Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time, LeBron James wears his shoes for goodness sake. And that is where it all starts. My cousin Mike, who I always thought was cool, liked Michael Jordan in the 80s, and so I did too. I got to see the bad boy Pistons beat the Bulls, and I still hate the Pistons to this day. I liked Mike before he won, because he was awesome.
And we had a basketball hoop in our driveway! I couldn’t shoot a regular ball, but someone gave me a small Navy ball that was perfect size, and when I was by myself I spent hours imagining I was on Jordan’s team, subbing in and out for Armstrong. I even remember a small Jordan jammer that Glenn and I played with in the front yard. We played so much that we trampled the grass to oblivion. Then, of course, came epic games with Joey, where I set impossible rules for him so I could win. Four-point shot? I had it. I could only win that way.
TT was really good at basketball, so it was a focus. I can’t tell you how many trips we had the Seton girls basketball team on road trips, I would be with them because mom was driving, so I went to all the games. I even pretended to be the assistant coach for the team, at seven years old. You can say I grew up with basketball, between all the games and then more practice at home.
Except I was a shrimp. I was too weak to take perimeter shots and way too short to be inside, where I could shoot. I was a liability. And that is why, in sixth-grade Jv basketball at Seton, I never got in a game. So I switched to soccer.
But this is about basketball! And I left Seton in seventh grade, and the new school in Highland Park, NJ, didn’t do organized sports, we had P.E. And a gym!!! We played seven on seven or more, but this is where I came into my own. We called our own fouls. There were no coaches or set plays, everything was man to man. And no one told me that I was too small.
I was Michael Jordan. If I got the ball on offense, I was so small it was hard to guard me. I would drive around the top of the lane and launch, contorting myself around the defense and throwing up a one-handed floater, generally before hitting the ground. And they went in, somehow. I never called fouls because I couldn’t shoot free throws! I flew like Michael Jordan and took the punishment like the Jordan rules.
It was also here that I learned I could play defense, because I had quick hands. I would guard the best player on the perimeter because he was a good ball-handler, and he would get frustrated because I would slap the ball away and break his rhythm. Others I would block their shots because they brought the ball to their shoulder and I would get a hand to it. This also frustrated some people, which only helped me because I was in their head. Four feet something Joe was in their heads!
I remember one time I stole the ball and had a fast break. I was sprinting down the court, and only now Fr John Blewett was there to stop me. For a short guy, I could get air if I was running. I took off a little bit after the foul line. I flew through the air like Jordan. I delicately floated the ball up even higher. It went in, and I was Michael Jordan!
Except Fr John had set his position in the paint and took my knee to his stomach, hard, and drew a charge that was so blatant that everyone called it. Michael no more.
Basketball runs in the family, with my family and Mel’s, but sadly not anymore. The problem now with basketball is that it is exclusive, it’s only for five people, and if you are like me, you will never play outside of pickup games, where the easygoing play allows for moments like above. There’s no opportunity to gain experience because the team doesn’t want to risk losing, so the stars play. This is in every level, rec to college, where there are few bench points because the stars are all one and done, even at Duke now. The NBA is filled with primadonnas who have been on the court their whole lives being told how awesome they are, getting paid money that is obscene. A four year, hundred and forty million dollar contract? To play a game? Let’s not even talk about that they don’t look like they are having fun! Yeah, basketball has changed and not for the better, which saddens me. No defense, ticky-tack fouls, it’s just a shame. I miss the rough nineties, not these shrinking violets.
So I watch hockey instead, where you can punch your opponent in the face and not have a foul called. Take that James Harden. Where if it ain’t bleeding, you are still playing!
I don’t know where I was going with this, I just thought I would share more stories from My Yute.