I wish I was taller, I wish I was a baller …

By the

April 5, 2001

“Yo, Pete, you wanna go to Yates? We’re gonna play ball.”

“Yeah, sure.”

I find a dirty t-shirt from my laundry basket. I put on my baggy Wizards basketball shorts and my $130 Nike Kevin Garnett III’s that I got on sale for $60. But no one knows that. I think I look tough. I could tangle with the best 15-year-olds. Hell, I could play for the Wizards. Yeah, I’m rough and tumble. Let’s go to Yates.

I’m walking in with my roommates; I swipe my card at the desk. The guy at the computer gives me a look. What, you think you could take me? I was born for Yates basketball; I grew up in the toughest suburban driveway this side of The Wonder Years.

I walk past the aerobics girls, down the steps, past the exercise bikes, past the water fountains, past the neck-throbbing weight-lifters and their notebooks.

We check out the scene as I pick up a ball?it’s crowded today, lots of guys. Even the basketball team is here. But we could take ‘em. My roommates, they all played high school ball; they’re good. I warm up, dribbling through my legs, taking some short jumpers. I make all of them; I’m feeling it today. I like this ball. I look at it. It’s a women’s ball. I toss it away nonchalantly, as if it were just another flat one. Nobody saw me.

“You guys wanna run?” Ha. Do we ever. But he doesn’t know as we look at him all unconcerned, blas?.

“Yeah, you got five? We got ours.” And we’ll get ours, too; don’t you worry, chump.

“Yeah.” They come over. One of them’s pretty tall, probably a grad student. He’s not that good, most likely sucks. After all, they don’t wear “Georgetown Medicine” shorts in the league; they wear Wizards shorts.

Next we shoot for ball, always fun considering my roommate never misses. There, straight money. Our ball. We take shirts, they get skins.

Now it’s time to match up, so I stand outside on the wing, waiting for someone to gravitate this way. This always works. People take a look at me and think I’m awful. Then they try to guard me, but hey, you can only hope to contain Peter Hamby.

This one guy walks over, my height, some orange mesh shirts. Orange. Heh, heh.

“Hey, I’m Greg,” he says as he extends his palm.

“Peter,” I answer, as if I will ever say “hi” to this guy on campus. I will eye him one day walking across Red Square, and he’ll do the same to me. We will each remember the time we spent together, cursing, sweating, pushing, being manly. But we won’t say “hi.” Nope, we only know each other in Yates. It’s like Fight Club, only without the witty dialogue. I am Jack’s left-handed layup.

Ball’s in. I stay on the wing, then run baseline around a pick. Now I’m on the left side. Okay, time to go back. Another pick, this time I run back to the right. I get a pass, dribble through my legs, drive and pass it back out to the wing underneath the tall guy. Roommate squares up, let’s it fly?butta.

Time for some defense. My guy’s bringing the ball up, I meet him at half-court. He passes to some kid wearing Chucks. I like that kid. He runs down-low and tries to post me up. It’s like hand-checking some cat’s hairball. This guy’s sweaty back hair feels like a dead squirrel that’s been dropped in toilet water.

He tries to go up on me, but I get a hand in his face and he misses off the backboard. We get the rebound,and push the ball up the floor. I get the pass, fake left, then go right. I go up for the lay-up, and, damn, I just got rejected?harshly, too. The ball hits some girl in the head. Good, that takes the attention off me.

The game goes on, its a battle of stamina. I play decent, hit a three, make a few lay-ups. I also missed a few. Hey, I’m not that good. The Wizards are the worst team in the league, right? The score’s 9-8, us. Or is it?

“No, no, no,” the tall kid says. He’s wearing Rec-Specs. “I made a lay-up to make it 9-8. Then Dave made that jumper, remember? You know?”

No, I don’t know. I don’t care, either. Why do people take this so seriously? Are they going to go home and tally their career wins at Yates? Hey, Dave, I heard a scout from the Sixers is up on the treadmill!

Get a life.

“Whatever, let’s just play,” I say. There’s a mumbling approval from all as we check the ball. Score’s now 9-9. I take a jumper, it bricks off the back of the rim, they all run down and brace for the easy jumper. It’s good. We’re tired. We turn it over next possession, they take it the other way for the win. 11-9. Peace.

I walk over to the water fountain, then my roommates and I walk out, depressed, angry.

“That short guy was a bastard; he was so cocky,” one says. “I hate kids like that.” Yeah, me too. But this is always what happens. You leave Yates pissed off at the kids that beat you, knowing that if you had met them another day, they’d be singing a different tune. Or you make yourself feel better: I’m probably smarter than those guys, anyway.

Some days I’m on, others I’m not. I suck on Tuesday; I’m hot on Saturday. But we’ll win it next time. Yep, I’m going to wear my Cincinnati shorts, that’ll do it. I really am that good.

As for now, I’ve got homework to do.

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