Monday, August 6, 2012

Still Better Human Beings Than LeBron James

(found on a hard drive after I saw the basketball hoop in question yesterday. It's an oldie but a goodie, starring the three fellows who once called Neverland home. Enjoy!)
This lady does not make an appearance in the story.

Rough & Tumble: Three Men's Willing Descent Into Agony, Not At All Induced By Frat Hazing

Gameday:  Sunday, 14 April 2002

This is what happened, if the detectives ask.  Matt, Isaac and Justin were watching a spirited game of playoff-calibre hoops on TV (okay, Ike was reading a magazine, but Matt and Justin were watching) and saying things to each other like, “Will the man in the red top put the ball through the basket?  Not if the fellow in the yellow top has anything to say about it!” like drunken incompetent announcers.   

No reason.
There’s something intoxicating and inviting about watching basketball, something that makes one want to play the game.  The fact that neither Matt nor Ike nor Justin have any business, nor skill at, playing basketball was immaterial.  They decided it was time for their first substantive exercise in forty years.

Trouble was evident within seconds of the plan’s genesis.  Firstly, Ike was clothed in a pair of boots that might be welcome at Freddie Mercury’s house but were most certainly unsuitable for any athletic activity beyond getting your ass vigorously A) kicked by rednecks, or B) worked over by Ian McKellan (Ike’s acting?  Gay!  Ike’s boots?  GAYER!).  Matt, short, offered Ike a pair of his own shoes to play in, perhaps in some elaborate and well-thought-out plan to hobble Isaac’s feet into clubs to prevent him from chasing skirt.  Isaac, tired of gradually eating through his own boot linings with his pedal secretions, eagerly strapped into Matt’s spare sneaks and at the time uttered a sadly ironic statement.

“Yeah, these oughta work…”

Secondly, these three dumbasses had decided to go play basketball despite having neither the skill, nor the aim, nor the athletic prowess, nor the stamina, nor the depth perception, nor the BALL.  So a demeaning trip to Wal-Mart was in order for the potential ballers.  The three ‘men’ walked into sporting goods and Matt immediately settled on a ball which would be fine if they were going to play volleyball, badly.  This plan was mocked by all, especially Justin, who found a nice leather basketball and gave it a good squeeze to see how well-inflated it was.  Matt then spoke a sentence that included the word ‘bounce’ somewhere within, and Justin, clearly already “in the zone” for the game, reacted out of sheer absent-mindedness (idiocy) and attempted to bounce the basketball of choice on the tile floor… while it still had its cardboard frame wrapped around about fifty-five percent of it.  

Just like they do in the pros.
The ball hit the floor and stayed there, and Justin received a vicious battery of verbal mockery resulting in Ike’s grabbing a soccer ball in a similar box frame and dropping it to the floor with a cheery, “Come on, Matt, let’s play some soccer!” before scooting the boxed ball around on the floor like one might kick… well, a ball that can’t roll because it’s halfway in a box.

Moving right along… the dudes chose a ball, after Ike and Matt very nearly alerted security by playing an impromptu game of ball in the middle of an aisle, yet still looking stupid.  By now Ike was beginning to feel the effects of the shoes, before the game had even begun.  He gradually adopted the gait that he could walk with to be comfortable wearing them, which looked more than a little like that almost-human guy you see on the evolutionary posters where the fish on the left side gradually becomes a homo erectus at the right side.  This likeness was aided considerably by Isaac’s hair, for which no better English word exists than ‘evolving.’  Okay, maybe ‘shitty.’

Isaac walks on campus, circa 2002.
The guys bought a ball (okay, Ike read a magazine, but Matt and Justin bought a ball) and proceeded to stagger in the general direction of Justin’s car.  From there it was a brisk drive to the park, where it was immediately obvious that there were Real Basketball Players ™ playing there.  

Look at them, all "competent" and "able to draw air into their lungs."
Matt and Ike and Justin never came nearer than a hundred yards or so, but the Real Basketball Players ™ all looked buff and in shape and skilled, and also looked to have purchased their ball more than ten minutes ago.  So our heroes fled the scene, tails between their legs, toward some mythical ‘other court’ Ike claimed to have seen in the park.  On the way they decided to bone up on their passing game.  And by ‘bone up on’, I mean ‘establish.’  Matt nearly fell down, and Justin lost sight of the ball in the waning sunlight and narrowly missed being pegged in the head twice.  Isaac, stoic in his impression of Sacajawea, herded them toward the ‘other court’, which turned out to be a rim set frightfully near the river, such that a horrible shot might end up in the drink.  Needless to say, the three dudes’ repertoire of moves includes shots that would make Larry Bird stick his head in front of a speeding train.  So, it was a foregone conclusion that Ike was wise to read a magazine in Wal-Mart, as Matt and Justin would be the only ones to lose money when the ball vanished forever.

And with this pageantry out of the way, the games began.  The game was Twenty-One.  First one to 21 wins, but you have to get there exactly.  If you end up at twenty and miss your free-throw, you go back to 13.  The obvious goal is to get on odd numbers as soon as you can.  To this end, Ike began the first game by draining a three while the other two backed off to rebound, instilling concern in Matt and Justin that Ike came to play and was a contender to be reckoned with in the grueling contest to come.

It would be Isaac’s last score of the game.

Clearly threatened by Ike’s aggressive opener, Matt crashed the boards for a desperate rebound on the second play of the game and gleefully punched Justin in the face.  And in a true showing of how shitty these men are at basketball, neither the dude punched in the mouth nor the dude punching him ended up with the ball.

Go ahead and grab two applications, fellas.
At the very least, watching Ike ball-handle wasn’t so bad after the punch in the face.  I'm just kidding, it was terrible.

Matt then found his stroke (heh) and sank two jumpers from different spots on the court, before the not-long-awaited Horrid Shot sent the ball bouncing into the river as our heroes looked on with big sad eyes, and a magazine.  Luckily, two other guys had gathered out of sheer bewilderment for how three grown men could possibly continue to miss a basketball hoop by such a pronounced margin.  These other guys were dressed for swimming, a fact which one proved by diving in and tossing the now-river-scented ball to the waiting Ike.  At this point the score was Matt 4, Ike 3 and Justin 0.  Apparently river water is a good omen or something, or maybe Justin was just riding endorphins from Matt’s right cross to his mouth earlier, because he came alive like almost never before, scoring an unprecedented 21 unanswered points to cruise to victory.  It was maybe the second coolest sports moment in his sad, in-no-way-athletic life.  Matt and Ike were beaten soundly and ready for a rematch, so much so that they didn’t even stop for water or basketball lessons between games.

Nonetheless, they made time to pick up the necessities.
Thus began the second game.  At this point Ike made his 417th remark about how uncomfortable Matt’s shoes were, as if to drive home the corollary between them and his three point sum in the first game.  The remark made Justin consider his own feet, including a blister he could feel rising on his big toe that might, in the right light, be mis-diagnosed as an eleventh toe by a trained medical professional.

In which case you just got some serious competition, bucko.
So game two was underway, the combatants sweaty and panting and tired, but ever-competitive.  To this end Ike began by draining a three while the other two backed off to rebound, instilling concern in Matt and Justin that Ike came to play and was a contender to be reckoned with in the grueling contest to come.

It would be Isaac’s last score of the game.

At this point a true competition emerged, as Matt and Justin seemed ready for a shootout.  Justin is twice Matt’s size, though, so this was a physical mismatch of David and Goliath proportions, if David was a little shorter.   

While Ike did an admirable job of taking Justin’s endless offensive-foul-laden bull rushes to the hoop, not yielding despite almost certain sternum cracking to become arthritic later in life, he usually stayed at a safe distance with his magazine while Justin threw his bulk around under the hoop and played like Shaq with even less of an outside shot. 

I know, it doesn't seem possible.
Matt, however, thought this was crazytalk, and got in under the hoop and banged with Justin like they were the same size.  As a result, Justin was scoring at a 2:1 ratio to Matt, as he was scooping up rebounds just out of Matt’s reach as Ike read how to install a quadraphonic speaker system nearby. 

The points mounted up as the rivalry heated up.  Matt, however, had a distinct advantage by already being on odd numbers following an early free throw conversion, so Justin’s lead of 16 to 9 (and Ike had 3) was shaky.  It was becoming obvious that Justin could just as easily write a dissertation on calcium deposits in osteoporosis victims as he could hit a free throw.  So Matt played hard, continuing to do irreparable damage to his hips, legs and kidneys by taking continuous elbows and shoulders from the china shop bull that is Justin.  This dissuaded Justin none in scoring another basket in low, giving him an 18 to 9 lead (and Ike had 3) and setting up the most important free throw attempt yet. 

Justin prepares to shoot an important free throw.
As Gene Hackman paced the sideline and told Justin that he believed in him, Justin drew up and released a picture-perfect spiral… directly into the left side of the rim, where it bounced harmlessly to Ike, who was in no danger of doing anything with it.  After averting Ike’s latest attempt to throw the ball into the river, Matt went to work with two quick and skillful jumpers, cutting the lead to 18-13 (and Ike had 3).  Justin, sensing danger, let Ike drop back and fire off a foolishly conceived three-point Hail Mary attempt from a distance John Elway wouldn’t have tried, then scooped up the rebound and laid in a gentle bank shot to give him twenty to Matt’s thirteen (and Ike had 3).

So it came down to this.  To win, Justin had to do the one thing he wasn’t able to (well, beyond his general lack of any skill whatsoever at basketball): he must hit a free throw.  He drew in a deep breath, ignoring a throbbing sensation on his big toe that John Holmes would be impressed by, and prepared for the shot of his life.

This one bounced off of the right side of the rim.

Matt pumped his fist in triumph.  Ike looked up bemusedly from an article featuring thirty zesty low calorie chicken recipes.  Justin hung his head in fatigue and disappointment.  With that miss, Justin and Matt were now tied at 13 (and Ike had 3), and would battle it out tooth and nail the rest of the way.

Which would look more like this than either would care to admit.
And so it went.  Matt quickly notched up his first lead of the game, 15-13 (and Ike had 3), then strengthened his grip with another key shot to lead 17-13 (and Ike had 3).  He smelled blood, but he was tiring quickly from Justin’s barrage of charging body parts.  The impact from Justin’s penis alone was nearly enough to cause internal bleeding, but Matt was stalwart in his attempts to thwart the big man from penetrating underneath and laying in an easy bank shot.  These stalwart attempts failed, as Justin knocked in two quick lay-ups down low to tie the score at 17 (and Ike had 3).  Now it was crunch time: both Matt and Justin were on odd numbers; both needed just two more shots to win the game; both wanted to intentionally miss free throws (no problem whatsoever) and simultaneously bank the misses to Ike so no harm could be done on the scoreboard. 

Matt was the first to strike, on a rebound down low that he fought away from Justin and shot over his reaching fingers.  The critical juncture of 19 points had been reached; Matt’s next basket would win the game.  However, all three men knew that Matt had to intentionally miss his free throw to avoid trapping himself on twenty.  The rebound was critical.  Matt lobbed a gentle free throw that spun around the diameter of the rim before dropping neatly into Justin’s hands, where he did his popular soft bank shot to tie the game at nineteen (and Ike had 3).  Isaac, enthralled in a catty pictorial showing who wore what at the Oscars this year, didn’t notice the importance of the score until Matt told him.

Isaac recovers after absorbing a hard foul during the second game.
Justin ‘intentionally missed’ his free throw (he shot it exactly like he’d shot every other free throw that night) and managed to get the ball in Ike’s hands where it’d be safe from contact with the rim.  Ike shot and Matt ran away from the rim to field the rebound, then took the ball out to halfcourt to decide his critical approach to the hoop.  He took a breath and started trick-dribbling his way up to Justin’s widespread arms.  Apparently his quick dribbling tricks were more than a match for Justin, as he waited for Matt’s approach and then attempted to stab at the ball with one hand, to steal.  Somehow Matt maneuvered his body between Justin’s hand and the ball almost instantaneously, for Justin ended up vigorously punching Matt in the stomach, a bit of involuntary karmic payback for Matt’s Peter McNeeley impression in the first game.   

You take your life in your hands when you drive the lane against me, that's all I'm saying.
Matt ground to a halt, dropping the ball neatly into Justin’s hands, and gasped the words “time out” before limping to the concrete retaining wall and sitting down, nursing his punched intestines.  Justin took the ball out to half court to prepare for his drive, apologizing to Matt all the while, and lied down at half court to suck in some oxygen low to the ground for a minute.  Ike continued to stand, engrossed in an article detailing one woman’s heroic struggle to get out of an abusive marriage and realize her dream of teaching kindergarten.

After a long moment of lying on the ground and sucking wind, Matt and Justin gradually made it back to their feet and decided it was time to end this marathon workout and the intense rivalry it produced.  However, Matt was apparently dazed into delusion by his bout with a bruised duodenum, as he thought Justin was preparing to shoot a free throw rather than drive for a shot.  Justin’s intent dawned on Ike, but far too late for him to put in a bookmark and do something to stop it.  Justin simply dribbled to the hoop, splitting the two potential defenders in their tracks as he laid in the winning, albeit anticlimactic, shot.

"Wait, that's it? Uh, good game, I guess."
At this time the three dudes decided that nothing on this earth could be better than making sweet sweet love to the water fountain nearby.  Ike tried to make a funny, yelling “No look pass!” before tossing the ball past Justin and nearly into the river again, and they trudged up a hill to the water supply and proceeded to singlehandedly bring Hays County into Stage 4 water conservation restrictions.  Then, exhausted and already a little sore, they started back toward Justin’s car; Ike walking like one of his evolutionary forefathers, or perhaps simply like his own biological father; Matt cradling the ball like a child and trying not to let any of the blood slip out as it drained from his abdomen to fill his mouth; and Justin wondering if he could make money off of baffling the medical community by convincing them that the blister on his toe was actually the last evidence of an absorbed prenatal twin.  As the guys neared the car, they noticed the Real Basketball Players ™ still going at it with exactly the same energy and intensity as they were when Matt and Ike and Justin arrived, although perhaps this time with a little more respect for the pasty, dorky, out-of-shape, skill-lacking, depth-perception-impaired, Epsom-salt-needing, muscle-shredding, free-throw-missing, new-ball-owning, Metamucil-drinking, creaky-jointed gladiators in the parking lot nearby. 

After all, Ike had three.

(originally written 17 April 2002)