If this is to make much sense at all, you have to understand I did not grow up in a basketball town. I grew up 11 miles from the Golden Dome of Notre Dame, but it was north of Notre Dame, in Michigan and my friends were more concerned about “Touchdown Jesus” on the football field than what happpened on the basketball court.
In fact, there have been many seasons when Notre Dame’s own fans didn’t have much to root for on the basketball court, but I digress.
Football was the sport of Niles High School. My senior year, “our team” won a state championship in football. I say “our team” because I subscribe to the theory of TV’s “Coach”, if you weren’t on the field you didn’t win the game. As I have probably mentioned before, I wasn’t on the field. In fact, I played one season of sports in high school and got a hernia for my trouble. But being “on” the wrestling team was intimidating enough to keep me out of a fist fight one afternoon. There is a psychological advantage to being on a team even if you’re the water boy.
But I loved playing basketball and football and baseball. I just wasn’t very good at it.
In 5th grade and 6th grade I played on our elementary school’s basketball team. We played other schools in Niles on Saturday mornings in the junior high school gym.
While I really enjoyed playing, some of the fundamentals escaped me.
One Saturday, our coach (one of the high school team members) got frustrated with Franky Williams . The coach took Franky out and sent me in, just to teach him a lesson.
“Who do I cover?” I asked excitedly.
We had been practicing “covering” a member of the opposing team when we played defense.
I’m still not sure of the answer to that question but it wasn’t long until Franky was back in the game and I was sidelined.
I have two very vivid memories of my basketball career.
Shortly after getting my first basketball, while it still smelled new, I was dribbling in the dining room. That was forbiddeen but I had not listened to mom. The ball went up and shards of pink class came down. I had hit the ceiling light.
The dog was barking, mom came running and dad sat still at the kitchen table.
Then, one Friday night, about two years later, our junior high school band was marching during halftime at the Niles High School football game.
We started on the field, I tripped over something (maybe my own feet) and fell to the ground.
Gus, the tall and muscular bass drum player, stepped on me before I could roll out of the way. He later apologized profusely, which was pretty decent of him, under the circumstances.
Mom and dad were in the stands but they missed my inglorious entrance to the field.
I was so mortified, I walked home and went to a neighbor’s house, watching TV with him while I waited for my parents to get home. Apparently, they stayed for the game.
The next morning, dad said, “How about putting a basketball backstop and hoop on the garage?
We did. I felt a little better and better still when our band director called me to say, “It’s OK. Don’t worry about it. Things happen to everyone.”
He was right but I didn’t believe it until years later when I saw “things happen to everyone” around me.
That basketball hoop and backstop got a ton of use over the next several years. My friends and I had a great time playing horse and 3-on-3 basketball.
March Madness. They call it that for a reason. You have to be “mad” to take anything in life too seriously.