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The Basketball Kid, Part 2

March 17, 2007

So who is The Basketball Kid? Well, on one level he is the persona invented for me by my friend Ramblin’ Pete just a couple days ago, on the eve of our annual hibernation into the jittery sanctuary that is the first two days of the NCAA college basketball tournament. We’re in a pool every year with some other friends, and Pete basically demanded that I enter the pool this year with the moniker The Basketball Kid. On that level, The Basketball Kid is doing OK. After the first two days of the tournament, he’s currently tied for sixth in a field of twenty-four, within striking distance of the top (and also just a couple key losses away from oblivion).

On another level, The Basketball Kid is the young lad pictured here. This is me in the only photo I own, despite all my years playing basketball, in which I’m wearing a basketball uniform. It was photo day for my junior varsity team, and I could not keep a straight face to save my life. The photographer kept directing us to freeze ourselves in poses that harkened back to the days of George Mikan and the two-hand set shot, and I kept bursting out laughing. The photographer began to lose patience with me. Etched into his expression was an unsaid admonishment not at all unfamiliar to me during those years: Jesus Christ, kid. Grow up.
On this second level, The Basketball Kid is a skinny fifteen-year-old who is about to let the thing most important to him at that time, basketball, slip away from him, and all he can think do is giggle like a much younger child.

But over the past couple days, as worries and burdens have slipped through the cracks of my self-made NCAA cave, I have begun to imagine a third level of existence for The Basketball Kid. This third level connects to the first level in that the third figure I imagine is an extrapolation of the persona invented by Ramblin’ Pete, and it connects to the second level in that the third figure I imagine is something of a negative image of the kid pictured here. He’s the kid in the photo minus the invisible air quotes.

Once I started thinking about this third version of The Basketball Kid, I couldn’t stop. Here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

He represents all that is good and true in the America that may or may not still exist, and that may or may not have ever existed. Teamwork, friendship, strong family ties, an ice cream soda at the corner malt shop, a well-executed two-handed chest pass, holding hands with your steady at the movies, good sportsmanship, politeness, a foul-shot success rate of 85% or better, a warm smile, a clear blue-eyed gaze, optimism, good hygiene, a firm handshake, a strong work ethic, a devotion to selflessly helping the nobly downtrodden, and, of course, a perfect jump shot, a beautiful jump shot, a jump shot as pure as the American Dream.

It has always been this way. In escapade after escapade, handed down in oral tales, in a short-lived Saturday morning television series, and in well-worn library books with such titles as The Basketball Kid Bears Down, The Basketball Kid Drives to the Basket, The Basketball Kid Warms the Bench?, and The Basketball Kid Mysteries XI: The Ghost Under the Bleachers, The Basketball Kid displays his sunny virtues as he solves some school-wide or even town-wide problem while simultaneously leading his ragtag, wisecracking, often injury-hampered squad (Irving “The Professor” Polk, Will “Stretch” Pennington, Chuck “Tubby” Breen, and Joey “The Li’l Dictator” McAvoy generally rounding out the lovable starting five), to a last-second victory over a taller, “more athletic” team from “the city” in The Big Game.

Throughout all the tales the Basketball Kid seems to exist in an unending moment of teenagerhood. He never gets any older, and so is always full of the promise of a bright and boundless future. He also never seems to have a past beyond the obvious implication that at some point previous to the currently unfolding situation he was born and subsequently became acquainted with the members of his family, with “Coach,” and with his buddies on the team. The serial nature of the narratives encourage this trait, but so too does the humbly confident nature of the central character. As The Basketball Kid is fond of pointing out (in a gently ribbing tone), “Don’t think too much, you might break something.” He senses that in basketball, as in life, you start down the endless one-way, no u-turn road to failure the minute you start worrying too much about your jump shot, or your past, or your present, or your future. Just play the game hard, tackle problems as they come, and then when the final buzzer sounds you can walk off the court with no regrets. It is, for The Basketball Kid, always Right Now.

One comment

  1. 1.  2 comments from the old CG site:

    Jon said…
    This Basketball Kid sounds like he’s straight out of Milford (http://gilthorp.wordpress.com/).

    7:58 AM

    Josh Wilker said…
    Thanks for the link to that great site, Jon. Holy moley. I am not familiar with the incredible world of Gil Thorp. According to a Chicago Reader article (http://www.chicagoreader.com/hottype/2003/030418_1.html) it was pulled from the Chicago Sun-Times just before I moved here, and I don’t recall it being in any of the New York tabloids when I lived there. The article also points out that when the original author of the strip died, the writing was taken over by Jerry Jenkins, coauthor of the apocalyptic Christian Left Behind books.

    10:01 AM



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