Believe In Each Other

“He awoke to the sound of a boom and a shaking that he had never felt before. As he turned to flip the lamp on, he realized the power was out. He was sitting in total darkness. But usually, with darkness, it was quiet. Not this time. He heard faint car alarms, destruction and worst of all, shrieking and screaming. He found himself somewhere between still being half asleep, terrified and curious. Stepping out of the bedroom, there was another boom, but this time, more of a cracking sound and further in the distance. Still, the shaking was felt, even if the sound was further away. He stumbled to the front door and slowly opened it, not knowing what to really expect.
Stepping outside, the prevailing feeling became terrified as the city he was standing in was littered with fires, wrecked vehicles and people running through the streets trying to escape something that had horrified them. In that moment, several thoughts began running through his head. “What is everyone running from?”, “Should I just start running with them?”, “Is this war, anarchy, zombies?”, “Do I go back inside and just lock the door?” The thought that kept repeating between all of these other jumbled thoughts made the most sense. “What the hell is going on here??”  

Strangely, amid the internal questioning and taking in the surroundings, there was a moment of clarity, a moment of calm. Almost trance like, he began walking in the direction the people were coming from. He didn’t know where this decision had come from or what he was even doing walking in that direction. His body was just making the movements, with no regard to the trepidation in his head. Pure chaos passed him on the streets as he walked towards the center of town. As he approached a flashing red stop light at an intersection, apparently running on some emergency generator, something caught his attention. There was a gas station to his left. There was a faint sound of a person, calling out.  As he made his way closer to the station, he could see the outline of a person reaching out of the partially blocked entry doors to the facility. The constant rumbling and shaking had toppled the sign from the storefront and it sat twisted across the doorway. The person was alone, hoping and reaching for someone to pull them from the collapsing backdrop. He approached the door and moved the sign just enough for the door to sling open and she jumped into his arms. She could not get the “Thank You” out fast enough before he turned to run grabbing her hand. It was time to run with the crowd now instead of heading into it.  

They ran from street to street, surveying the landscape, thinking internally and sometimes aloud, but clinging to each other. They didn’t know where they were going, what they were running from or even each other’s names. They were just going on instincts. Those instincts told them to run, to stay with each other because 2 heads were better than 1 and they needed to find somewhere safe. They reached a small opening in what appeared to be a bridge that had collapsed. There was only one little opening so they went in and it opened up enough for them to hide. They were able to pull some metal and shrapnel over the opening and they finally introduced themselves to each other. Somehow they just knew at that moment that they were meant to find each other during this event. It was just one more unexplainable moment in what had turned out to be the most unexplainable evening of their lives.

The loud crashes and chaotic sounds finally subsided. They chose to continue to wait, partly out of common sense that they needed to let the dust completely settle and partly out of fear that their minds were just tricking them into thinking everything was ok. After what felt like several days had passed, he thought the time was right to check everything out. He grabbed her hand and they emerged from the rubble together. The sun was shining bright, the fires were gone and there was silence all around. Whatever caused this had come and gone and they were standing together looking at what was left of the city they called home. They walked back down the street they frantically ran up a couple of days before. Now, just slowly walking, in silence, holding hands.  They began to notice people starting to come into view from the various hiding spots they had jumped in. There weren’t as many people as before but they were coming out to see the sun as well. As they approached the center of town, they realized that whatever was happening previously was over. They were safe again. They began to let their guard down a little. They even glanced at each other and smiled for a moment. When they did, they both knew that they had made it together. He was led into that chaos for a reason, although he didn’t know at the time. She needed someone to hold her hand so she would know that she was not alone in the crumbling world. But now, it was over and everyone was slowly making their way back to their homes and shelter. They turned and just looked at each other, not knowing whether to say goodbye to each other or use this chance meeting as a glimpse into humanity they hadn’t seen in a while. So, they just continued to hold hands and just stood there.”

My friends, we are in a very difficult time in our existence. The human race has been here before but this is sort of new for my generation. Have we experienced trying times? Of course we have but this feels like a new day, a new level of burdens and worries. People we thought we knew turn out to be someone altogether different. Friends we thought we had turn out to be strangers. We have become devoted to our 24 hour news cycle and adherent to our social media shares. We take it all for gospel without using our own judgments and never question validity or legitimacy. I love social media as much as the next person and Alicia would probably tell you that I love it too much. But in today’s world, it hurts us as much, if not more, than it helps us. It feeds hatred and spurs commentary without fear of retribution.  
The story above is representative of the society that we are in right now and I use it to bring up a few thoughts for your consideration. I don’t know how to answer or address all of the thoughts yet but I think we are being forced to think about it. We may not have all the answers or fully understand why we are where we are today. We may not even know where we are, or at least we haven’t accepted it yet. I can tell you where I think we are. We are standing on our doorstep, looking at a burning city, a burning state, a burning country. There are people running in all directions, using their own misguided assumptions or what their friends tell them or what the internet tells them to determine the type of person they are going to be or, in some cases, they feel like they have to be, to survive.  

Sometimes, we can’t listen to all of the thoughts in our head about what’s happening around us. Our minds are not always our friends. What we need to be able to do is listen to what our heart is telling us. We need to be able to turn into the direction the fearful are running from and find someone who needs help. If we are the ones that need help, we need to reach out and let someone do just that when they have offered. Whichever person we are, we also need to be mindful of each other. We need to recognize the calling of the hurt or the scared. We need to recognize those that hold our hands when we are the ones calling out. We can not do this alone. We must help each other; most definitely if we are friends, but even if we are strangers.

We have to believe in each other. We have to believe in ourselves. We have to believe that we can repair our society. We have to believe that we have some control and we have some say in how our lives turn out. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. Will it ever be perfect like in the movies? I think the honest response is that we have advanced too far to answer that affirmatively. I do know there are good people out there though. We can not allow ourselves to be represented by the few. We have to stand for what we believe in and hold the hand of that person next to us that is looking for something to believe in. We can be a light to someone, even if it is just one other person. Really, that’s all it would take if we all did it. If you can’t be a light, find someone who is and cling to them. We don’t have to save the world but we can start by saving each other.  

This is not just for the people that are struggling with worldly/societal issues either. This could be for the person that doesn’t know how they are going to afford their next grocery cart full of goodies. Someone who has been abandoned by people they love. Someone who has lost a loved one. Someone who is ill and has struggled with coping. Look next to you in the checkout line or at the red light or at the dinner table. We are all hurting right now through some cause. We have to help each other. We are all we have! A movie star isn’t going to save us. Nor is our government. Our snapchat friends and twitter followers are not going to be our light. We have to look within and to the people that are physically in our lives. There is a lot of fear in our eyes right now. We don’t know what is going on around us but we know we need to run for shelter. While we are running, we need to pick up those that need to be there with us.

My final point relates to the final paragraph of the passage. When we reach out to someone and they accept our helping hand, or vice versa, we can’t tell them goodbye and retreat to our lives when the coast is clear. This is covered ever so gracefully in a song by Thrice, “Stay With Me.” I am asking you all to reach out during a time of need. Now is a time for friendship and caring. But I want you to answer the questions posed in the song – “Would you stay with me, if you thought the war was over and everything made right? Would you still believe in us? Would your love for me grow colder with no one left to fight?” Really think about it.  

Think about someone who has been there for you when you thought your world could not get any worse. When things got better, how easy was it for you to go back to your old ways and forget the ones that reached out their hand? This can be said about personal relationships, religion, really anything. I’m guilty so I am not trying to be hypocritical either. When we struggle, we reach out to friends, pastors, family and God. They don’t only need to hear from us during those times. I can think of a handful of people I have met in very difficult circumstances. I didn’t know why or how I met them and didn’t really question it at the time. I do know that those people will forever have a place in my heart and they mean a lot to me. They will never be forgotten. It’s time for us to become unforgettable. It’s time for us to do things the right way, regardless of what our society says we should do. Friends, we are now in a very difficult set of circumstances and we need to make room in our hearts for those that are hurting and those that need it the most.


Sports Cards – More Than Meets The Eye

I have used this forum to discuss my affinity for sports cards before.  But a brief discussion with a friend today made me think about what the hobby is like for those of us who are into it and what it seems like for the non collector.  It has so many layers today as opposed to back in the 80’s when I started.  There is retail, hobby, grading, inserts, variations, errors (intentional and unintentional), autographs, memorabilia cards (some legit/some fake), outright fake cards, numbered cards, valuable oddities and some players that just bust on the scene and unleash fury on the market.  I am neck deep in the hobby and it’s hard for me to keep up with everything.  I thought I’d put together a little “Beginners Guide to Collecting” for those in my life that I burden with my hobby talk.

I sometimes long for the days of the simple set and collecting my favorite player just to have it for my collection.  That’s where Bailey is at and I’m trying to keep her there as long as I can.  Her favorite is football right now and if she pulls a Todd Gurley, AJ Green or Andrew Luck, she’s on cloud 9, regardless of whether it’s a common card or insert.  For a quick description: each card set (Topps, Upper Deck, Panini, etc) contains a base set of cards that are found in every pack.  Randomly “inserted” into those packs are more rare items that range from a simple subset card with minimal value to a low number autograph that can be very valuable.  We both open a pack together and I’ll see duds and she’ll be ecstatic.  Then we’ll pull a rare gem and I’ll get excited and she’ll be like, “what’s the big deal?”  She should know by now that a reverse negative of Mike Trout in a throwback uniform with a fake gum stain on the back of the card is a nice hit.  Geez, this has really become more difficult than it has to be.

To start with, let’s talk “retail” vs “hobby”.  Collecting is not as simple as going to Target or Wal Mart and picking up a couple of packs anymore.  I used to think it was in the late 80’s/early 90’s but I’ve found out that even then, I was most likely getting a raw deal.  The descriptions are just what they say.  You but retail packs at retail stores.  You buy hobby at your local hobby shop and from wholesalers online.  You can buy either from EBay but buying retail on eBay is akin to taking your money and lighting it on fire.  For the serious collector, hobby is the way to go.  To begin with, there just aren’t as many “hits” in retail packs.  The prices are more reasonable because of that but you’ve got to love commons and base sets to go retail.  There are occasional hits in retail but they are very rare due to a couple of things: print ratio and the following rant….

The most prevalent problem with retail is what we in the hobby call, “pack searchers”.  Next time you go to Target, take a look at an open box of cards.  Are they all upside down, sideways and generally in shambles?  That’s not a kid that got overzealous.  That’s a grown man (or woman) who most likely took some type of tool like a magnet or scale or ruler into the store with him to investigate all the packs in the box.  He weighed them to see if he could spot the autograph or memorabilia pack as it might be heavier, measured the thickness to find the odd pack that contains a hit or even used a magnet to find a rare printing plate.  He went through every pack bending and sliding cards with his fingers to take any that stood out to him as potential winners.  There are some very hot debates about whether these type of people should be allowed to continue to function in society but I’m here to tell you that they are cheats in my book.  You want to hold a couple of packs and make a reasonable judgment, go ahead.  But if you break out the tool kit, you might as well sign up for ISIS.  Reputable hobby stores will not allow that type of behavior.  So, the pros for hobby are exactly the opposite of the cons of retail: higher hit ratios and no pack searchers.  You always have to be careful online, retail or hobby, trust me.

Next, let’s talk about grading.  This is not a very old addition to the hobby, starting around the mid 90’s.  But today, it’s a vital part of collecting older cards, ensuring you are getting a card in good condition or just preserving your favorites as you collect them.  Of course, there is an additional price for this service but in most cases, it increases the value of the card.  High graded vintage cards are both valuable and hard to find.  A grade of 6 or better is usually very sought after in the pre 1970’s sets.  A grade of 6 in a current set would mean you let your dog open the pack for you.  PSA is my personal favorite but I’ve also used Beckett on occasion.  They will also help with the authentication of autographs and memorabilia cards.  They’ll even help you sniff out those Jordan Rookie fakes that are floating around eBay.  There services are a tremendous help for the hobby and can help you increase the value of your collection without adding new cards.  

Autographs are the big hits in today’s packs, with the exception of the occasional printing plate or 1 of 1 inserts.  Autographs can come in many different levels.  Of course the superstars are hard to get.  But most autographs that are found in packs today are of rookies who have not proven any worth on the field yet.  Their value is pushed by potential and scarcity of their autograph on the market.  One of my favorite sets to collect is Topps Archives, because the autographs that are available in that set are usually from 80’s / 90’s players that I grew up collecting.  Not always valuable but very nostalgic.  Some of my favorites have been Ron Gant, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Bruce Smith and Dwight Clark.  They aren’t going to break the bank but they are household names for anyone who watched sports from my generation.  Plus, they did something on the field and had solid careers.  How many people ran out and paid hundreds for that Johnny Manziel autograph that didn’t pan out?

There is also the IP (In Person) and TTM (Through The Mail) autograph for those serious hobby’ers who like to do it themselves.  We have AJ Green, Todd Gurley, Chris Conley, Freddie Freeman, Dominique Wilkins and others that we got over the years in person.  We’ve had some success TTM with Tony Stewart, Dale Jr., Wade Boggs, Christian Laettner and Harrison Barnes.  These options are usually cheaper than those you buy online (and sometimes free altogether) but they lack the authentication you get from the companies like Topps and Panini.  That’s where PSA and Beckett services come in handy.  Regardless of your intent with authentication or selling, nothing beats that one on one interaction with the athlete, especially when your kid is with you.  Bryce Harper is on my list of “ones that got away.”  I was 3 people away from getting his autograph at a spring training game when he was a rookie and the line shut down.  Now, I’ll have to pay a couple hundred bucks for it if I want it.  Still sick over that one.I was so close…..

Bryce Harper was not a kid that came out of nowhere.  He was in ESPN The Magazine when he was just 16 and in high school.  Lebron didn’t sneak up on us either.  But those guys that do come out of nowhere are one of my favorite parts of the hobby.  You could be sitting on the next big star and not even know it.  His card is just collecting dust in a box and then boom!  Trevor Story, shortstop for the Colorado Rockies is 2016’s version.  This guy has a couple of cards dating back to 2011 that most likely were shoved in the back of the closet.  He comes out in 2016 and lights the world on fire for a couple of months and he has a card sell on eBay for $20,000 – allegedly.  I say allegedly because it in fact sold but there are questions about the arms length nature of the sale.  Nothing I can verify or rightfully dispute but it did sell.  To be fair, it was a 1 of 1, super-refractor card but still not a valuable card at all prior to April 2016.  Kurt Warner, Antonio Gates, Jeremy Lin and Mike Piazza are a few more that weren’t heralded rookies.  For every “out of nowhere” guy there are probably 5 can’t miss guys.  Anybody remember Kevin Maas, Brien Taylor, Ryan Leaf, Tim Tebow, Matt Leinart, Todd Van Poppel, Darko Milicic, Kwame Brown or Greg Oden?  I remember them very well.  They were huge busts!

Last on the docket for this discussion is the oddballs, cool inserts and errors.  Errors used to be just that.  Mistakes made at the printing facility that escaped into packs and had to be corrected later.  Billy Ripkin’s 1989 Fleer is one of the most famous.  He had a pretty vulgar comment written on the knob of his bat and it was captured for all the world to see.  Once they discovered it, they tried to correct it several ways.  First, it was just rubbed out, then there was black tape superimposed.  I think there were 4 versions in total.  These were highly sought after mistakes back in the day.  Now, companies will make intentional errors in a call back to the good old days.  Topps has even superimposed a gum stain on the back of some recent releases to harken back to the days where gum was included in the packs.  Perhaps the most error ridden set was 1990 Pro Set Football.  They either turned a kid loose in the system or had a kangaroo running the plant.  There are so many errors in the set!  But it still makes opening a vintage $10 box entertaining.  And there’s also a cards with Santa Claus on it.  Yeah.  Throw in old Kaybee or KMart sets, Purina Cards, Garbage Pail (old school) and card of that sort and you’ve got something for everyone.

So that’s my 10 cent, 20,000 foot view of collecting.  Now, maybe the puzzling look on my face at Wal Mart or my excitement walking out of Comics and Cards here in Albany can have a little depth.  It’s a legit hobby and the companies try something new every year to keep it fresh.  Some ideas are home runs and some are fumbles.  But they are making an effort and I appreciate it as a collector.  I love talking about the hobby and it’s a wonderful experience that I share with Bailey.  It’s just more complicated than you think.


The Human Element

I’m going to break my own rule of keeping this blog light hearted and nostalgic and fun. I’m sure the feedback will be mixed on this one too but this is where I am at. I am not speaking for a nation or a state or a people. I am speaking for Joseph Shiver. We have all lived a unique life and wear our own glasses to view the world in which we live. I am not black or Muslim or a police officer so I can’t speak from any of those perspectives. Nor can I discount what any of those groups claim as their perspective. But, I am a human being. And I have to ask, “What the hell are we doing people?”

Let’s start with the simplest of statements. Don’t believe everything you see on Facebook! That goes for the news as well. If you haven’t figured out by now, “the right and the left” tailor their stories for their constituents. If you want to read about how Hillary should go to prison, go to the conservative sites. If you want to read about how Trump will destroy the country, which wouldn’t take a lot of effort considering the current state of affairs, check out liberal media. I find myself leaning more and more towards the middle.  

What’s the number 1 hot button issue in politics? Race. I’m not about to sit here and tell you it isn’t a real issue. I’ve been around long enough to know that it is one of the most volatile issues we face in our country. But here are my thoughts on how politics and race married, forming the unholiest of unions. It is used by both sides to further their own progress, to our detriment as a human race. The left is going to feed you news that infuriates their party and keeps the fire stoked while their candidate struggles through criminal charges for wrongdoing. The right is going to feed you news that does the same for their party while their candidate shoots off at the mouth every chance he gets about minorities or women or building a wall. They are both despicable in their own unique ways in my opinion. It’s true, there are more important things going on besides thousands of email breaches but don’t divide the country to prove your point.

 Keep in mind that I am not talking about the actual events at all. That’s where my comments above about not having the appropriate perspective come in. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man pulled over by the police. I also don’t know what it’s like to be a police officer trying to get a suspect to comply. What I do know is the way the events are reported is screwed up. There is no other way I can explain how people have such staunch responses to a tragic event such as this. There are no winners or losers but the media makes it out that way. I’m telling you that everybody loses when something like this happens. We have one group sharing memes about the deceased being a convicted sex offender carrying a concealed weapon and the other shares memes about him being a family man. It works both ways too. The recently “convicted”, and I use that term loosely, college swimmer who brutally raped a girl after a campus party, was shown on some news sites in his graduation photos or with his swimming garb on. The other sites showed his mug shot, as was, I believe, appropriate.  

 Here’s the only fact we really know when a story like this breaks – “We know absolutely nothing about all of the events that took place.” All we do know is that the end result was horrific. But arguments over the end result quickly spin into debates on what is or isn’t justified. Do you see the problem in this? How can we determine if anything is justified or not without full disclosure? We have a snippet of a cell phone video but it doesn’t tell the whole story. I know what I see and it doesn’t look good. But I haven’t seen everything. What I did see was a man lose his life. Whether or not it was justified is not the immediate issue in my mind. My heart goes out to the deceased’s family as they have lost a father, husband and brother. He may or may not have been a terrible guy but he was those things to some people and those people will be hurting. Then my heart goes out to the officers involved because they will immediately be under fire for their actions. They have to live with that moment for the rest of their lives, right or wrong. And any human being with a conscience will wrestle with that until the day they die.  

 Therein lie’s the problem. Is it not ok for me to feel for both parties? Do both parties not deserve that immediate consideration until the facts present themselves in their entirety? If I “Back the Blue”, does that make me either a racist or someone who doesn’t care about the victim? If I support the victim’s family in their grief, does that make me “anti-police”? You can answer that however you want to but I can assure that I am neither. Then the million dollar question becomes, “When is taking someone else’s life justifiable?” I don’t want to nor am I qualified to answer that question. I believe there is only one judge and jury. I know that I will go to any lengths to protect myself and my family but fortunately, I am not in the position to have to do that every time I go to work. So it’s not for me to try the police for murder on social media. Nor is it for me to condemn the deceased as someone who got what they deserved.

 I grew up in Small Town America (I hate that term), Camilla, GA. I went to Mitchell-Baker High School and anyone will tell you that I am proud to say that. I have played sports from the time I was 11 until this very day with a diverse group of people. I have not been sheltered to race and it’s effects on us as a society. But again, I have always considered myself a human being. That is my race. I consider BJ Harris, Ashley Kinnett, Joe Jackson, Tavis Cole, Jorge Rodriguez and Jomar Diaz my friends and brothers in this world, among many, many others. That’s why it bothers me so much to see friends and family fall victim to this enraging game that is played with us. It pits us against one another. It reveals our weaknesses as a society. You begin to question whether you should be friends with people anymore because of what they share on FB instead of relying on what you believe to be in their heart from a lifetime of knowing them.

 When the facts come out, if the police were in the wrong, they should be dealt with accordingly. If the suspect’s actions led to the result, let’s talk to each other about what should be done differently without accusations or division. We have to stand up for what’s right and condemn what’s wrong, no matter whose side of the fence it happens on. It’s ok to feel for the victim and family. It’s ok to be thankful for all of the police that protect us. It’s ok to stand in solidarity against violence. It’s ok to condemn a criminal just like its ok to condemn a bad cop. It’s NOT ok to incite violence or promote violence or cheer when violence occurs as many have the last few days. What I witnessed last night happening in Dallas is the stuff of nightmares. It never settles the score. It never evens the scale. It only deepens the chasm that is fracturing us as human beings. And in the end, that is what we all are; living, feeling human beings.


Hoop Dreams

I grew up at the absolute best time to be a basketball fan!  And I’ve been one since I can remember.  I began playing at about 11 with the RA team at First Baptist Church and last played just Tuesday night at Sherwood in our season opener for church league.  So, if you are counting, that’s 28 years of playing basketball.  That beats softball/baseball by a few years.  I love playing, watching, coaching or just shooting around.  I won’t say that it’s always come natural because I’ve had some great teachers along the way.  But I will say that I have always been more confident on the basketball court than any other sports field.

I think that for the most part, I’ve always understood my limitations in basketball more so than any other sport.  In basketball, you can beat someone in a lot of different ways.  The key is finding out what you do best and trying to perfect it.  It’s a lot like life if you think of it that way.  In softball, technology has become the name of the game.  Sure, guys are strong and powerful but it doesn’t hurt to be swinging the newest $300 bat that has been shaved down to the equivalent of a composite wafer.  Why not use a re-stitched softball while you’re at it?  Oh yeah, that happens too.  I’m not a homerun hitter and no amount of technology will change that.  But the playing field is never very even.  And I get myself into trouble more often than not trying to be someone I’m not, on the softball field.  

Basketball is a different game.  Give me a nice $100 NBA licensed basketball or one that you get at Wal Mart for $10 and I’ll make a free throw with either one (about 75% of the time).  But there is something in basketball that I can’t change.  Something I’ve always had to work around.  I’m just going to come out and say it.  I’m a short, chubby guy that can’t jump.  Read that how you want to but the 90’s movie title wasn’t off base.  I haven’t always been chubby but I’ve always been short (and non-jumping).  So, it was easy to recognize early on what my deficiencies were going to be and what I was going to have to focus on.  I was going to be a shooter, not a dunker.  I would shoot outside, not at the rim.  I would learn how to steal, not block shots.  I would perfect passing, not rebounding.  Finally, I would hone my dribbling skills because the bigs (as us short folks call them) can’t take the ball from me if I can dribble.  The other unique thing about basketball is that you can practice all by yourself so I didn’t need friends over to go shoot.

So that’s how it started and went for many years.  My backyard with a basketball was where I could be found almost any time of day for most of the year.  I practiced what I saw on TV, what my close friend Rusty was able to do and what I got beat with at school.  All the moves and tricks stayed with me and I practiced them over and over.  Some of them would click and some would never fit for me.  I used what clicked.  I would practice them on Coop or Brewer or Little Man or Munt.  They all had their own playing styles so it helped me figure out what worked in certain situations.  It was such a chess game to me and became what drove me.  I still think to this day that I learned a lot of problem solving skills and adversity training from basketball.  No matter how much you play, there is always going to be somebody that can out jump you, is faster, stronger, can shoot better or can handle the ball better.  And there were many, including the guys that I mentioned just above.  They all had certain skills I would mimic to make myself more rounded.  Brewer was tall and could dunk and block shots.  Munt was a tremendous ball handler and shooter.  Little man could defend and Coop was adept at rebounding.    They all provided unique learning perspectives.

I can remember playing every day during the summer, whether in my backyard, at The Parramore Pavillion, Westwood or Mitchell Middle – we were playing somewhere.  I was in wonderful shape.  Thus the not chubby part at the time I suppose.  We played in city leagues, we created our own leagues, we played 2 on 2, we would play 5 on 5 in the gym, you name it.  We were always playing though.  During the school year, I would rush to the lunchroom when the lunch bell would ring.  Not to be the first in line but to get to the gym in time to make a free throw to get on a squad for pickup games.  If you didn’t make the free throw, or sometimes 3 pointer, to get on the main goals, you’d be banished to the side goals to play.  I was fine either way but especially enjoyed the main goal because that was the toughest competition.  

The main goals were where I would play with Jumaine Jones (future NBA player) or Ronald Blackshear or Kelvin Hayes or Alex Carter or Carlus Haywood or Derrick Harris.  The list is much more extensive but I don’t have the room or the time.  Carlus was a giant at almost 7 feet tall but was as gentle a guy as he could be for that size.  He was great on the court though.  I enjoyed playing with him.  He recently passed away but I’ll always have great memories of camaraderie that I wouldn’t have otherwise had if I hadn’t picked up a basketball.  One of my favorite opponents at lunch was Coach English.  He would clear the court after the balls were taken up and play somebody one on one in front of everyone and we played often.  He was a very good outside shooter and was strong as an ox.  Those were good times.  I like to think I held my own against that competition.  I was appreciated for my jump shot and was never a ball hog.  

To go along with the actual playing, the game was exploding on TV and I was able to witness some of the greatest players and plays of all time.  As a teen, I saw the Fab Five play, Laettner hit the shot, Jordan beat Cleveland and, a few years later, Utah on memorable shots.  I saw players in their prime that will forever be known as some of the greatest – Jordan, Nique, Bird, Magic, Barkley, Iverson, Shaq, Malone, Stockton, Hakeem, Clyde the Glyde, Hardaway, Ewing, Reggie.  Certain events that will always stick in my mind are related to baskeball.  I remember when Magic announced that he was HIV positive.  I remember when Reggie Lewis died.  I remember when Jordan retired the first time.  Those were “where were you when” moments for me. The first Dream Team, Reggie Miller scoring 8 points in 11 seconds in the Garden, the Webber timeout – all in my youthful heyday!  Then, of course, there were the video games.  NBA Jam, NBA Live, Double Dribble, Hoops…..what a great time to be alive.  I would play basketball until my feet hurt and then get callous’ on my hands playing NBA Live with one of the greatest video game teams ever, The Orlando Magic with Shaq, Penny, 3D and Nick Anderson.

Fast forward to 2016.  I’m still trying to play and still love the game as much as I ever have.  The names have changed, the basketball card designs are fancier and I create myself on video games now but the game is still meaningful.  The Hawks just signed one of the most polarizing players in the league in Dwight Howard, Lebron just beat the team that had the best win/loss regular season record ever in the Finals, Kevin Durant just joined that team and DWade actually moved to a team I can pull for.  It’s not Jordan, Bird and Magic but I still enjoy.  The fact is that it’s a highly entertaining game, a mentally and physically challenging sport and a large part of my childhood.  My points are coming a little closer to the basket these days but I think I can still hold my own to be a short, chubby old guy who can’t jump as good as when he was 21, which wasn’t very good at all.  That jumper is still legit though.