“Wow,” stammered the child, as he peered up through his thick tortoise-shell glasses.
It was a basketball hoop. A six-foot Fisher-Price basketball hoop with a plastic rim and an adjustable backboard. One side of the backboard had curved edges so that nearly every shot the child took would go in.
He played every afternoon, and the little Michael Jordan made every buzzer beater because of the curved backboard. If the shot was an air ball, it was actually a pass, and the pass went to Scottie Pippen, and Pippen dished it back to Jordan, who shot again, and when it went in, the crowd went wild.
And the child celebrated on his driveway as if the world were watching.
“Wow,” panted the teenager, staring down at the pavement in his giant and obtrusive Rec-Spec sports goggles.
His knee was bleeding, his teammates were angry and he was exhausted. The teenager wasn’t very good at basketball. He missed two free throws again at practice, and the team ran suicides as a result.
He had played for five years now. He wasn’t Michael Jordan. The short kid couldn’t even be Steve Kerr. His coach was trying to change his jumpshot. He was the last one down the stairs because he had balance problems. His father encouraged him not to run flat-footed ““ whatever that meant.
He was holding his team back, so just like that, he quit. In organized basketball, there were no curved backboards.
“Wow,” said the young man, staring at his mug shot in the school paper. The timid, studious teenager had cautiously suggested that he liked sports, and perhaps, maybe, the high school newspaper he worked on could use a sports columnist ““ like the ones he read in the real paper.
“Why don’t you be that columnist?” his adviser suggested, pointing his finger at the shy boy.
So after much debate, he named his column “The Fifth Quarter” and wrote a few columns about football, at least until basketball season came around. But something was missing.
“Write like you’d talk to me over the dinner table,” his writer friend told him. “That’s how you’ll find your voice.”
“Wow,” the college kid thought.
An editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer actually wanted to hire the kid as an intern. “Our editors “¦ were very impressed with your writing voice,” she wrote in an email.
Turns out, the kid found an internship closer to home.
“Wow,” the graduating senior said.
He knew he would never have courtside seats to the NCAA Tournament again. He didn’t play in the game, but he was in the locker room afterward. He was there with two of his friends ““ one snapping photos, the other armed with his recorder. They ate pizza while they wrote at the hotel.
This wasn’t as good as playing. This was better.
Stevens was a Sports senior staff writer from 2009-2011, an assistant Sports editor for 2008-2009 and a Sports contributor for 2007-2008.