My Peak as an Athlete

I’m going to put up here at the top that this may be one of those better-in-person stories to recount, but ah well, let’s give it a go.

I’ve mentioned recently that I got up to a lot of stuff when I was twelve. Don’t know why, but I guess that tiny age in particular was one for trying new things and getting into the unexpected. One of those things happened to be joining my tiny Lutheran middle school’s basketball team, despite having next to absolute zero interest in doing so. But heck, it gave me a shot at some street cred, so I went for it. Said street cred, much like my level of interest, amounted to zilch, but I got a good story or two out of it.

A thing to note: our basketball team sucked. Not that we didn’t try, not that we didn’t win a game or two, but we sincerely weren’t very good. To put it another way, Disney wasn’t about to use us for any inspirational children’s sport movies. We were so not-good, that when we won, I usually felt that it wasn’t exactly because of skill on our part, but that the opposing team was either having an off day or somehow shockingly worse than us.

But even a broken clock gets it right twice a day.

We were having a scrimmage match against another school and we were doing surprisingly well up to that point. My moment of glory came after they managed a basket on us, I had the ball out of bounds and was passing into our point guard, a fast wiry kid named James, when he suddenly passes it back to me. I was shocked, because I never run the ball up the court. As the tallest (and fattest- ahem “big boned”) kid on the team, and in fact the entire tiny school, I played center. That meant I was responsible for defense, rebounds, and not much else; definitely nothing that involved actually handling the ball. So I reacted accordingly.

“What the heck are you doing, dude?” I ask James loudly, flabbergasted.

“You take it up this time,” he replies calmly before continuing up the court. I follow him, dribbling the ball with clear uncertainty.

Dude,” I stress to emphasize my point, “I never do this though.” I don’t know if our coach privately asked him to do this so that I can practice, if it’s a setup for a prank or mean joke, or what, but I’m continuing this dialogue in the whole open air of the court, in front of him, the parents who are watching, the other team, everybody. “I’m no good at dribbling!”

“Don’t worry, you got this,” he says as we approach the half-court line, then separates. The opposing team was running a man-on-man defense, and I can see the kid who’s going to guard me, having listened to my whole bunch of complaining about how much I suck, closing in on me like a shark that’s smelled blood.

“James, man,” I continue to call after him as the kid closes to within a couple paces, “I can’t! I don’t know how to-” I cut myself off, pump-faking a one-handed pass to the right, which draws a lunging reaction from the kid guarding me. My teammates are positioned wide around the three-point line, so the key was wide open. I cut to my left then up the center for an easy layup, then I start back peddling down the court like the whole thing was an easy planned con, rather than a completely, artfully seized accident of opportunity.

But what makes it my peak, what really makes it an unforgettable moment, was the look on my classmate Kylie’s mom’s face in the audience: eyes wide, jaw on the freaking floor. Because all the yammering I was doing beforehand was completely legitimate – I NEVER run the ball, I never handle it, dribble defensively, none of it, and I’d been a pretty terrible player long as anyone had seen me in action. So no matter how surprised I might have been, it didn’t hold a candle to the upturned expectations of those watching.

I guess, looking back now, that it also seared into my mind the value of the “Fake it til you make it” school of doing things.

Who’da thunk it?

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