Pat Heston

Hoop dreams defined my youth.

As a kid, I played a lot of sandlot baseball and football, dreaming I was the next Willie Mays or Jim Brown, but basketball was the sport that truly captivated me and was at the heart of most of my youthful daydreams.

I was not a bad player; just not a good one. Leave me alone or half-guarded and I could bury fifteen footers all day. Let me get position and I could consistently outrebound players bigger than me. Put me at the free throw line and I could be deadly. But guard me tightly or get position on me and I was a pretty run-of-the-mill player.

But a kid can dream, right?

My hoop dreams were never realized, but it was some consolation not being the worst player in town. That distinction belonged to a pair of wannabe athletes, both a bit older than me, but a lot worse than me at basketball.

Moose—which I hope but am not certain was a nickname—was a six-footer in a much-shorter-than-that grade school world. The story was that some county school official found the family living somewhere off the edge of the map and figured Moose, who had never been to school, knew enough to enter the fourth grade. And, so, whether he did or did not (know enough), he did (enter fourth grade).

Mr. Remington was his teacher, and also coached fourth and fifth graders in the small town’s ten-team basketball league every winter. Salivating at the sight of said six-footer, he finagled and politicked his way into securing the signing rights for Moose to play on his Rasler’s Plumbing squad.

In the first game of the season, instead of tipping the ball to a teammate after the referees tossed the sphere into the air, Moose simply jumped up, grabbed the ball, and started running with it, eventually stopping somewhere and throwing the ball at one of the baskets—which one didn’t matter to him. And so it went the entire first half.

At half-time, Mr. Remington took him over to one of the Junior High gym’s side baskets and taught him how to shoot a layup. He then told the boy, “Next time you get the ball, do that!” On the second half tip, Moose jumped, grab the tip, ran over to the side basket and shot a layup.

He missed.

Then there was Darryl. He entered a high school JV game with seconds left, the homies up by 35 points. While dribbling down court, the instant his foot hit the center line, he tripped, fell flat on his face, lost the ball. An opponent grabbed it and raced to the other end. Darryl got up, raced back toward the center line, but as soon as his foot met it, he again fell flat on his face—like a sinister force was pulling it up from the court each time Darryl came by.

And, so … I could have been worse.