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A former high school basketball star meets his biggest fan.


Submitted:Sep 29, 2013    Reads: 218    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


"Hey! I be knowin' you, boy!" I turn around mid-drive to face the geezer again. He's real old, like the age my dad would have been about now. Fifty-five, sixty maybe. I don't know his name. He jogs over to me, extends a hand.
"Name's Nat," he says. "Nat Green. You know my girl, Lizzy?" I draw to mind a vague outline of this hot broad I took some class with once. She had nice hips, real fine eyelashes.
"Sure," I said. "Sure, I know her. Hey man...Mr. Green, I mean." Nat's face splits into a haggard grin. He's missing three teeth. We shake.
"And you're...Tyler?"
"Tyrone," I correct him. "Tyrone Hammond."
"Well, Mr. Hammond," he says, studying me, "you got one hell of a game. I came out to that regular season matchup you guys had against Stuyvesant. You're the power forward, right?"
"Was," I correct him. "I graduated last month."
"That's a shame," he says. "We're going to miss you." I'm not fooled. The geezer knew who I was right away. He just played dumb. Lots of cats around here do that. There's something kind of faggy about those old guys, normally winos, who come up to us on the street and offer to spot us a drink or a lay.
"You get any college ball offers?" This cat Green's sizing me up pretty steady. He reminds me a little of my old man, has the same salt & pepper colored hair and the same lines around the eyes.
"Say, man, you look a lot like my Pops," I said. "I know that must sound weird and all." He laughed.
"That's real fine, Mr. Hammond. What's your pops do?" I've never liked adults who call you by your last name. Whatever.
"He, uh, passed away sir. Ten years next October." Green's still looking at me funny. I wish he would clear the hell out so I could get back to practice, run a few sprints & maybe get in some layup drills.
"I am truly sorry for your loss, Tyrone," he says, using my first name this time. "You've made your Daddy real proud. I hope you know that."
"Thanks a lot, man," I say. Weird, all these years later and I never know what to say when someone asks me about Pops.
"A boy needs a father," he says gravely. "Makes him work hard, remember what's important in life. My Pappy passed away when I was a teenager. Mill accident." I rack my brains for something to ask this cat, anything to get him off the damn subject.
"So you, uh, work here? At the gym?" He gives a belly laugh which seems too big for his body.
"Oh, I'd hardly call it work. Open up in the mornings, lock the joint down at night. Mop up the floors from time to time. I bought those nets," he says, gesturing up at the twine dangling down from the rim. It's a real small gym, only good for single court, but it's packed with NBA stuff. Pinions and old photographs line the walls. I'd never much stopped to check it out before. I'm guessing the geezer saw me looking.
"You like my collection?" he asks me, grinning.
"For sure," I reply, taking a closer look and then doing a double take.
"Is that an autographed Jerry West poster?"
"Sure is, my man," he says casually. "I swung by L.A once, when I wasn't much older than you are now, and caught a game." He chuckled. "Stood in like for near on two hours to get that one. I've got a Kareem and a Chamberlain, too, God rest his soul. My son won't let me take those ones out. I was a ballplayer once myself, you know."
"That so?" I tried to look out of the corner of my eye without letting him know I was looking. This guy had Wilt the Stilt and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
"Yeah," he said modestly. "Played for a time back in high school. Never made it to college. You, though, son, you look like college material."
"Yeah, well," I said. "Thanks."
"So," the geezer said, "we gonna stand around here yapping all day, or play us a ballgame?" He grinned again. "How about a round of HORSE? Loser buys drinks." I stood there, wondering how I could say no to this cat. For all I knew, he owned the damn gym and I didn't want him to get sore at me. This place is close to my pad and practicing here is real convenient.
"You don't have to if you don't want to," he said. "It's quite all right, you need to get some practice in."
"No man, it's cool," I said. I'd been holding the ball during our whole conversation, which only occurred to me now. My old coach in high school used to be hard up on making the ball a part of you, like another limb or something.
I bounced it between my legs casually, enjoying the way that the Spalding leather made my hands feel. Ever since I was a kid, holding a basketball made me feel like I could do anything. It was the one constant in my life, as the people changed and the schools changed and my family was torn apart. I used to go and bounce it up and down the hall of our apartment in the projects when I was home from school and waiting for my Mom to get home from work so she could let me in. Now that I was a man, I sometimes felt like that ancient guy must have felt who we learned about in history class one time. His name was Map or something, and he was a god in some real old country who had to hold the world on his shoulders because he pissed the other gods off.
But holding the world wasn't hard for me. I got used to it. People can get used to any old shit, I guess. It's the best and the worst thing about them. My Moms used to be real big on me playing college ball, because she said it could be my only shot at college.
My ball's still my world, and I like it like that. The other cats at school used to tease me and say that I had three balls, not two. They were only half kidding.
I bounce pass the ball real slow to the geezer, hoping I won't make him trip or nothing. He caught the rock easy enough.
"Haven't held one of these in years," he said conversationally. We walked over into the lane, and he winks at me.
"Okay, champ, here goes nothing." He tosses up a granny shot which, thank the Lord, at least grazes the rim before bouncing out. My mind is racing, trying to figure a way out of this. If I trounce this cat, word could get out and I'll look like a fool. Worse, he might not let me use the gym anymore.
He tosses me the rock, and I figure I'd better take some halfway straight shots if he's not going to believe that I went easy on him or nothing. I'm cursing my own reputation right about now. So I go to the line, bounce the ball twice, and arc one up for a clean swish. He claps enthusiastically, and I feel about ready to fall through the floor.
"Nothing but twine," the geezer said approvingly. "What's your free throw percentage like during the regular season, boy?"
"It was something like, uh, 94%, sir." And it would have been higher if that moose from Brightley hadn't spent half of that game clobbering me because the refs were his only fans.
"I'm impressed," the geezer said lightly, stepping up to the line. "No one will ever respect a ballplayer until he's got his free throws down. Unless you're Shaquille The Deal, that is. Shaq before Miami, anyway." He tosses up a granny shot, which almost airballs but, by some lucky stroke of fate, hits the front of the rim and sort of slides in.
I grab the ball, dribble out to right of the arc, and take a jumper from two range, which is dead on target. The geezer snatches the rock, heads out in my direction, and I realize that the price of that sweet 2 will be watching this guy do a jump shot. Sure enough, he sort of...I don't know, pirouettes in place or something, which I don't have to call him on because it airballs anyway. I'm starting to sort of hate the guy.
By the time we get him to HOR, I'm realizing that my only chance here is to let him have a letter or two without making it pathetically obvious that I'm doing so. I brick an easy field goal from just below top shelf, and by some stroke of luck he sinks it. I miss the thing again, and breathe a slight sigh of relief as the geezer crows in triumph.
"You can lead a HORSE to water, but you can't make him drink!" Great, so now he's going to make this hard for me. Well, the sooner we wrap it up, the sooner I can get back to my drills. I'm starting to sort of hate the cat.
At first, I thought he tripped. The geezer was drilling in from the paint, looking to bank a layup, and next thing I knew he was in a heap on the ground. I jogged over, my mind racing. Should I call 911? He appeared totally stiff, and I was about to try and do CPR or something when he grinned up at me.
"Bet you thought you had me there, boy, huh?" I wanted to slam the old fool one, but tried to keep a straight face.
"You okay, uh, Mr. Green?"
"Right as rain," he said, wincing. "Just a hint of the old angina, is all. Heart pains."
"You need me to get someone, sir?"
"No, no, I'll be fine." I helped him to his feet. "That being said, we should call it a day. Tell you what, son. I'll buy you a pop. Deal's a deal, after all." I nodded, relieved, just anxious to get this cat off the court before he takes a heart attack in front of me.
He gets us both a Coke from the vending machine, unlocks his office, and pulls up a chair for me.
"Once upon a time, son," he chuckles, "maybe I could have given you a run for your money. But those days are long behind me, now. It must be great to be young, have your whole life in front of you." I don't much know what to say to this, so I nod, trying to enjoy the Coke.
"You know, Tyrone," he tells me, "we might be able to get you that Jerry West poster." I look at him, shocked.
"Wow, do you mean it, sir?"
"Of course," he says, looking at me seriously. "I'll have a chat with the warden about it first thing in the morning, see what he says."
"I'd really be appreciating that, Mr. Green," I said.
"You must have to be back soon," he told me. "Don't those newfangled things tell you boys what's what?" I checked the large, metal hoop on my wrist. It's locked on, you can't take it off. The digital readout tells me that I still have ten minutes. If you're not back by then, they stick you in solitary. I've done it once. Not a fun stint.
"How long you in for, Tyrone?" Mr. Green asks me.
"Ninety years, sir." I see a sad look pass through his eyes.
"Well, you come back and visit me sometimes, hear? I'm due to head for greener pastures soon. You have a good record, maybe you can help run this place or something. I'll get you a Coke, too, I know they don't give you boys much of that stuff." I nod.
"That'd sure be great, Mr. G. I'd better be getting back now." I'm heading out of the office when he calls after me.
"I won't forget to ask about that poster! Thanks for the hoops, son.""Hey! I be knowin' you, boy!" I turn around mid-drive to face the geezer again. He's real old, like the age my dad would have been about now. Fifty-five, sixty maybe. I don't know his name. He jogs over to me, extends a hand.
"Name's Nat," he says. "Nat Green. You know my girl, Lizzy?" I draw to mind a vague outline of this hot broad I took some class with once. She had nice hips, real fine eyelashes.
"Sure," I said. "Sure, I know her. Hey man...Mr. Green, I mean." Nat's face splits into a haggard grin. He's missing three teeth. We shake.
"And you're...Tyler?"
"Tyrone," I correct him. "Tyrone Hammond."
"Well, Mr. Hammond," he says, studying me, "you got one hell of a game. I came out to that regular season matchup you guys had against Stuyvesant. You're the power forward, right?"
"Was," I correct him. "I graduated last month."
"That's a shame," he says. "We're going to miss you." I'm not fooled. The geezer knew who I was right away. He just played dumb. Lots of cats around here do that. There's something kind of faggy about those old guys, normally winos, who come up to us on the street and offer to spot us a drink or a lay.
"You get any college ball offers?" This cat Green's sizing me up pretty steady. He reminds me a little of my old man, has the same salt & pepper colored hair and the same lines around the eyes.
"Say, man, you look a lot like my Pops," I said. "I know that must sound weird and all." He laughed.
"That's real fine, Mr. Hammond. What's your pops do?" I've never liked adults who call you by your last name. Whatever.
"He, uh, passed away sir. Ten years next October." Green's still looking at me funny. I wish he would clear the hell out so I could get back to practice, run a few sprints & maybe get in some layup drills.
"I am truly sorry for your loss, Tyrone," he says, using my first name this time. "You've made your Daddy real proud. I hope you know that."
"Thanks a lot, man," I say. Weird, all these years later and I never know what to say when someone asks me about Pops.
"A boy needs a father," he says gravely. "Makes him work hard, remember what's important in life. My Pappy passed away when I was a teenager. Mill accident." I rack my brains for something to ask this cat, anything to get him off the damn subject.
"So you, uh, work here? At the gym?" He gives a belly laugh which seems too big for his body.
"Oh, I'd hardly call it work. Open up in the mornings, lock the joint down at night. Mop up the floors from time to time. I bought those nets," he says, gesturing up at the twine dangling down from the rim. It's a real small gym, only good for single court, but it's packed with NBA stuff. Pinions and old photographs line the walls. I'd never much stopped to check it out before. I'm guessing the geezer saw me looking.
"You like my collection?" he asks me, grinning.
"For sure," I reply, taking a closer look and then doing a double take.
"Is that an autographed Jerry West poster?"
"Sure is, my man," he says casually. "I swung by L.A once, when I wasn't much older than you are now, and caught a game." He chuckled. "Stood in like for near on two hours to get that one. I've got a Kareem and a Chamberlain, too, God rest his soul. My son won't let me take those ones out. I was a ballplayer once myself, you know."
"That so?" I tried to look out of the corner of my eye without letting him know I was looking. This guy had Wilt the Stilt and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
"Yeah," he said modestly. "Played for a time back in high school. Never made it to college. You, though, son, you look like college material."
"Yeah, well," I said. "Thanks."
"So," the geezer said, "we gonna stand around here yapping all day, or play us a ballgame?" He grinned again. "How about a round of HORSE? Loser buys drinks." I stood there, wondering how I could say no to this cat. For all I knew, he owned the damn gym and I didn't want him to get sore at me. This place is close to my pad and practicing here is real convenient.
"You don't have to if you don't want to," he said. "It's quite all right, you need to get some practice in."
"No man, it's cool," I said. I'd been holding the ball during our whole conversation, which only occurred to me now. My old coach in high school used to be hard up on making the ball a part of you, like another limb or something.
I bounced it between my legs casually, enjoying the way that the Spalding leather made my hands feel. Ever since I was a kid, holding a basketball made me feel like I could do anything. It was the one constant in my life, as the people changed and the schools changed and my family was torn apart. I used to go and bounce it up and down the hall of our apartment in the projects when I was home from school and waiting for my Mom to get home from work so she could let me in. Now that I was a man, I sometimes felt like that ancient guy must have felt who we learned about in history class one time. His name was Map or something, and he was a god in some real old country who had to hold the world on his shoulders because he pissed the other gods off.
But holding the world wasn't hard for me. I got used to it. People can get used to any old shit, I guess. It's the best and the worst thing about them. My Moms used to be real big on me playing college ball, because she said it could be my only shot at college.
My ball's still my world, and I like it like that. The other cats at school used to tease me and say that I had three balls, not two. They were only half kidding.
I bounce pass the ball real slow to the geezer, hoping I won't make him trip or nothing. He caught the rock easy enough.
"Haven't held one of these in years," he said conversationally. We walked over into the lane, and he winks at me.
"Okay, champ, here goes nothing." He tosses up a granny shot which, thank the Lord, at least grazes the rim before bouncing out. My mind is racing, trying to figure a way out of this. If I trounce this cat, word could get out and I'll look like a fool. Worse, he might not let me use the gym anymore.
He tosses me the rock, and I figure I'd better take some halfway straight shots if he's not going to believe that I went easy on him or nothing. I'm cursing my own reputation right about now. So I go to the line, bounce the ball twice, and arc one up for a clean swish. He claps enthusiastically, and I feel about ready to fall through the floor.
"Nothing but twine," the geezer said approvingly. "What's your free throw percentage like during the regular season, boy?"
"It was something like, uh, 94%, sir." And it would have been higher if that moose from Brightley hadn't spent half of that game clobbering me because the refs were his only fans.
"I'm impressed," the geezer said lightly, stepping up to the line. "No one will ever respect a ballplayer until he's got his free throws down. Unless you're Shaquille The Deal, that is. Shaq before Miami, anyway." He tosses up a granny shot, which almost airballs but, by some lucky stroke of fate, hits the front of the rim and sort of slides in.
I grab the ball, dribble out to right of the arc, and take a jumper from two range, which is dead on target. The geezer snatches the rock, heads out in my direction, and I realize that the price of that sweet 2 will be watching this guy do a jump shot. Sure enough, he sort of...I don't know, pirouettes in place or something, which I don't have to call him on because it airballs anyway. I'm starting to sort of hate the guy.
By the time we get him to HOR, I'm realizing that my only chance here is to let him have a letter or two without making it pathetically obvious that I'm doing so. I brick an easy field goal from just below top shelf, and by some stroke of luck he sinks it. I miss the thing again, and breathe a slight sigh of relief as the geezer crows in triumph.
"You can lead a HORSE to water, but you can't make him drink!" Great, so now he's going to make this hard for me. Well, the sooner we wrap it up, the sooner I can get back to my drills. I'm starting to sort of hate the cat.
At first, I thought he tripped. The geezer was drilling in from the paint, looking to bank a layup, and next thing I knew he was in a heap on the ground. I jogged over, my mind racing. Should I call 911? He appeared totally stiff, and I was about to try and do CPR or something when he grinned up at me.
"Bet you thought you had me there, boy, huh?" I wanted to slam the old fool one, but tried to keep a straight face.
"You okay, uh, Mr. Green?"
"Right as rain," he said, wincing. "Just a hint of the old angina, is all. Heart pains."
"You need me to get someone, sir?"
"No, no, I'll be fine." I helped him to his feet. "That being said, we should call it a day. Tell you what, son. I'll buy you a pop. Deal's a deal, after all." I nodded, relieved, just anxious to get this cat off the court before he takes a heart attack in front of me.
He gets us both a Coke from the vending machine, unlocks his office, and pulls up a chair for me.
"Once upon a time, son," he chuckles, "maybe I could have given you a run for your money. But those days are long behind me, now. It must be great to be young, have your whole life in front of you." I don't much know what to say to this, so I nod, trying to enjoy the Coke.
"You know, Tyrone," he tells me, "we might be able to get you that Jerry West poster." I look at him, shocked.
"Wow, do you mean it, sir?"
"Of course," he says, looking at me seriously. "I'll have a chat with the warden about it first thing in the morning, see what he says."
"I'd really be appreciating that, Mr. Green," I said.
"You must have to be back soon," he told me. "Don't those newfangled things tell you boys what's what?" I checked the large, metal hoop on my wrist. It's locked on, you can't take it off. The digital readout tells me that I still have ten minutes. If you're not back by then, they stick you in solitary. I've done it once. Not a fun stint.
"How long you in for, Tyrone?" Mr. Green asks me.
"Ninety years, sir." I see a sad look pass through his eyes.
"Well, you come back and visit me sometimes, hear? I'm due to head for greener pastures soon. You have a good record, maybe you can help run this place or something. I'll get you a Coke, too, I know they don't give you boys much of that stuff." I nod.
"That'd sure be great, Mr. G. I'd better be getting back now." I'm heading out of the office when he calls after me.
"I won't forget to ask about that poster! Thanks for the hoops, son."





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