The Basketball Diaries Part I: The Hometown Free Agent.

“Too bad you can’t practice getting taller, boys” Daffy Duck, from the movie Space Jam (1996)

The 2012 preseason NBA games are in its ending phase with just a few games left before this season’s official start. As for coming attractions old teammates will meet each other on opposite teams. Knowing not what hand they are delt, old players so called free agents are gambling with their careers at the NBA draft shuffle. Most recently, the league’s 6.11 ft tall superman Dwight Howard, who become an icon while taking Orlando Magic on for a escalating rollercoaster ride from 2004 to 2012, much to his hometown’s despair Dwight suddenly found himself traded off to Los Angeles Lakers after becoming a free agent.

“I have spoken to Dwight Howard already and we are locked and loaded to bring back the title” Kobe Bryant, August 2012

During my time as a basketballplayer for the local team (1997 – 2006) there were three players who covered most of my basketball posters and magazines,  Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) and Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls). Kobe is still going strong being the poster boy for Lakers, so since both Jordan and Iverson don’t play any longer in the National Basketball Association (NBA)  I will therefore focus on these two players in this post.

“Is this the end? God only knows” Slam Magazine, August 1998

Let’s first look at MJ with his well portioned physic, not being skinny nor buff but well defined not drawing attention to itself, his bald shiny head which carresses his mastermind, and the dark skin tone that makes him look like he is carved out of something more withstanding than skin and bones… Iverson by comparison is more like a thug, at least he could actually pass for one with his vivid tattoos  scattered beard, bandana, and the quick feet that made him the impossible player to guard. Snatching balls and moving quickly like a cunning fox in the chicken farm. Iverson was more than ten years younger and ten centimeters lower in height than MJ, but during the three years they competed with each other Iverson became known for the ‘guy who crossovered Michael Jordan’. Crossover is gameplay term for the move where you make a quick left, and then an even quicker right as you’re dribbling an opponent, making the opponent confused while executing the move.

“I’m retired 99.9%. Of course, there always is that .1%.”
Michael Jordan, February 18, 1999

MJ and AI where almost two sides of the same coin. MJ or ‘his airness’ as he was called became a living legend turning basketball into poetry in the 90s. During the peak of his reign, MJ claimed in total six NBA Championships. Given his impressive results with an scoring average of about 30 points a game MJ never became a free agent prior his retirement, actually second retirement in 1998, the first was from 93-95 due to his sudden eager to pursuae a proffesional baseball career honoring his late fathers favorite sport. MJ was one in a million, or trillion for that matter, so he couldn’t have been a free agant when he could go in and out of  NBA’s backdoor whenever he pleased. And he came back post-retirement at the age of 41 for a couple of seasons with Washington Wizards as almost an act of charity, donating his salary to the families of the 9/11 victims.

“I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt.
I was unrecognizable to myself.
I saw my reflection in a window, I didn’t know my own face.
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away
On the Streets of Philadelphia”. The Streets of Philadelphia, a song by Bruce Springsteen

Allen Iverson on the other hand came from these streets of Philadelphia, where he allegedly struck an older woman in the head with a chair on an unfortunalte evening early 93′. Minutes prior to this allegedly act of rampage, Iverson and his homie’s were having a ball’ dodging pins at the Circle Lanes bowling alley in Hamton, not pleased with the crowded atmosphere a gang of white collage boys picked a fight where this older woman got caught in the crossfire. Despite  the lack of evidence Iverson refused the charges claiming that he left the place before the vicious act happened. Iverson’s 15-year sentence was reduced to four months, with Iverson proven innocent, collage was his next battle to win. After two seasons with skyhigh results playing basketball for the Georgetown University’s team, Philadelphia 76ers picked him first in the overall selection in the 96′ draft.  Then Iverson became also one of NBA’s most historic players and scorers, second only to MJ in terms of points in the playoffs with an average of about 28 point, despite his impressive shooting Iverson had a rather unhappy ending in the latter part of his ten years in 76ers, when their legendary coach Larry Brown had to step down due to poor results in the 2003 playoffs. 76ers never was the same again and when Iversons contract siezed in 2006, Iverson naturally became a free agent joining the to-be-superstar Carmelo Anthony in Denver Nuggets. I could probably dedicate a blog or two to the myth, the athelete and the rolemodel Michael Jordan, and that goes for Allen Iverson as well, but many others have already done that, escpecially two documentaries: “No Crossover: The Trail of Allen Iverson” and “Ultimate Jordan” which is highly recomendable even if you’ve never heard of these players.

Growing up in south Norway soccer was the dominating sport. Kids played it in the streets, in recess and a lot during gym class…it was sort of mandatory for kids to play soccer, and it was expected of them to either join or die for the city’s two rival teams. Being twins made me and my brother wanting to go our own way rather than go with the flow, therefore another sport could give us something more to define ourselves. The second most popular sport was track n’ field. So knowing that the local track team used basketball as a sort of warm-up exercice, me and my brother signed on immidiately. We were curious about basketball from an early age, while growing up right outside Oslo we used to watch older kids play it in recess during our first year in pre-school. Here the older kids had funny looking clothes and huge shoes that you actually could pump air into…this was fascinating… And as we moved to south Norway our idea of basketball was also taken along for the ride.  Being around eight years old track n’ field gave us a unique insight in how both body and mind cooperated togehter without having a round ball doing it for you. The track community felt exciting and open whereas you could ‘major‘ in whatever field that suited your specialities best. Mine was long-distance running, my brother’s was short distance running. Being members around a year we felt a void building up inside us, running track seemed to indiviualistic and when the movie Space Jam came out in february 1997 starring no other than MJ himself, we could no longer do track for its 15 minutes of basketball. To our suprise others felt it too, so on one shiney day in spring 97′ an ad was placed in the local newspaper by a female basketball enthusiast proclaiming herself as a basketball coach  Here gameplay FUN was underlined as the foremost factor and purpose of the game. Joining the newly started basketball team a sense of liberation came over us here we could apply our skills from track n’ field to the new sport, where both legs and arms had to communicate bringing the ball to the basket, and this made the playing experience stand out compared to soccer, where the soccer court was many times bigger and wider than the basketball court. The sport of soccer therfore seemed kind of dragged out viewing it, and playing it. I remember playing soccer during elementary school running in vain back-and-forth trying to keep up with the tempo of the ball which appered to be a living organism, going long and short distances on it’s own free will…Basketball however had a more puzzle to it, almost like chess game where each of the five players on each team have to strategically block out and skip steps to get across the board and to the basket. The anarchistic dramatic-structure of a basketball game appealed to us as well, whereas our team could be 15-even-20 points under, then something would click and we would win by maybe six points, rather then having a game of soccer where two hours of gameplay would pass by without any teams scoring. I know that these comparisons seemed single minded but being quite young in a fairly single minded sport environment, basketball in its purest form was the liberation.

I try to put the ball in the basket for my team. I’m just confident in my ability to play ball.” – Allen Iverson, Jan. 15, 2002 after dropping 58 points on the Houston Rockets.

To put this in perspective I would like to divide my nine years in the local b-ball team into three-by-three year eras, leading up to my comeback, where I was a sort of a free agent. The first three years (1997-2000) was the “fun” years where our female coach taught us more about personal ball control than gameplay strategies.  The second three yeas was the golden years (2000-2003) where  our skills and mindset were honed carefully by an austrailian male coach who brought a sort of proffesional seriousness over it all. Most memorable was the 2002 so called ‘Pirate’s Cup’ Championship which got its name from south Norway’s proffesional basketball team Pirates, where we made our mark losing by just a  few points playing against an older team from Denmark, whick ranked us number four in the overall stats…in reality this was our hoop dreams’ for filled.  We couldn’t be happier given the league’s older and taller players. The last period was the downward spiral years or somewhat like the depression era’ (2003-2006), here we got two new coaches one male greek-canadian painter, and one female austrailian exchange student guiding us from light through darkness. Allthough there never was a dull moment on practice, our stuggles weren’t the new coaches, it was everything ells like recruiting new players, and then the problem having them to adapt to our speed and mindset made us loose more games than winning them. So many aspiring players came and went only few maintained, but we kept on fighting until it got the better of us. And the end came when we had to do more ‘walk-overs’ not having enough players on the team while competing in a turnament, than we could afford. Being leftovers from a broken team, we soon got the oppertunity to join the senior players who where anywhere fra five to fifteen years older than us. Despite the high competativeness of the older players, us youngbloods’ were the last ones to be picked during gameplay, so being benched a lot made this feeling of ‘liberation’ seemed more like ‘captivation’ in the sense of not having the ability to enjoy the freedom of the game at our terms. The result made us simply quit what we still considered the world’s greatest sport.

“I’m too old for this shit” Roger Murtaugh played by Danny Glover, in the movie Lethal Weapon (1987)

Now, back to the free agency connection….As I grew past my teenage years and into adulthood, a certain thist grew in me and the other old roadworn players from the neighbourhood, so each summer post high-school we would gather on our old elementary school playing b-ball wearing our old oversized b-ball throwbacks displaying our favorite b-ball players and teams, exchanging old b-ball stories from the times when we were kings. And as time went by, sometime in the middle of our collage years, some of us got out of our ‘basketball retirement’ and got invited to pratice with the current team of our hometown. Walking through the old court house hall, the smell of the structure of the building, and the sound of dusins of basketball bouncin’ gave us a notion that time had stood still for the four-five years period being out prior to this night. The old rusty one ton-weighing baskets where still being used, where two players had to push them into position, and then use a huge tool to spring it to its  about three meter height. Here the coach was still our favorite greek-canadian painter who on this two-days-before-Christmas eve introduced us to the team where most of the players were five to seven years younger than us. During the warm-up as I was puttin’ on my old nikes a basketball came tumbling right past me, like som animal marking his territory I suddenly robbed the ball away from the approching youngster’ who was eyeing it, then I threw a long three-pointer from down-town and there it went right through the net. With a smurk on my face and a head held high, I glanced towards the young player who reluctantly avoided my eyes, and I felt ‘damn, old habbits surly die hard‘. But eventually this youngster would have the last laugh, it was almost like we were the old seniors now back in 06’, who moved slow and took things way too seriously…so we ended up loosing against the youngsters, despite our pride and prejudice we still felt that we got some of the magic left…and this lead to me being the only one returning for one season almost like a free agent, old, experienced, but kinda slow given my years away from the sport. As a free agent I decided that I would wait playing in the turnament, just continue dusting off my old skills, and most importantly switching teams. I joined the seniors who were more and less like myself both aged and experienced. During my six month stretch with the seniors it was like I was re-living a childish dream and I had never been happier on the court, with the great diversity in both teammates and practice exercices ….it was hoop dreams‘ all over again.

“You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about.” Michael played by Robert De Niro in the moive The Deer Hunter (1978)

Marking the end of my post retierment comeback was again the notorious summer Pirate’s Cup Championship. All though I wasn’t in the starring five this was the event I had trained for all season, where were we ended up dominating and winning four out of five games, whereas we got cheated off by some dirtbags who managed the controlpanel during our last game where the game clock “malfunctioned” and seven minutes of gameplay “disappeared” making the other team form east Norway winning the game. All though the last game left a bad taste in my teammates mouths, I felt that I had certainly kept up with the paice, and contributed with quite a few assists, some good defense play, and my ONE penalty shot which I made…For me this  ONE SHOT was enough and though I miss playing today other obligations, priorities, and changes in my life have made me retire 99.9% from the world basketball, but I still have my air Jordan shoes on the top shelf, and I haven’t worn them since I last wore them on this last dramatic game of the Pirate’s Cup on June sixth 2011…but of course as time will tell there always is that .1%.

“Thats All Folks” The Looney Tunes Show

Have a slamin’ weekend!

Salute, JohnH

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About JohnH

I'm a film editor, self-taught sketchartist, analogue photographer and drummer!
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