T Nation

Hoop Dreams

    Rick, Steve, and I had been friends for many years. We went to summer camp together and we played on the same basketball team. Rick came from a traditional family, where he was an only child with a strict father and a loving mother. From a young age, we all knew Rick was special. There was no doubt amongst us as a bunch of thirteen year olds that Rick was the best basketball player we knew. 

We knew that Rick was destined for great things, and we had fun with it. Rick’s father was conscious of how good Rick was, and he pushed him very hard to get better. As a thirteen year old, Rick was as good as most twenty one year olds in the park. His dad always told him that his shot had to be perfect or otherwise he’d be nothing. Rick developed an amazing jump shot by the time he was fifteen.

    Growing up, I was the the overweight kid who played all sports, but was average in all of them. Truthfully, what separated me from other average players was that I was best friends with the best players and I could lead them. I absolutely loved playing with Rick and Steve. I was the point guard, and they were responsible for 95% of our scoring. I would bring the ball up court, hand it to one of them, and victory would be ours.

We went through a lot of coaches, and for one reason or another, most thought I was a bad influence, and that I would be in much legal trouble once I got older. I am sure my mouth, and the temper had a lot to do with it.

    Steve was two years younger then Rick and I, and he didn't start playing with us until his older brother left the team. Steve's father was the first coach Rick and I ever had. When we joined the team, the star player was Steve's older brother, who many considered to be the best player in the league. While Steve's brother was throwing down thirty points per game, with Rick helping him, and me watching from the bench and cussing out the coach for not playing me, Steve was struggling on the twelve and under team, and most people didn't even know that he was related to our coach nor the star of the league. 

    Once Rick passed the age limit for the Macabee games, it was time to join the High School basketball team, and start laying down the path to the NBA. We knew it, Rick' parents knew it, the coaches knew it. And Rick' dad made sure Rick knew it. He bought him an official size hoop, and Rick practiced on it almost every day. Rick was an honor student, so he couldn't try out for the school basketball his freshman year because the classes alone were too much. Sophmore year, Rick got hurt playing a pickup game, and had his wrist heaving bandaged when it came to try outs.

Many people would tell you that the best player in the School, wasn;t even on the team. By the time junior year rolled around, Rick was a C student, who played basketball once per month, and barely spoke to his father. Because of the C average, he wasn’t eligible to try out. Rick had to turn things around, and he would. Rick finally tried out for the team his senior year, and he made it. Rick averaged over twenty points in his first three games. In the fourth game, Rick had a dozen points with about three minutes to go in the first half. The team was down by eight, but Rick was dominating at will.

One one play he brought the ball up, and as soon as he crossed half court, a double team came right at him. Rick spun out of it, ran to the three point line, and with the third defender chargin at him, he nailed a fade-away three pointer off the backboard. Rick had that kind of luck in everything he did.

    We didn't know it. He didn't know it, but it would be the last shot he;d take in High School. Rick was benched in the second half and quit the team the following day. No one really knew what happened. What we did know was that it was a small bump on the road, and Rick would still be a star in college. 

    Rick ended up graduating with B- average, but didn't get a single Scholarship offer. He ended up going to a community college. The plan was to dominate for a year, and then go to a big time school. Tryouts weren't until Spring semester, but by the time they rolled around, Rick was enjoying college life so much, that he forgot to go to class. Tryouts didn't happen.

    The week before Rick' birthday party, I had just taken my last exam of my freshman year in City university. After winning three league championships in fifteen and under league, basketball would just be a hobby for me. While everyone went to the neighborhood High School, I had moved a couple of blocks down, and was now zoned for another school. I did not know a single person coming into the school, and from the violent reputation of the school, it wasn't a good thing. 

My mother, bless her heart, wanted no part of me in this new school and thought I should go to the school all my friends were going to. The school board felt otherwise since I was zoned to this school. My friends had a brilliant idea, of letting one of the old lady’s in the neighborhood, letting me use her address, and telling the school that’s where I lived.

    It was pure genius, and now I could sleep at night in peace knowing I'd be going to school with all my friends. The following Monday, I had an appointment with the principal of my old neighborhoods High School. All I had to do was show him the old lady's gas bill, phone bill, and I'm in. He scanned the phone bill, the gas bill, and any second now, he'd get up, shake my hand and welcome me to the school. He got up, extended his hand, and said the words I'd never forget "So what's your address". Who the hell would ask you your address, when it;s on all the papers? The Sherlock Holmes that I was, I hadn't even bothered to memorize the old lady's address. 

    I ended up attending my new zoned school where I knew no one. I was the only kid from my junior High School to go there. I didn't think I would survive my freshman year, but somehow I graduated. Amazingly I was accepted into a city University. I truly believed that because I came from a school with such a bad reputation, no legit college would even consider me, and I would have to join the Marines. I got a full ride to poor man's Harvard. 

    My first year in college was something else. Spring semester, I decided to pledge a fraternity with a college buddy. While rushing, I was experiencing things I had never experienced before. Hanging out with fifty people willing to do almost anything for you is an incredible high, and I loved every minute of it. I stopped hanging out with Steve and Rick, because this was college, and it was my time to make new life-long friends. They would understand. On a couple of occasions I would get a call from Rick or Steve. I would usually be in a crowded place with a lot of yelling. The phone would usually disconnect half way through the conversation, and I would forget to call back.

There would be times where a month would pass and I wouldn’t talk to my best friends. I figured, why the hell should I call them? They got my number too, and if they aint calling, I aint calling.

    When Steve turned thirteen, his father finally said he could join the team his brother led for the last three years. Not much was expected, as Rick was going to lead us to victory on most nights, with me passing him the ball and the rest of the team watching. Steve could sit on the bench his 1st year and watch, and maybe if he worked on it, he could be the sixth man the following year. Steve's first season passed as planned, as he watched from the bench as his best friends ran around having fun. 

Truth be told, you could have put anyone on the court with Rick, but Steve’s father kept saying that Steve wasn’t ready, Steve showed up to training camp for his season four inches taller then what he left the previous year. It was going to be the last season for Rick and I, as we were going to be turning sixteen. Steve was fourteen, but was now six-two, and could almost dunk. By the end of that season, Steve was our go to player.

    Steve ended up going to a High School with a big basketball tradition, and started on the same team with a player who would go onto become a Top fifteen selection in the NBA draft. By the time Steve was a sophmore in High School, he was able to perform dunks which were unheard of for white players. He was the leading scorer for his team. 

    The week before Rick' nineteenth birthday, Steve had just finished his Junior year in High School, with a couple of Scholarship offers on the table already, Steve only cared about one school, North Carolina University. But they handn't called nor had they come to any of his games. 

   It was now year 2002, seven years later. It was Rick' nineteenth birthday party, and the three of us hadn't seen each other in a long time. 

    I was shocked when I got an invitation to Rick' birthday bash. I hadn't spoken to neither Steve nor Rick in about three and a half months. I wanted to call more then anything, but how could I? How could I allow myself to lose and admit that I need them. And I needed them more than anything. 

A week before I got the invitation from Rick, I was to be initiated into my new brotherhood. In those days, being initiated meant being hazed for a very long time. The hazing took place for three days. Two people I became very close with would drop out in the middle of it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I quit. After the completion of the ceremony, I didn’t accept my letters, and walked out. I had never felt so lonely in my life. The people with whom I rushed all accepted their letters. We were like brothers during the process, but I was just an outsider now, and no matter how much they said it, I knew our friendship couldn’t hold up, and it didn’t.

    It would all be back to normal now. Rick, Steve and I would reunite. The night came and we would all meet up at the restaurant at 9. I hadn't spoken to Steve in months, so I was pleasantly surprised when he called and offered to give me a ride to the restaurant. We hugged and just talked about what we had been up to and etc. Steve would often sarcastically say "It's nice of you to take time off from your brothers and join us".

I would just laugh it off and move on. When we got to the restaurant, Rick hadn’t arrived yet, but a bunch of his guests were already there. The only person I knew there was Steve. Steve already knew all of these kids and I was the “new guy” being introduced to Rick’ and Steve’s friends. I had never felt so out of place in my life.

    Rick finally arrived with his parents, and after greeting everyone, he came up to Steve and I, and the three of us exchanged our childhood secret handshakes. We hugged, exchanged pleasantries, and it was time to dance and have a blast with all of the hot girls there. 

    I don't know what the hell was wrong with me, but instead of having a great time, I just continued to feel way out place. I couldn't stop thinking about what happened in college, and here I was again feeling like a total outsider. I felt so uncomfortable that I kept going outside, and instead of going back in, I would take strolls around the block. No one there knew who I was, so no one would even know I was gone, and time would go by quicker. 

     After my third trip around the block, I came back inside the restaurant and sat down alone in the corner. Rick came up to me and wanted to talk. I still remember his exact words, 'If being with your "brothers" is so important to you that you can't even stay with me on my birthday, that you have to go outside every ten minutes and call your frat brothers, maybe you should go and be with them'.

I wanted to tell him…I wanted to tell him more then anything…The weight of it had been crushing my spine and here was my chance to dump the waste. I tried to say it, but the words just wouldn’t come out. I just couldn’t do it. I nodded in agreement, and left. We have not spoken in three years.

Your subject drew me in, but the length of this post chased my interest away.

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