My dad was blessed with two strapping sons. As a multi-sport athlete himself, he hoped his genetic abilities would be passed down to his children. Surely we would possess the same level of enthusiasm and skill in sports as he did. Instead we grew up to be a musician and a writer. Sorry, dad.
I think my father saw the tide turning toward the arts early, and he only got more desperate to involve us in athletics after my parents' divorce. Every weekend was spent doing sports of some kind or generally being outdoors and away from the television. We played catch, we played flag football, we golfed - and I sucked at all of it. I simply wasn’t that inclined toward the arts of throwing, catching, or hitting. Sure that this was the herald of the gaypocalypse he so dreaded, he moved me from sport to sport, hoping to find a glimmer of prowess buried beneath my flab. His first attempt was hockey.
Read that story HERE
His second attempt was basketball. It didn't go much better than the first. Here's the story.
I couldn’t run faster than most kids could skip, and I lacked the coordination to dribble and do anything else at the same time (like breathing, for example), but I was tall and fat. So I wasn’t too bad at basketball.
The coaching strategy used on me was always the same. I was to stand under the basket with my arms up. If I got the ball, I was to immediately pass it to someone with motor skills. I was urged to never shoot the ball unless the rest of my team was dead. With this model in place, I led the team in blocked shots and rebounds. I was also pretty good at spinning the ball on my fingertip. These skills kept me as the starting center on my team for several years. My dad didn’t even have to coach.
During the course of my basketball career, I had three moments for my highlight reel. One was the time I actually jumped high enough to win the opening tip-off, one was the time I scored a basket by granny-throwing the ball up through the net and letting gravity carry it back down for two points, and one was the time I kept the opposing team’s star player from scoring any points by fouling him every time he touched the ball. When I fouled out, I got a standing ovation from the hometown crowd. Looking back, they may have been applauding because I was leaving the court.
Still, my dad latched on to my basketball career like I was the next Larry Bird. The first book my dad ever gave me was Larry Bird’s autobiography, Drive. He assured me that if I practiced enough and dropped my baby fat, I too could one day shoot three-pointers on Boston’s parquet floor. He had read it as well, and we would talk about the stories and lessons laid out in its pages with the reverence of preachers and their Bibles. I can’t count the times my dad turned the book over and read the quote by Magic Johnson, his voice cracking with emotion.
“Of all the people I play against, the only one I truly fear is Larry Bird,” he would recite. “Fears him, Andy, Magic Johnson fears Larry Bird. And you could make people fear you if you put in the effort.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that no amount of effort was going to turn my genetic makeup into that of an athlete’s.
Basketball and I parted ways one January evening in the sixth grade. It had been a pretty normal practice thus far. We had practiced dribbling, jump shots, and free throws. We had run our killers and drilled our pick-and-rolls. We were at the last part of the practice, the scrimmage.
Over the years, my coaches and I had developed an unwritten rule for scrimmaging. Since the West Duluth area wasn’t exactly flush with cash, our area teams didn’t have enough money for luxuries like scrimmage jerseys. This meant scrimmages were always organized in the schoolyard manner of shirts vs. skins. What the coaches and I had agreed on without ever discussing was that nobody wanted to see me with my shirt off. No one that is, so far.
My sixth grade coach was a great coach. He was (and also still is) a great guy. But he made me take my shirt off and run. And I just can’t forgive him for that.
When he arbitrarily decided that I was on the skins team, I froze. What should I do? Should I run out into the frigid night, crying and screaming the whole way home? Should I pretend I hadn’t heard him and play on the shirts team, hoping that my lack of skills would prevent him from noticing the shirts had a sixth player? No, I decided on a more mature and direct approach.
I went to him and cried. I pleaded with him and begged him to put me on the shirts team. He told me he had made me a skin, and that everybody had to play skins now and again. When I protested, he cut me off, saying simply, “If you’re embarrassed, maybe you should lose some weight.”
I took my shirt off then and joined my team. I played even worse than usual in that scrimmage, as I was less concerned about rebounds and baskets as I was about ridicule and bouncing man breasts. I ended up spending most of the scrimmage doing my best impression of a Tyrannosaurs Rex, holding my arms tight to my body as I ran, only allowing my hands the freedom of motion. This technique did not make for effective ball-handling, but it kept my boobs from slapping into my double chin.
Thus ended my basketball career.