The Press Box for January 29
One of the saddest questions in sports is “Whatever happened to……?” We ask it all the time, because, while we eagerly create heroes every season, we discard just as many when their legs go or their eyes go or their arms go. It’s just an unfair question, too. We can’t expect these heroes to hit pay dirt, hurl goose eggs or tickle the twine forever. When they do stop, we retire their numbers and forget them. Love ’em and leave ’em.
Over the years I have probably said it as much as anyone. “Whatever happened to this guy or that guy? I became a basketball fan by being a basketball player. I became a basketball player because I watched the guys I don’t know what happened too. They were the heroes!
I played basketball because it was the cheapest, easiest sport for kids to play. All you needed was a barrel behind the grocery store. Anything to throw a ball in. And that’s what I would do. Plus you needed an old rubber ball that you could pinch with your fingers because it had so little air in it. You can play basketball anywhere and anytime, day or night, all you need is a basket and a ball..
I never stopped playing basketball. I’m nearly 70 years old with a bad back, I can’t run to well, and have been under the knife a few times for major surgeries, but I still love to shoot it. I went to a Jerry West clinic back in the mid-sixties. He demonstrated and taught how to shoot a jump shot. I listened and watched and soon found out it was the right way. He taught how to position your hands on the ball, how to release at the top of your jump and how to follow through.
I practiced it over and over and over, it was amazing how each practice made a difference. Foul shooting was an art. You had to position yourself perfectly at the line, one foot a little ahead of the other, bend the knees release and follow through. Practice over and over. (Paden City Coach Bob Burton was big on free throws).
One of the best ways to get better was to play one on one against a better player. Another was to shoot on the outdoor court after dark. The idea was if you can shoot outside, you can shoot in a gym. Or if you can make it in the dark you shouldn’t have a problem under the lights. Hey, it works, but then again you have to try it first.
My heroes were those athletes who became playground legends. I can’t remember them all and I sure don’t know what happened to them. They come and go and it happened quick, so make the most of it while you can and never quit
I was thinking about some of the great high school players that we’ve had, some of the great teams, and some of the great coaches.
Where have they all gone? I laughed the other day when a conversation at the coffee shop led to a remark about a coaches style. I said a coach shouldn’t have a certain style. You play a different style depending on the talent you have. A hall of fame coach told me that!
I want an athlete to begin with. I want somebody who can run and jump, who is strong, who has heart and a mind.
I want smart people.
I want people who can handle pressure. Then I want people who understand that this is a game where you are at your best when the whole five people get integrated. People who have one eye on the easiest opportunity for a basket. If that means passing to some guy who’s all alone under the basket, then he gets the ball. If it means some big guy in the pivot who is hot, and who is two inches taller than the fellow behind him, then we get the ball into the paint. If it means my shot, because I’m hot and I’m free, and the three point line is comfortable for me, then I shoot. That’s it. Give me people who want to play, who are athletes, and who know that you have to play together, then you can do all kinds of things with them.
I have seen those kind of players and teams and coaches. I just don’t know where they are or what happened to them.. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a hero, he was still going strong in the NBA at 41 years old. When asked how much longer he was going to keep playing he said, “Until my skull turns grey.” Now there’s a good attitude for you! firstname.lastname@example.org