He spun and surveyed the floor. His first inclination was to pass to Carl on the left baseline. Carl had a fairly consistent shot from there and it seemed like their best opportunity to score.
Unfortunately, Carl’s defender stayed home. Ruefully Joe recognized this was a new development. In his glory days, that man would be sagging into the lane to deny the path to the hoop for Joe.
For years, one of Joe’s patented moves was a head fake to the right, 360 degree spin left and drive to the rim where he would lay it in, scoring and drawing the foul more often than not. He had gotten so good at it that people routinely left even good 3-point shooters to help Joe’s man defend against it. He had become adept at drawing the extra defender and passing to the open man in the corner, which simultaneously allowed him to set up in good position to get the offensive rebound if his teammate missed.
That move had been developed in his driveway wars with one of his Dads friends. When he was developing his game, Mel used to stop by to visit Joe’s dad. Inevitably, Joe would be out shooting baskets in the driveway and at some point, Mel would take a shot or two.
Both guys being competitive, it would never stop there. It would become a game of horse or pig. Then they would play some one on one, usually to 11.
Those games taught Joe a lot about basketball. The driveway was pretty narrow, maybe 8’ wide. Mel was a big man, about 7” taller and 150 pounds heavier than Joe. On a regular court, Joe would have torched him with uncontested jumpers or, if Mel closed out on him, drives to the rim.
But on the close confines of the driveway Mel could use his size and knowledge to good advantage.
Joe got used to taking elbows in the ribs, knee-to-knee contact. Mel did not like to lose and Joe hated to lose, so their games got quite violent. It did not help that the games were played on Mel’s sort of court where he had every advantage. If Joe started to blow by Mel, he would simply foul. Hard.
Joe got used to having bruises, scrapes, even bits of blood from getting knocked sprawling on the pavement if he threatened to get by the bigger, older, slower man, but he did not stop trying.
He found other ways to score, Even on the close confines of the driveway, he found he could make head fakes and spin moves to get to the basket on occasion. He simply needed to be able to absorb the inevitable body contact and still score.
So he worked at it until he could. It was rough, brutal, violent…and made him a better player so long as he was quicker and had better lateral movement.
Those days were long gone, however. Now his speed and agility were seldom enough to allow him to penetrate the lane or drive near the basket. Even if he were to attempt such a move there was little or no need for the help defense to come.
In the absence of a double team, the passing lanes were far more clogged and a pass was more likely to be intercepted than lead to an open look for his teammate.
Instead, Joe had developed a nice post game. He was most effective establishing position on the block and calling for the ball. If he was given a good entry pass, he had enough shakes and shimmies to move his defender out of position, giving himself a clean look at a turn-around jump shot.
That was part of developing his game. He had to find new tools to work with as his physical abilities diminished. It had taken him a while to realize that. He still occasionally tried to do things that he simply was unable to do anymore. Just last game he had gotten rim-checked when he tried to dunk on a breakaway instead of just taking the simple lay-in.
It was embarrassing and he probably would not try to dunk again, whether in a game or not. He simply did not have the springs he used to.
And knowing he did not have the quick first step meant he needed to find other ways to score. In a sense, this had been good for him as it made him play more than a team game.
In his youth he had been a bit of a ball-hog. He always wanted the ball in his hands, he thought of every shot he took as a good one and every shot taken my a team-mate…even a shot that fell…was not as good a shot as one he took.
That was not strictly true, to say he was a ball-hog. In fact, for most of the game it was quite the opposite. He would drive and kick to the open teammate. A lot of that was because he always felt that, even if they missed, he was the odds on favorite to get the rebound, using his knowledge of playing styles and typical shooting results to get to the right place to grab the board. Usually he was correct.
But when the game was on the line he had always taken that shot. Always. And usually made it. Now, however, with six seconds left, the game on the line, he found himself looking to pass.
What I wanted to say - Dear Tootie, You are no longer suffering, and for that I am grateful. I've gone through so many feelings since you left this world Saturday. Grief, relief...
1 month ago