It was 12:00pm and Eric’s iPhone alerted him to the note he had posted for a reminder:
· Take a break and go to the gym
Having let weeks elapse since he last directed a spalding through a hoop, Eric’s heart raced with excitement as he sped to the pickup gym. A smattering of vehicles populated the lot, suggesting that there may be a game of 5 to be had. And so it was. Walking in, Eric saw that 9 ballers were warming up. Nearly all looked to be in their late teens, save an older guy who was barking instructions to them. Having increased the capacity to 10, Eric was asked whether he “wanted to run.”
“Of course,” said Eric excitedly. “But give me a few minutes to stretch.” And as he stretched, the gentleman who solicited Eric’s participation began divvying up the players to create the teams. As the unknown interloper, Eric was assigned to the team that, on first blush, lagged in size and talent. Greeting his squad, Eric learned that he was doing battle with and against a local prep team. Having exhausted their high school eligibility, these young men were clamoring for one last season to display to a D1, 2, or 3 school that they had the chops to play collegiate basketball. He also learned that his squad mates were backups/bench players. Taking their respective places on the court, Eric happened to match up with what one may reasonably call the walk-on equivalent to the prep school’s team. See, the coach had whitewashed the pickup teams, covering the talent disparity by adding the walk-on to his team. Fair enough.
“What up, man. My name is Eric. Let’s have fun and try our best,” he greeted the walk-on. But the walk-on offered no reply. The game began and the younger generation immediately showcased their skill. Facilitated by Kyrie Irving-level ballhandling, the prepsters got open and stepback threes, reminiscent of Dame Lillard, James Harden, and Steph Curry, were blasted from the perimeter. This attempted onslaught from deep led to some makes but it also led to a lot of rebounding opportunities. Forever in the right place at the right time, Eric snagged 4 of the first 5 misses. Blessed with fleet feet, he and his Kobe Protos sped up the court, with the prep-team walk-on at his mercy.
The first bucket came via a fake right, spin off the body, before kissing the Spalding off the glass and through the net. Having seen the first shot go in after barely warming up, Eric’s confidence began heating up. On the next rebound-to-fastbreak, he broke out the Euro. A few possessions later, an up-and-under off the wrong foot. After that basket, Eric lifted a move from Russell Westbrook’s taunting bag and ‘Rocked the Baby’ as he traipsed back up the court
With everyone blaming not their missed attempts from deep leading to fast break opportunities but his inability to block out Eric, the assumed walk-on’s head began to droop. Confidence careening, it became easy for Eric to anticipate what the walk-on would do when he received the ball. Pressuring the kid, Eric plucked the ball from the poor kid, broke down the lane, received the lead pass and promptly finger rolled the Spalding through the net.
“First team all defense,” Eric yelled to no one in particular. Fed up with having to help the out-muscled, out-IQ’d soul, the team’s coach finally switched to guard Eric.
“Sorry I had to do that to your mans, Coach” Eric said sincerely. “But the game is the game. The OGs I hooped against when I was a frail adolescent did the same stuff to me. Life is cyclical”
“Well, it isn’t going to happen to me,” said the Prep coach tersely. And the two proceeded to compete on skill alone.
Eric’s advantage in speed easily outstripped the coach’s advantage in carrying more weight. Because getting past the slightly overweight coach proved easy, it naturally created two-on-one opportunities, which Eric used to get easy assists for the uber-talented backups.
Nursing a grudge from being outplayed and embarrassed in front of his charges – “Your coach needs help,” Eric yelled – Coach resorted to football tactics. Putting his head down not dissimilar from a running back hitting a hole blocked by a linebacker, Coach tried to bowl over Eric. When this rumble-and-tumble strategy led to some out-of-control misses, the Coach pivoted to inventing fouls. Believing that these fictional fouls were counterevidence to his advice for his players to “Go up strong with it,” a sly grin curled on Eric’s face… “How are you going to lead when you can’t do it yourself?” he asked amiably. No response.
With game point and his team having the ball, Eric decided to confidently take a one-dribble pull-up, midrange jumper to end the competition. After it swished through the net, a loud scream of “Christ Bryant taught me that” filled the gym, echoing off the Coach’s hangdog face.
Remixing a line from the film Captain Phillips, Eric taunted the losing coach with “Look at me, fellas, I’m Coach Carter now.”