The Basketball Diaries – Part Four

This was near the end of my first stint at Compuware (I worked there on three separate occasions), and although I didn’t know it yet, I would soon move to Chicago and try on the pants of a different life. Those pants didn’t fit, but that’s another story.
I’d been playing Compuware ball for years at this point, and I had established a role for myself. I couldn’t really go toe-to-toe with most of the athletes on the floor. I knew that I wasn’t going to outscore, outrun, or outjump anyone unless they were certifiably shorter, stockier, and/or more brutal than I was, so whenever I got paired up with a superior athlete, I just made up my mind to never stop hustling. I would stick to them like second skin on defense, denying them the ball, and when a shot went up, instead of fighting for it, I’d run like hell on a breakaway and hope to score points.
My goal was to destroy myself. After all, this was lunchtime in a corporate office. Many of the people down there were just looking to shoot around and maybe break a sweat. My goal was to stagger out of there nearly dead from exhaustion. It was a great way to burn calories, but it was also the only advantage I had, particularly when I was paired up against someone way better than me.
That seemed to happen a lot 😉
When a pick-up game starts, you just kinda drift toward the guy who’s closest to you in size and apparent athletic ability. It’s another unwritten rule. If there’s a guy out there who’s 6’7″, and you’re 6’6″ while everyone else on your team is 5′-something. Guess what? You’re guarding that tall guy.
But what about when just about everyone out there is right around 6’0″? This wasn’t the NBA, ya know? Most guys down there were just average height and build. In this case, you can basically drift to whomever you want to defend and no one could really question you on it.
However, some people liked to choose the easy path. After some level of familiarity, you knew who could play and who couldn’t. You knew who was tough to defend and who wasn’t. Now, the guys who were down there to really compete matched themselves up with the toughest guys. But there were others who drifted away from tough match-ups and found scrubs and chuckers to defend because it would be easier for them. This used to kill me because every now and then (actually quite often, if memory serves correctly), I’d end up defending someone I had no business defending, either because he chose me (trying to take the easy path) or because no one wanted to choose him and I had to do it.
But I loved it.
Honey badger doesn’t give a shit.
Whenever it happened, I went into full on hustle mode and made life miserable for someone who thought I was going to be a cakewalk.
And then came the day that Greg walked in. Not a super tall guy, but built like a serious athlete. One look and you knew he was a difficult match-up for anyone in the gym. I was in the middle of playing a game when he showed up for the first time, and when I saw him I thought, college player.
He was. Detroit Mercy, if I recall correctly.
Anyway, my team won and Greg plus four other guys stepped on the court. I looked around to see who I might defend, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t see all my teammates stuck like glue to anyone but Greg. I don’t recall if I said anything, but more than likely I said, “What the hell? You jerks are sticking me with this guy?”
So I was going to defend Greg. Great. I was about to get all my shots blocked, get dunked on, and possibly get murdered.
We had the ball first. We went down and tried to score. I can’t recall what happened, but soon they got the ball. Someone passed it to Greg and I was standing there determined as shit to stop this guy from scoring.
The dude straight up smashed into me. I’m not talking about backing me down or accidentally running into me. No. He got the ball, took a couple dribbles, and then completely shoulder blocked me as hard as he could, extending his arm out like the Heisman Trophy.
Now, from the way I’ve described this guy, you’d think I went down like the proverbial brick ton. But you have to understand that while he was a superior athlete in all respects, that didn’t mean I was a sack of minced meat. I was in pretty good shape at the time, and solid at about 200lbs. Maybe 25% of that 200 was body fat, okay, and maybe Greg had about 0% body fat at the same weight… but the weight was the same, nevertheless. It was like Mike Tyson trying to knock down Butterbean.
After he freight-trained me, I backed up a couple feet and stood my ground.
He did it again.
Understand that all of this would have been called a foul in an officiated game, but another unwritten rule of pick-up basketball is that calling an offensive foul makes you a humungous wussy, so I wasn’t saying a word.
He basically smashed me until I was off the court, and then he scored.
It was Greg establishing what was what. In his mind I was a scrub who had no right to defend him. And he was absolutely right.
Doesn’t mean I wasn’t pissed.
Doesn’t mean I didn’t go honey badger on him.
I can’t recall precisely what happened after that, but that game went on and I battled him as best I could. We won, we lost, I don’t know. All I know is that I wasn’t going to be intimidated (this was a lesson I learned way before basketball). The days went on. The weeks went on. I didn’t have to defend Greg all the time, but every now and then I did, and I gave him as much hell as I could. He still scored like crazy and generally rendered me useless on offense.
But every now and then I scored on him. Make no mistake.
Fast forward several months. Lunchtime was ending and basketball was over for the day. Generally we’d all sit outside the gym for a few minutes, cooling down before heading up to the showers. This one day I happened to be sitting next to Greg, and people were talking. By now I felt I’d earned his respect, and maybe even a degree of friendship with him, despite being a scrub he couldn’t respect on the court. Truth is, I liked Greg. Thought he was a pretty nice guy when he wasn’t trying to mangle me.
So we’re sitting there, and as part of the conversation he says, “Man, there are some people down here who should just never score.”
I said, “Yeah, I hear that.”
Greg turned to me with the queerest look on his face, totally incredulous. He said, “Dude, you’re one of them!”
I just started cracking up. It was maybe the best compliment I’ve ever received.

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