I was standing under our rim because I had not run to the defensive end of the court. I had not run to that end because running hurt too much, and anyway my only job was to stand stupidly in the paint, then run back here. If I waited here I could catch my breath and be ready to play offense, which just meant standing in this paint before running to that paint, which hurt too much, so I might not do it.
My dad was watching the game from the bleachers and I knew he would say something about it when I got home, how basketball is played on both ends of the court and if I needed to practice running he could make it happen for me on the street in front of our house.
I had already had enough practice to last a lifetime after yesterday. I took twenty shots during the layup drill and every one banged off the rim to the right, or bounced too hard off the square and didn’t even touch the rim. I wore myself out running the fifteen feet from the foul line, missing, and then running to the end of the layup line behind my teammates.
Still, I was the team’s center, despite being unable and unwilling to play, and I was standing underneath the center of the rim watching the developments at the other end of the court. That is how I saw the ball break loose from the mass of boys and roll toward the sideline near half court. Mike, my team’s point guard, chased it and caught it before it rolled out of bounds. He threw a pass straight to me that bounced once and landed in my stomach, otherwise I might not have caught it.
I looked down at the ball in my hands and then up again. The entire gang of boys was running back here. I could see the other team’s center coming straight at me.
I knew I needed to try to make a basket, but the rim was right over my head and I couldn’t swing the ball over it. I couldn’t do anything. I threw it back to Michael who was running toward the the top of the key. Mike could take a shot from there or drive for a layup. He could do anything because he was fast and he could shoot and he was ahead of all the defenders.
He didn’t try to score. He threw another bounce pass to me, only it was a little soft. I had to take a step forward to catch it. What was I supposed to do with this? The other players had crossed mid-court. Mike looked at me and up at the rim. I swung around and threw the ball off the backboard and it fell through the hoop. Two points.
The other center did not attack me after all. He grabbed the ball to inbound to the other team’s point guard. I stood there, surprised as hell.
Mike ran up to me and slapped my chest. ”Coach says, always take care of the big man.” He ran back down the court to get on defense.
And I ran after him as fast as I could, to take care of my point guard.