Love and Basketball

I was sad to see that the NCAA basketball tournament was cancelled, among other sporting events, and I’m sure people are bummed by this. I’m bummed by this, but I can’t imagine how the students feel. The players, and coaches, the fans. But mainly the kids. March Madness is the most fun because I love college ball. I’ve talked about my love sports of before. How I played softball for like a decade. How I was on basketball teams in elementary, middle, and high school. Volleyball? Check. Track and field? I was a Varsity thrower. Duh. I even gave tennis and soccer a go once or twice, never cared much for either, but I was an eager participant on most occasions. But if I’m being very honest with myself, softball is still my absolute favorite sport to play, and basketball is my absolute favorite sport to watch, because well, I’m just too slow to be any good anymore. Though I haven’t lost my jump shot. Seriously, play me fool!

And although I especially like college ball, I have been known to hang at an NBA game more than once, especially when we lived in Charlotte. We were big fans of watching the Hornets play, and while we are still Hornets fans, I’ll never forget that time my husband took me to see my all-time favorite team play, The Boston Celtics. Priceless. And of course, I would love to sit court-side at a Lakers game one day. Hey, a girl can dream!

The reason I like college ball better than the NBA is because I don’t like all the slam dunks and showmanship. I really like down and dirty street ball, but there isn’t a “Down and Dirty Street Ball” league* to keep up with, so college it is. I love the way the fans love their team, their school. Some of my best memories as a kid, were the few times I got to go to a KU game at Allen Field House. How and why? I have no idea. I know once I went with my sister and her boyfriend, but I remember going a few times and it was amazing. This was back, way back, when Raef LaFrentz, and Paul Pierce (who went on to play for Boston), and Greg “Big O” Ostertag played. Jesus, why do I still remember those names?

I remember stepping into the front doors of Allen Field House in complete amazement. Here I was, probably fifth grade, totally in love with this school I dearly wanted to be part of (I eventually made it to KU as a student) and I wanted to chant ROCK CHALK! JAYHAWK! KU! on the top of Mt. Oread. And I did. Pure joy.

By middle school I was so in love with basketball, I could tell you all about the KU players, many of the Celtics players, and of course Michael Jordan, the best athlete in the whole world. That’s when I started asking my mom for a basketball hoop. The problem was two-fold. We were poor and we lived in a rental house on the “bad” part of town. If she had invested in a hoop, it would have to be one of those mobile hoops, which were just too expensive and the chances of someone walking off with it we too real. For sure, like they walked away with every bike I had while we lived there.

But one glorious day, I came home to, I shit you not, a piece of plywood painted blue, with a hoop attached to it, nailed into the damn tree in our side yard. Umm, not kidding. I have no idea where/how/what/who. My suspicion is my brother-in-law, or my mom’s friend Ruthie. But there it was, nailed to the damn dead tree in a pit of what amounted to mud, and a little Bir of run down grass, next to what I am pretty sure was a crackhouse. Yep. I played the shit out of that hoop. For years, y’all.

Listen, I don’t know how single moms do stuff, but they do it. Always. And this picture above is just a reminder that I was once the most important person in someone’s life. My mom wasn’t perfect. Far from it. But I’m beginning to see that she was doing the best she could with what she had. With what she knew. With what she was capable of. And I’m always reminded that it takes a village, y’all. And actual fucking village.

Anyway, we moved a few years later, though that was one of the houses we lived in the longest. Even though the neighborhood wasn’t ideal, the house was nice, clean, fairly new, and it was in walking distance to my middle school, and close to my mom’s work. It was just an old shotgun house, on the north side of town, with a wooden basketball hoop nailed to a tree. But it meant the world to me.

Thanks, Mom.

M.

*I was flipping through Netflix the other day and found a show that follows prison basketball. I gasped. Jerimiah yelled, “Shit! No!” and I added it to my “Watch List.”

Wescoe Hall

I’m trying to remember a teacher I had at The University of Kansas a long time ago, but I keep getting jammed up. I can see the classroom. It’s one of those basement classrooms that old universities have. It was in Wescoe Hall, across from the library, where I spent too many hours walking the stacks. Listening to the birds who’d come in through, what, an open window? I can remember the stacks. I can remember the moldy classroom. And the birds. I can even remember the kid who sat behind me. People thought he was cool because he’d been a walk-on to the KU football team that year. Of course this was back when KU football was consistently on the highlight reel for “Horrible pass of the week” or “Too many sacks in a row”. Back then, when you said “Kansas football” you weren’t talking about the Jayhawks.

So it’s the particulars I’m jammed up on. I guess. I know she was young, not a professor. That she was blond, and that she had large breasts. I’m not so sure about the blond, but the breasts, those I’m sure about. They were so large, that at 18, I felt both inadequate and sufficiently aroused. This was before I knew how to buy a good bra, based on my size and shape. This was back before areas of my brain and body had fully developed. Back before I could recognize deliberate flirtation. Her areas were fully developed.

The red-headed walk-on yammered on a lot. Spoke in small sentences about things not found on the syllabus. I wondered how many times he’d been hit in the head. He’d yammer on about video games and metaphysical anomalies. He wrote short stories about aliens. He picked his nose sometimes, when he thought no one was looking. I wrote bad poetry. The kind of poetry that 18-year-old girls with virtually no life skills or relatable experience, write about. I hadn’t yet had my heart broken. He’d yammer. I’d write, and steal glances at the teacher’s breasts. She’s ask him to stop. Tell him to leave it for another time. He’d smile. She’d smile. Or at least I assume she smiled. I still can’t picture her face.

The birds in the stacks would flutter above my head. Jump from bookshelf to bookshelf. Was someone feeding them, I wonder now. Did they routinely flush them out? I wonder about the birds a lot, the birds stuck in the stacks.

Maybe it was the breasts. The reason I can’t remember her face. Can’t remember much of it. If I close my eyes, think back to my first semester, that’s all I can remember. The stacks. The red-headed walk-on. The moldy classroom at Wescoe Hall. The birds.

I wonder, now, what happened to the red-headed walk-on. How birds got into the stacks. If they’d lay eggs in nests above the harsh overhead lighting. I wonder, now, how the babies learned to fly, surrounded by bookshelves, and dumb freshmen looking for Kafka. I wonder why I fought so hard and so long against higher education. I wonder, now, who my teacher was in that moldy classroom at Wescoe Hall.

M.