his game.
"It's fun (to watch him play) but it can be fraught with peril watching your kid play," Bruce says. "It's a lot easier watching someone else play."
Meanwhile, watching Bruce play has only benefitted Keith’s push to perfect his own craft.
Over the years, Keith has attended about 100 of Bruce’s performances. He sees the way his father remains calm under pressure -- only one of the ties between Bruce’s musical pursuits and basketball.
Bruce has been careful to allow his son to learn for himself, always mindful of the fact Keith is still maturing as a player. During his time at Oak Hill and now at UNC-Asheville, Keith stands on his own, appreciative of the fact he has excelled on his own merits rather than those of his father.
Perhaps it helps that his teammates aren't aware of his father's music as Keith is. In his first year in Asheville, Keith settled in as a role player. He played consistent minutes, averaging 4.1 points a game and scoring a career-high 21 points in a win over Mars Hill.
He fit in nicely with his new teammates, all who knew of Keith's father's fame, but little more of Bruce's long musical history that has led to 12 Grammy nominations.
"I don't think they really listen to him," Keith says. "It's a like a generation before them."
Keith grew up with Bruce's music. Yet, his father's familiar voice -- whether in one of his hit songs or in his collaborative effort with the late Tupac Shakur -- didn't become part of his game day ritual.
Before this season, Keith pregame playlist was a blend of rap and metal, including artists like Metallica, Drake, and Lil' Wayne to rev him up for competition.
But Keith has recently added several of his father's pieces -- including soulful songs like Resting Place and Lost Soul -- and discovered that his father’s music helps with focus. His dad's music provides a sense of calm in the moments before he takes the court.
"I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner," Keith says, his voice blended with youthful reflection. "I guess now, I appreciate more than I ever have before because I listen it to it more in-depth and I listen to the melodies more.
"Plain and simple, I don't just like the music because it's my dad. It could be some random artist and I would still like the music. But I'm glad I appreciate it more."
Years after the road trip, the paths between music and basketball continue to intersect. When Bruce mapped out his current tour last summer, he was certain to create a gap in March, certain that Keith and his UNC-Asheville teammates would be playing somewhere.
Like he has countless times before, Bruce will travel to watch his son perform, Appreciative of the journey that has taken his son from that stretch of western highway years ago and onto a stage his son can call his own.
Jeff Arnold can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @jeff_arnold24.
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