So instead I headed to the other court in my life, the safety net one in the blackness of the brisk fall night. For it was this lonely basketball court that kept me out of a variety of hospitals because it’s impossible to have foresight as a kid.
Here alone on my court all of my dysfunction enlivened itself at first step onto my shitty little paradise. This basketball court I often thought might have been in semblance the only shitty thing in Lexington. It's rusted rims and sheetrock backboards made no difference to me. It's cracked pavement and the grass that sprouted naturally within it's faded chalk lines always made me smilek like seeing an old friend. Coach Farias long ago told me "Rollie" the basketball as we'd come to know him in Lexington was the only friend I needed. And I held to that in my darkest hours, and during those times, this is where I came.
Half of the reason I spray-painted so much around town was I could never find a proper set for a rap video. There was one streetlight and its cracked shell partially lit one of the courts corroded black spotted dying orange rims.
I was forever bullish on the goodness basketball would provide me depending on how much I put into it.
At least with basketball it was a fair equation
Arriving to my court I’m tingling due to the usual development of goose bumps that evolve naturally whenever anybody inches closer to their sanctuary. See to me I wasn’t arriving at a shitty court to throw some lobs at Stan (the rim) to catch breath ahead of yet another scolding domestic assault. No, I was the 12th seed in March madness an Astori kid that had danced his way to the sweet sixteen behind a cool carl Easton’s hot hand. I was going to carve that court. The court was my escapism. My dysfunction helped me push myself. Games could be found anywhere. This is where I came to work. Hard sprints up and back, right and left, head always up. Stop and pop, side to side, jab and go, shake and stutter, inside-outside, baseline and back, thousand free throws, defensive slides till I cry, smack my face, bite my left arm, cry, take a free throw and if it’s a swish I’m all done, if it’s a swish I go home. I bury my first attempt and as I head home I drop my ball and nestle up to the baseline like an Olympic sprinter, I’m not done. Even as a kid I could here Coach Farias voice screaming “tap drill.” I could always hear him in the back of my mind rattling off his many truisms, “the most important day of the season is today.” Or “It’s up to you, how great to you want to be?” Coach Farias the head coach of the boys varsity basketball team inspired us to meet the challenge. I wanted to win a state title as a senior. No way was I done, push yourself.
Suicide sprints followed by court length dribbles and power lay ups. Right side, left side, drop the rock underneath the backboard. Jump up and down touching the backboard as many times as I could until my legs dangled, became Jello and felt like Andre the Giant was on my shoulders. “Can you make a free throw when the game is on the line?”
I could hear the Big Guy from his famous summer camps. Those were the moments that separated the winners and the losers. Tears, I felt so alive. I slowly walked shaking to the free thrown line. Two dribbles, a breath, spin of the ball into my primary shooting hand, bend and release. And I could hear him. “It’s a free throw, a free-throw, no excuse for ever missing a free-throw.” He was always with me at that court. “And that’s why we run like we do on the varsity level, you can’t be sucking wind at the end of the game. That’s when we press the most, you can’t bail out on your teammate and miss the free throw that costs you the state title because you didn’t pay the price in the offseason!” And as I released that free throw and in the spirit of “practicing perfectly” swish
even if it was just especially if it was just you
I knew this was a “want” shot, and the Big Guy always said 90% of those critical shots taking at the height of exhaustion were missed due to wobbly legs. Your tired and it came up short, your process is held back just enough on your toe lift that it fell short, I lost the state title because I didn’t practice like it was permanent. I didn’t run the extra suicide after I was done and some other kid out there did. It wasn’t going to be.
And that extra effort would have to flow through my entire process, and I could hear the Big Guy sweat pouring off my 12 year old face, “you want to practice perfectly doing the same thing over and over again. Again, BEEF, balance, elbow follow through. Speaking of Beef a good example of a good free throw shooter is Ronald Mcdonald!” I would even hear the campers laugh in my head, the way his tone for the punch line would change so remarkably when he said “Ronald Macdonald.” He’d add, “his fries taste the same every single time!” And as my perfect practice generated a mentally created real life clutch situation the ball was released, swish. And I could hear him, “If you get a Big Mac in Russia, and then you drive to Philadelphia to see Rollie, it tastes the exact same! They have a winning formula, and they are very successful because of how good and often they can replicate it."