Thursday, December 27, 2007
By Dave Newhouse
Christmas had tumbled into a time of healing for Raymond Ridder — the healing of deep wounds that don't close so easily while mourning at graveside.
Five members of Ridder's family have died this century, four in one year. Boughs of holly became funeral wreaths hanging over his capsized life.
But Tuesday will be a different Christmas for Ridder, one of needed happiness and the promise of a better future to suppress a sorrowful past.
"It's going to be an honor and a joy to celebrate my first Christmas with Sanae," he said. "I haven't had a real Christmas with someone I love since our family was really together. The holidays were difficult."
Ridder, the Warriors' eminently professional 10th-year public relations director, married for the first time July 27 at age 42.
He wed a beautiful burst of sunshine named Sanae Tomita, 33, of Kyoto, Japan.
It was her first tying of the knot as well. She's a former Warrior Girls dancer who makes Ridder's heart dance every day.
They met in 2004 with Ridder still reeling emotionally from the loss of his father, mother and two brothers, who all died in 2000.
Three years later, he lost a sister; thus three of his six siblings had passed on. All died from various health-related issues.
Three years ago, Sanae felt the Warriors were playing with depleted energy, lack of focus ... typical Warriors, then mired in a 12-year playoff drought.
So she phoned Ridder with her concerns.
She had seen Ridder before, working out in the weight room at night while the Warrior Girls practiced dance moves in the team's downtown gymnasium atop the Marriott. She noticed his intensity, his passion.
But she didn't know he was the same person she had phoned. They agreed to meet after a game.
She handed him an inspirational tape in order to help the team. He managed to find out she was single.
"I told him I didn't need a boyfriend because I couldn't concentrate on dancing," she said last week, "that I loved what I was doing."
Three weeks later, they had their first date.
Last year, Ridder proposed to her in Japanese character that he had written in chalk on the basketball court of his boyhood elementary school in Highland, near San Bernardino.
He decorated the court with pompoms. In tears, she accepted.
"I was married to my job," he said of his longtime bachelorhood. "I wasn't getting any younger. My remaining sisters told me I was the last Ridder boy to continue our family tree. My only other living brother already had his family."
Sanae earned a college degree in sociology in Japan. But her dream was to dance for a National Basketball Association team.
She paid her way to tryouts with the New Jersey Nets and Houston Rockets, made it to the finals each time, then was rejected.
She still wonders if it was for visa reasons.
Her next tryout, after quitting work and attending dance school, was with the Warriors.
More confident this time, she made it all the way, starting a five-year career as a Warrior Girl that ended with her marriage in Hawaii.
The newlyweds were asked what attracted them to each other.
Ridder said it was her smile and that "she's, unequivocally, the nicest person I've ever met."
Sanae said it was his passion and dedication to duty.
Ridder originally was to accompany the Warriors on the eight-day, five-game road trip that ended Sunday in Cleveland.
But his immediate boss, Travis Stanley, told him he was staying home to spend the week before Christmas with his new bride.
They will share part of the holiday with her parents, who've flown in from Japan.
Tonight, the four of them will fly to Riverside to spend Christmas at the home of Ridder's brother.
Early in their dating process, Ridder told Sanae about the five family members he had lost. She was stunned and moved.
"If I were him," she said last week, "I don't know how ... it was hard. I cannot envision ... that's why he was working more, so he didn't have to think about it."
"That's true," he said. "Everyone's time here is limited. We all get so caught up in our day-to-day jobs, but the bottom line is the only thing that matters is family."
Ridder and his bride of five months will work on starting their own family next year.
"We might have a future Warriors point guard," he said.