Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Scroll down to 12-19-16 to read from the beginning.

            Twenty-six years later I was doing graduate work at the University of Iowa.  It was the last day before Christmas break and I was in the field house "shooting around" with a friend.  We weren't working hard at it; after all, we were approaching forty years of age.  Only a few others were working out.  Most students were getting ready to go home for the break.  A few players from the basketball team were there, however, out on the main floor, scrimmaging on their own.
            "Hey," they yelled at Fred and me.  "We need two more guys.  Come on over."
            "Good grief," I muttered to Fred.  "That's suicide.  Look at the size of those guys!  We'd better just stay right here."
            "Aw, come on," he said.  "How often do we get to play on the big floor?"
            One thing about basketball players: they never lose the lust for the big floor. We went.
            I was assigned to play opposite a young man I had only seen on television before.  He was a product of inner-city playgrounds, so fast he could "turn out the light and be in bed before it was dark."  He stood six inches above my six feet and one.  He had the widest, happiest grin I think I have ever seen, and it got even wider as he looked at me. 
            I was "shirts" and he was "skins," which made him even more intimidating.  Muscles rippled on him like waves on a tawny sand beach. 
            The shirts had the ball out first.  Instinctively I set up just to the right of the basket.  Some foolhardy guard threaded a needle pass between somebody's legs and it hit me in the hands.  My only thought was to get rid of that "specious spheroid" as quickly as possible.  I twisted right and hooked.  Swish!  Everybody stood around for a moment; it had happened so fast, and it was so unexpected...
            Then the skins had the ball and my man drove for the basket.  I lunged, thinking I might at least be able to tackle him.  He was too fast; I couldn't even get the back of his pants as he went by.
            I set up again. This time I hooked left.  He was caught defending on the wrong side.  Swish! Everything I shot went in.  No shot was like the one before it.  I couldn't stop him, but he couldn't stop me.  Back and forth we ran.  I went outside and hurled my overhead shot.  I went inside and hooked with either hand from either side.  He drove around me or shot his jump shot over me.  The other players set picks for us and fed us the ball. It was one-on-one with a supporting cast.
            "Give me that rotund orb," I shouted at my fellow shirts.
            "Man, you talk wierd," came the voice from over my shoulder. I could not see him, but I knew he was grinning.
            "Look out when I get that bulbous roundel," I exulted, "or you'll wish you were in the morgue." 
            I could feel it!  This time I didn't even bother to look at the basket.  I just flipped it over my head.  Swish!
            "Man, you are too old for this," he teased.  "You the one gonna be in the morgue, from a heart attack.  You from a different time zone!"
            "You should be ashamed, letting an old guy score on you," I shot back.  "I don't even have a scholarship."
            "Can't give scholarships to guys over a hundred," he informed me.
            I was pleased to see that the game was still played with the mouth.
            At fifty to fifty the game was called.  It was time for Christmas break.  We staggered to the drinking fountain.
            He held the pedal down while I put my head under the stream and drank.  Then I held it down for him.  He drank as I gasped.  Finally we just stood there, on either side of the fountain, heads down, fists grasping the legs of our shorts, searching for oxygen.
            By the time I thought I might live through it after all, he looked up and grinned and said, "Man, you're the baddest dude I ever saw.  Where'd you learn those moves, anyway?"
            "Indiana," I gasped.
            "I should have known it!  You played at IU.”    
He said it as though it were an accusation of unfair competition, as though I had pulled a fast one.
            "No," I said, my heart rate slowing down to about 300.  "Not on the IU team.  That's just how I learned when I was a kid."
            "Man, you mustv'e been some bad kid."
            "You ever get a basketball for Christmas?" I asked him.
            "Sure," he replied.  "Played with it all the time."
            "Must have been the wrong kind," I said.  "You gotta have a really bad ball to learn to play where I come from."
            "Yeah," he grinned.  "A bad ball.  I gotta get me one of them."
            "Do that," I told him, "or you'll wish you were in the morgue."
            Then we went home for Christmas.


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