Thursday, January 31, 2008

A memory stirs...

Growing up, I was never really that confident, self assured kid that could say what he wanted or had friends who followed him around. My defining characteristic growing up was an unreasonably fierce loyalty to my friends in the face of anything, and I mean... anything. From walking a mile on a sprained ankle because friends wanted me to go get breakfast with them, to getting chased by police, or having another group of older, bigger, kids come try to bully us off the basketball court behind the township little league fields. 3 of us, 20 of them, and there was no hesitation on my part, if J said we were staying then we were staying. When they came on the court to try to stop us from playing and J said keep playing, I kept playing. It wasn't that I was just a blind follower of anyone but that for whatever reason, whatever charisma that J had 10 years old 'hooked me' so to speak and I'd go wherever, do whatever he'd ask.

We were playing basketball back behind the little league fields in the city I grew up in. J, R, E, and myself if I remember correctly. This court, this set of little league fields, snack bar, etc. were ours. All our fathers' were coaches, on the Exec board, coaches on the All-Star team that we were all on, had keys to the whole place.... it was ours. We were about 10-11 years old at that time. There was a private school across the way for more middle school aged kids and that particular day, they came over and decided they wanted the court. There were about 15-20 of them in total compared to the 4 of us and they decided they wanted the whole court and we had to leave. At this juncture, R decided the best choice was to actually vacate the court and go sit on the swings, which was a move significantly indicative of his character. J on the other hand, was pretty much telling them to f* off with me standing to his right unwavering in support, and E slightly further off to the left slightly, but still with us. More words might have been exchanged at this point, but ultimately it was decided that they could pick any 3 of their group to play us for the court. If we won, the court stayed ours and if they won we left the court to them.

The exact details have long since faded, but basically we played a half court game, to like 5 or 7 baskets, with the rest of them looking on/cheering for them, and R all the way across the field swinging by himself. J being captain of the All-Star team pulled E and I in at the top of the key, spoke a few short abrupt inspirational sentences probably something along the lines of: this is our court and we're not going to let them take it now let's go f*ing kick their asses. The game commenced, three 10 year olds against three bigger 13 year olds.... it was a veritable playground David versus Goliath.

Who knows who scored first, or how physical the game was or wasn't. It was essentially a street ball game so there were undoubtedly pushes and elbows and multiple time hitting the ground. This much, I do remember. J was always a smaller faster kid and this helped him get around the kids they picked to play with little difficulty. E was average sized for our age and as such he got in a few shots here and there but was largely shutdown. Me, being taller than average, did have a few inches on my opponent, which helped make the difference but I remember him being a much heavier individual than I was so he had the body weight advantage. It was close through the first 3-5 points, back and forth with no clear leader. A shot came off the rim right between my bigger opponent and I. As it happened we both grabbed it at the same time, and that's when things got interesting. He was bigger, probably a bit stronger, but I remember hearing J start yelling at me to get that f*ing ball and don't let go. That pretty much settled that, because what I didn't have in brute strength or size, I more than could make up for in drive, in 'heart' as they call it. I remember thinking at the time, that no matter what happened or how much I got hurt or anything, I was not letting go of that ball and was getting it for J. It never got violent but all his friends started yelling, and J and kept yelling and we must have pulled each other all over the court for at least a minute or two with neither grip loosening. I could hardly feel my arms or abs at that point because of how unwaveringly I set them around that ball. After it was clear neither of us were giving it up and everyone else got bored of watching us go at it, it was decided that we'd have a jump ball between him and I to determine who got it. I remember, even as we were told it was ok to let go, that I had to have the ball and yanked it out of his hands at the end to give over for the jump. As I tried to straighten myself up I felt how tight my abs were, and saw him wince the same way. I remember thinking at the time that he was in the same shape I was in, so despite how I felt, now was when I could take the advantage to beat him. One of his group who wasn't playing came in to throw the ball for the jump. And jump I did. I still remember the searing pain that shot across my midsection as I jumped and stretched up to win the jump and hit it over to J. That was the turning point in the game. My opponent was exhausted from the battle we just had, and J was still able to consistently beat his off the dribble and between J and I, they didn't score again and we won. Some of their numbers had dwindled already as it was, but at that time the rest of them started turning tail and slowly walking back to their school. I think I remember J taunting them on their walk of shame, offering to play them again and asking them where they were going, but none took the bait. It felt good, really good winning that game and watching them all walk away, but better than that, was the look J gave me when we all congratulated each other on the win. I think, on some level, he must have known that I stayed and played as hard as I did just because he said that we were staying. But none of that was necessary, none of that was thought, nothing was said... it was a much simpler celebration. We were challenged, we fought back, we kicked ass, and that put us on the top of the world, plain and simple.

Ahhh, to be 10...