Thursday, June 9, 2011


To be honest, I am having some writer block issues.  This piece was written in an attempt to bust the wall in my mind down and get me to writing again.  Not only writing, but writing well.  I know I write a lot about baseball, but I truly do love basketball as well.  I spent a lot of my life with a basketball in my hands. 

So read on if you dare and please have patience with me as I try to find my voice again.

I have played basketball forever it seems.  It was the source of one of my youthful rebellions against my father and his love of baseball.  The first organized team I remember playing on was as a child on a church team.  Mr. Barker took a team of kids from the church and got us into a league.  There is one old black and white photograph that I remember seeing of that team.  We were lined up on the sideline with Mr. Barker waiting to take the court.  I am not sure how old I was when I played with that team or how good we were.  I have a feeling we didn't win a lot of games.

The next time I played organized basketball was in the fifth grade.  Coach Madison held intramural basketball for the boys.  He gave each of the teams a name from the NBA.  Our team was called the Royals.  I had never watched much of the NBA on television.  First off they weren't on television that much and even if they were chances are it would not be watched on a television in our house.  The Royals played in Cincinnati and would soon move to Kansas City and become the Kings when I was a little older.  I would soon have season tickets to the Kings as I grew older and I still keep an eye on them even today.  I find it a little ironic that I played for the team that I would become a fan of years later.

I played intramural for Coach Madison again in the sixth grade and again I was on the Royals.  I was improving in my skills on the court by this time because my sister had gotten her basketball goal put up on the house so I was getting plenty of practice.  As I remember it, we won the intramural championship my sixth grade year.  There were a few players on that team that I would end up playing the next three years with.

Seventh grade found me in another intramural league.  They did not have an official seventh grade team but the coaches used the intramural basketball of the seventh graders to scout for try outs for the eighth grade team.  It was important to make a good showing in the intramural games so that the coaches would keep half an eye on you next year.  Coach Madison also let me come back to the elementary school and help referee the fifth and sixth grade intramural games.  After the games he would play some "horse" or a little one on one with me giving me even more experience that would become vital.

Trying out for the eighth grade team was very competitive at Smith-Hale   The school was younger then the other two junior high schools in the district but had already built a firm foundation as a basketball power.  I soon became aware that I would have to step it up a bit if I was going to make the team.  All it took was one crazy practice and I was guaranteed a spot on the team.  There had already been three cuts in the tryouts and we were coming close to the final cut.  Suddenly on this one day I got a burst of adrenalin like I had never felt before.  I got the ball to the left of the key and then my body went crazy.  I drove the lane to the hoop with a zone defense on me and took a shot to the nose.  I didn't make the basket but it impressed coach Mitchell.  I heard him asking who that was that just did that.  It was the kind of basketball he wanted to see.  My nose was bleeding and after a couple of more trips up and down the court the blood began to show up on guys jerseys.  Coach stopped play to find out who was bleeding and when he tried to take me out of the scrimmage I became adamant that I was okay and I was going to stay in.   He made me sit down anyway.  He would never see that power basketball from me again but he knew it was in me somewhere.

That knowledge helped get me on the freshman team the following year.  The previous freshman coach had moved up to coach at the High School and so Coach Mitchell moved up with us to coach us at the freshman level.  I firmly believe the only reason I made that team was because coach Mitchell knew what I could do if only I would and he kept expecting it to burst forth again.  It never did except for one time against Ervin when I was running the ball on a fast break and got tackled from behind.  I crashed my knee into the hard tile floor and must have cracked something.  My knee was never the same after that and still gives me problems to this day.  We were a good freshman team and kept the reputation of the school's basketball program intact as we beat up on the other teams on our schedule.

After that I pretty much quit organized basketball.  I decided no to try out for the sophomore team at the high school and so began my pick up game career.  I would spend afternoons and evenings at the church playing ball with Larry and whoever showed up to play.  

One weekend the school held a three on three fund raiser that would be played for twenty four hours straight.  It was my junior year and Barb had become a part of my life and that included the basketball.  So she found herself sitting in the school bleachers at two o'clock in the morning watching Larry, Jerry and myself get beat badly.  It was the first of several three on three events I participated in.

As I began working at the office we discovered that we had a lot of basketball players in our department.  We were all young averaging in age in our mid-twenties.  We would get together once in awhile on holidays and play basketball.  We had contacts that would allow us to rent a gym cheaply and soon it became a tradition to play at least on Good Friday every year.  One year four of us entered into a three on three league from the office.  We were extremely small compared to the other teams in the league and were soundly defeated every time we played.  It was good though and was fun.

One year Kansas City held a three on three tournament on the streets of downtown.  There were hundreds of basketball hoops set up in the streets downtown as teams from all over came to play in it.  It was a double elimination tournament so we were able to play at least two games that weekend.  Barb once again followed me to a strange weekend of three on three basketball.  I would like to say this about Barb.  For as much time as basketball took away from us, she never held a grudge against the game.  I don't think she fully appreciated the game but she knew I loved it and supported me in it.  She liked to see me have fun I suppose.

As I grew older and our son joined our family, I drifted away from basketball and back towards baseball, where I should have been all the time anyway.  Brett went with me on several Good Friday games and he began to learn how to play.  Along with baseball, he tried out for the high school basket ball team when he was a freshman and made the team.  He also made the Junior Varsity when he was a sophomore.  He wasn't flashy or super fast but he had the drive to play the game hard and gave it a hundred percent every time he stepped on the court.  It took a lot of guts for him to try out and play basketball and as proud as I was of his baseball career, I was equally proud of his dedication to basketball.

Then one evening he challenged me to a game of basketball in the back yard which I took him up on.  We were playing to ten, must win by two and he was shooting the ball pretty good that night.  We were tied at eight when he took a rebound and as I bit on his fake and went flying he let the shot go.  I landed on a tire I had in the back yard that had flowers planted inside of it and I went down.  Brett continued to make the shot giving him the lead by one but I wasn't getting up.  I had a sharp pain in my foot and could not walk on it.

I went to the doctor and discovered I had broken my foot.  Six weeks in a soft cast would do the trick.  My foot never came back though and much like my knee reminds me everyday of what happened to it.  When I saw the doctor he lectured me on remembering that I wasn't eighteen  anymore.  He was right.  Age had caught up to my basketball playing days.

Brett and I never finished that game from the night I broke my foot and we probably never will.  It was the last time I played a game of basketball, one on one or otherwise.  Between the knee and the foot as well as carpel tunnel syndrome which zapped the strength from my wrists, I had to leave basketball behind me.  It is kind of special though to keep in my thoughts that the last time I played was against Brett.  That is special and makes that unfinished game something that the two of us will always share together.

Well, that is a very abbreviated look at my life with a basketball.  If you made it this far, congratulations and thanks.  I love knowing my pieces are being read even if they do slip every once in awhile.

Hang in there with me.  My writing will return I am sure.

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