I still miss playing basketball. I miss feeling faster than most other players I played with. I miss that feeling of having played for thirty minutes, running hard and wearing down the other players and still feeling like I could run like that for another hour. I think that’s what I miss the most about having to give up running sports when I broke my leg (link). Oh, I was never good enough, (or even brave enough), to try out for the high school team, but leave me unguarded in the three point range in our industrial and church leagues and I was liable to drop half a dozen three pointers in on you within the first quarter. I just loved to shoot.
Kevin, (Wonder Years), had beaten Paul at one-on-one basketball for 790 consecutive wins. In any sports activity between Kevin and Paul, they had a pecking order and Kevin was at the top. Whether or not Paul could ever beat Kevin was never part of an equation because they both knew that there was an unspoken pecking order. Kevin would always win.
I’ve written a couple of stories about the natural pecking order in kid-dom, including this really hilarious memory about the top dog in our age range Prytania pecking order (link). A kid’s age almost always drove the pecking order. I don’t know why, maybe we thought the older kid was closer to being an adult?
As a kid in our Prytania age-range-kid-dom, Randy was at the top of the pecking order. He was the oldest in our hanging out kid group and we all abided by the pecking order. A couple of us were perhaps stronger than Randy, but none of us ever tried to take him down. In fact, following the pecking order usually meant the complete opposite – we would lean towards the leader’s whims and desires. If Randy wasn’t around, then Jeff or I was next up in line.
Randy was pretty decent at sports. He was a decent basketball player and in a park pickup football game, he was one of the better players. But where Randy really shined was baseball. I used to love to watch him play shortstop in softball. On a quick one hop, he’d often backhand it and then look over at me, (at second), then would give a ‘ho-hum, this is boring’ look before whizzing the ball over to first a step or two before the runner. The infielders would all have a good laugh at that. Oh, and did you ever know anyone who could throw a crazy knuckleball softball? Yep, that was Pic (his nickname).
Randy was funny but he could have a dark side too. In basketball, he would get really angry if someone was getting best of him. Sometimes that only made him better that game but other times it made him take chances he might not otherwise take. I saw more than a few shoving matches between Pic and others. Personally, I never saw an upside in getting into those squirmishes. I always tried to stay calm and much faster than the next guy, beat him at the hoop if I could.
After leaving Prytania, we all just sort of went our separate ways, each of us trying to live our own lives. While down in Louisiana, I played a lot of weekend pickup basketball at the local exercise club, (The Courtyard). After coming back to Ohio from Louisiana, I got involved in an “Over 30” basketball league that was played at the YMCA close to my house. It was there that Randy and I ran into each other one night. He suggested we play together on the same team when the next season started up. Sounded like fun to me!
It was fun, very reminiscent of pickup games right after high school where I’d tag along with Randy when playing with all the kids his age. In the Over 30 league, I’d often play guard and, just like in our church league, I’d try to feed the ball to Randy. To me, it was fun watching him living those ‘glory days’ of youth. ‘Playing’ was always more fun than ‘just winning’ to me – for me, the fun was just playing my hardest…and I just loved tiring out my opponent. 🙂
As our short season progressed, I began to earn a little respect from our teammates, mostly for my outside shooting and the occasional quick steal. One night, I started to get the feeling that Pic was not caring for the attention I was getting. I don’t think he was upset directly at me, but perhaps it was just the feeling of a challenge to the old Alley pecking order.
For 790 previous consecutive games, our Randy had been our “Kevin” of the Wonder Years; always coming out on top over Paul in their one-on-one games. On this night though, I was really feeling it – on this night I would be Paul. On a quick timeout break in between periods, one of our teammates said:
Let’s get the ball to Rob on the outside. He’s hitting those three pointers like crazy tonight.
I had already hit 3 or 4 of those without missing and was in the mood to show off a little that night. Randy, easily angered in sports, did not care too much for that comment. When we got back out on the court, the other guys did well to try to find me open on the outside, but Randy was having none of it. Instead, he got a bit overly aggressive with his drives. On many, many occasions he could be hard to stop when he was in that zone, but tonight was not one of those nights. I ended up hitting seven three pointers that night, only missing two of them…not bad. We ended up winning that game and I got high fives from the other guys…but not Pic. Randy liked being the big shot and we of The Alley always liked watching the show. This night though was game 791 and Paul had been determined to show he’d learned a thing or two over the years.
The following week, things were different. I went back to feeding the ball to Randy as often as I could, but what stuck out for me that night was that he was also going out of his way to not hog the ball. On several occasions after feeding him the ball, he quickly spit it right back to me, seeing my opponent leaving me open for a shot. He was no longer looking to be the only hot dog on the court. Someone on Prytania had grown up and had elevated me to an Alley Equal in the Alley pecking order.
Everyone should enjoy a game 791 at least once in their life…..even if it is in an Over the Hill league.
Someone actually captured this fun clip I remembered from Wonder Years. It’s worth the watch.