There was a chance the Basketball Gods would smile down on him
October 16, 2013 7:57 PM   Subscribe

It's the ultimate gamble. If the young man is successful, he comes home a hero, and becomes important. His life has meaning and purpose. But in order to succeed, he must first completely open up his soul to the consequences of failure, knowing there may be no way back out. This, above all else, is the hardest thing to do. 20 Minutes at Rucker Park.
posted by Ghostride The Whip (21 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Respect, on the other hand, was something he was willing to starve for.

I don't know what to say without spoiling the article. Thanks for posting this.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:26 PM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

That story grabbed me and held on tight. A wonderful, awful read. Thank you.
posted by ZakDaddy at 8:35 PM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have seen a game at Rucker. An amazing night. I used to take the train in from the Island to play at W4th street. I know well the feeling of rejection and defeat. Real well. And I wasn't bad. The trips in were worth it though. I played some ball, got better, built confidence as a teen just going into the city and getting into a game and finally wandering the area and seeing where Robert Zimmerman played and made his name with an acoustic guitar and seeing all these musicians. Still remember sticking around one night to see NRBQ play at the Bottom Line. Those were the days.


Great read.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:01 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great read. sucked me in from the first line and held me all the way to the end. nice.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:09 PM on October 16, 2013

There are not enough stories like this out there. We don't need to hide the truth behind one in a million heros.
posted by vorpal bunny at 9:19 PM on October 16, 2013

Great story. It's worth keeping in mind when an underdog beats the odds that the way the odds get to be what they are is by most underdogs' failing.
posted by pdq at 9:24 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

That was a good read. Thanks for posting it.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:40 PM on October 16, 2013

Nicely written. Thanks for this.
posted by converge at 10:02 PM on October 16, 2013

posted by OrangeDrink at 10:24 PM on October 16, 2013

Damn. Really well written. And to quote Springsteen:

"Is a dream a lie if it don't come true,
Or is it something worse?"
posted by maupuia at 10:25 PM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

That was a very good and honest piece of writing. Thanks for posting that.
posted by mosk at 12:44 AM on October 17, 2013

Man, dunno that Del Paso is all that gnarly. Not great shakes for sure, but dang kilograng, it's no south side or Oak Park and neither of those places hold a torch to any kind of hard core hellhole. Ten minutes by bus and you'll be in a different world. Roosevelt is a weirdly great place for ball though, seems weirdly out of place. Strangely urban for this cowtown; surrounded by offices, baseball and basketball run full bore seemingly nonstop even in the triple digits.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:17 AM on October 17, 2013

Very good piece, well done. I'll hope to see the film. My heart breaks for these kids, sometimes. But it's like they say at the Mayor's Midnight Basketball here in New Orleans, "dreams are weapons." They see any chance to make it away these mean streets will come from luck and talent in music or basketball, if it comes at all. But for now, they show up every night and play mainly just to keep from getting shot on the street.
posted by Anitanola at 1:42 AM on October 17, 2013

like he wished [...] that he wasn't born a touch under 6 feet

I bet his mother wishes the same thing.
posted by pracowity at 3:07 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Mark Eitzel wrote short stories about athletes rather than songs about drinking, this is what it would look like.
posted by ardgedee at 4:14 AM on October 17, 2013

Great story. It really cries out for a follow-up in two or three years; I hope that will happen.
posted by Zonker at 5:13 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's a damn good story. I hope, for whatever it's worth, that the guy manages to keep loving the game, manages to pull himself to a better place than he's in.

Pickup basketball was a sanctuary for me for a nice, maybe six-year long stretch. Every weekend, I would go to pretty much the only outdoor basketball court in Chiba, two half courts set at an angle, three on three or four on four, every Saturday, and Sunday too if I could make it. I started going with a group of gaijin friends, all of whom were better than I am, was, or ever will be. We played with and against a group of regulars, kids that were in high school, or just starting college. Any size advantage we had was eliminated by their skill and years of practice; in Japan, school sports aren't seasonal. If you join the basketball club, you practice and play only basketball all year round. And then there were these kids we played with. One was so in love with And1 that he'd memorized, then mastered all of the tricks he saw on the bootlegs he had. Later, he went to Vancouver to play street ball and made a minor name for himself.

Games were always decide by goo-paa, basically rock/paper. Everyone stands in a circle and does rock/paper until teams have equal numbers. We played to eleven, as many times as we could before dark.

I was absolutely horrible at first, and never really got better than 'the guy who tries hard on defense.' I had an awkward post up that relied on twisting up and unders, but my jumpshot was awful, and frequently blocked. Depending on matchups, I'd either be playing inside as a power forward, or on the perimeter, guarding a guy who was barely five foot, lightning fast, and just a perfect shot. If he'd been even six foot, I could see him playing pro in Japan.

I was the guy who tried, so people on the other team would either dread being guarded by me, or would make it a point to score on me.

I loved it. I loved every minute of it. No matter how bad a game I had, even if I never touched the ball on offense a single time, basketball on Saturday in Makuhari was a haven, no matter what else was happening. The guys I played with, they grew up and away, others I would see from time to time. I only knew a few of them by name. It was all nicknames there. My friends Brian and Travis, the guys who invited me along, they were B (or Duncan, due to the spurs jersey) and Tora. I played with Japanese guys named Marcy, Yu-kun, Koba, Gon, Kembo, Kyon, Takesh, Bari, Jun, Nori, Machine, Bancho, and at least three different guys named Hiro. I even got a nickname, Jura, or Jurrasic, supposedly because my defense was like a raptor, even though I believe it was due to the fact that I'm slower than a dinosaur.

Then the court got torn down for, wait for it, a parking lot. Everyone showed up for the last weekend. People we hadn't seen in years. It was almost impossible to get in a game, there were so many of us.

Years went by after that, and only occasionally, I'd go out with Travis to meet up with Bancho. He mostly lives in Canada now (because of pot. Seriously) and he comes back once in awhile for visa renewal and such. A couple months ago, we got together with a handful of the old group and drank and talked about the courts. Goddamn, I miss them. I remember so much from those days. I remember the game I couldn't miss, scoring almost all of my teams points. I remember the game where I shut Marcy down, and the next game, when he told me each and every time how he was going to score on me, then did. I remember Yu-kun, the most talented player there, shocked at my defense, giving me a nod of respect after a game where he couldn't score on me. I also remember frustration, anger, and a host of bad days. But even those days, they were perfect. I was playing basketball, and the world outside of the court didn't exist.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:17 AM on October 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Great Story
posted by FreedomSBS at 6:47 AM on October 17, 2013

Part of the reason I posted it, aside from it being a great story, is it's the more realistic version of what happens in the "lovable underdog going up against all odds" trope so common in sports movies/stories (and elsewhere). So while you think you know how it's going to end, it's still a gut punch when it does end that way.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:47 AM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I enjoyed reading this also -- very well told. And something I can relate to, as I've spent quite a bit of time on pickup courts, red-lining my self-confidence amongst much better players than I, hoping I can earn some sort of acceptance amongst fellows who are chasing a bouncing orange ball around.

I read quite a bit of Chris McCandless into this tale: chasing a dream with more stubborn self-confidence at the expense of self-awareness for basic practicalities. I certainly understand the virtue of self-confidence on the playground courts, but the writer describes a baller whose confidence strangles off his ability to see his weaknesses, to work on them, develop them, to better prepare himself for that one big chance.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 9:43 AM on October 17, 2013

Great story. This Webster, real guts to follow it down. He at least tried. He tried. He tried to do what he loved the most, what he wanted the most. Real courage. I admire him.

Thx for posting.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:30 PM on October 17, 2013

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