Ramblin’ Man

We went shoe shopping last week, which is something I don’t do very often. I didn’t really need new shoes, but my wife had a buy-one-get-one-half-price coupon and she needed new shoes. So, I got a pair at half price.

To my amazement, they still make the high-top tennis shoes that I wore for basketball in the late 1970s — Chuck Taylors. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since Chuck Taylor’s name has been on the shoes since 1932. Converse introduced its “all-star” athletic shoes 100 years ago in 1917.

I don’t know much about Chuck Taylor, but Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game while wearing them, so that was good enough for me. The fact that Wilt was over 7 feet tall might have had something to do with the score; I can’t do anything about my height but I can change my shoes.

The shoes held no magic for me. I didn’t score any more points with them than I did without. Then again, I didn’t score any fewer points, either. My record of zero points in a game has withstood years of challenge; I’m afraid to take up the game now in fear that I might tarnish the record.

I played organized basketball for six years as a kid. That’s a pretty long time to go without a basket. But I persevered.

I had a couple of chances to score, but I threw them away. I remember in grade school, I was on a team with my brother. It was called Biddy Basketball back then. I had stolen the ball from the other team, which I was pretty good at because nobody really expected me to be able to do anything on the court.

I drove the ball to the other side of the court, I was flying ahead of everyone else. The only person to catch up to me was my brother, and he kept yelling, “Pass me the ball, pass me the ball.” Then he yelled, “You’ll miss it.”

Up until that moment, I thought I was going to make two points. But I had never made a basket before, so there was no reason to believe that I would make one now. I passed the ball over to him, and he missed it.

I had another chance in junior high. Normally, I got about 7 seconds of playing time during basketball games but only because we were undefeated and winning by 30 points or more. I didn’t get to actually handle the ball. I got to run up and down the court in my high top sneakers wondering the whole time where I was supposed to be.

But, in one game, the other team had a technical foul called on them. The foul was so egregious, apparently, that our team was allowed to have anyone from our side shoot a free throw without having anyone from the other team on the court ready to rebound. We were ahead by about 100 points, so they called me up. They could have called anybody. But when you have the chance to shoot a free shot without the stress of competitors breathing down your neck, and it doesn’t really matter whether you make it or not, who you gonna call? Not Ghostbusters.

It was not lost on me that this was a pity offering. I don’t know if the coach felt sorry for me because I had never scored or if he felt sorry for the other team because they had the foul called on them, but he sent in the one guy he was pretty sure would fail the mission.

And I knew it. I knew he didn’t pick me because we needed the point and he thought I would sink it. I didn’t care. It was a chance to score in a game.

I walked up to the free throw line. I bounced the ball on the floor. I looked up at the basket. I glanced at the score. I was pretty sure I could make it if …

… I was pretty sure I could make it if I shot underhanded with both hands — what we called a “granny shot.” No offense to grannies, but the form was not held in high regard on the playground.

In practice, that’s how I shot all my free throws. And I made a lot of ’em, too. I had practiced that shot. Simple bank off the backboard and in it goes. Easy peazy.

I looked over at the crowd in the stands. There were a lot of people there. I was not going to shoot a granny shot in front of all those people. So, I hoisted the ball to my chest and then shot it up using one hand to steady the ball and the other to push it skyward.

Skyward it went, for about half the distance required to make a basket. The ball dropped to the floor with a thud and bounced off toward the wall. My record was unscathed.

If I had it to do over again, I would not pass the ball away to my brother. If someone is going to miss the basket, it might as well be me. Would I take the granny shot? I would today. I’m not proud. But I don’t know that the junior high me would have gotten past that. I suppose if we really needed that basket, I might have mustered up the courage to shoot in the manner that had the best chance of success, but if it had been a critical shot, I would not have been the one sent to the line.

In retrospect, I’m not sure these Chuck Taylors are conjuring up the kinds of memories that one really wants. But my wife digs them and that’s the only score that matters to me.

© Copyright 2017 by David Porter who can be reached at porter@ramblinman.us. Funny thing is, these new Chucks are the same size I wore in jr. high, too.