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Handing Off the Ball at Midcourt? Seriously?

17 Apr

by Roger White

Among my earliest memories of watching sporting events live and in person are yellowed images of a musty gymnasium with rickety wooden bleachers. You know, an old-world gym, built in the 1930s or ’40s, with the rounded roof, many windows long painted shut, and those ghastly caged halide lights bright enough to cause welder’s burn on your corneas. It was the mid-1960s, and I was a little kid, watching my oldest sister play junior high basketball. I’m not exactly sure how young I was, but I do remember that I was small enough to easily crawl under, in, and around all the tiny crevices in the bleachers to find hidden treasure—loose change, dropped candy, and the occasional dollar bill or two. It was a blast.

Early life lesson: Lollipops stuck to the floor are not good to eat.

What little I recall of the actual games was that, in those days, girls basketball differed radically from boys basketball. Girls’ teams had to divide themselves into frontcourt and backcourt squads, and crossing the midcourt line was prohibited. It was the oddest thing, especially looking back now, to see a girl running full speed on a breakaway only to come to a screeching halt at midcourt to pass the ball off to her teammate. But no one really gave it a second thought then. To paraphrase Mr. Hornsby, that’s just the way it was.

I have to tell you that growing up with two older sisters gave me enough insight to realize the ridiculous premise behind this Victorian-style rule. Conventional wisdom in those days was that the female constitution was much more delicate than that of the male of the species, so what competition our dainty girls were allowed to participate in was softened and slowed for their protection.

Horse patties.

A childhood spent variously trying to keep up with, fend off, outfight, outrace, outbite, outkick, run from, and savagely battle for bathroom rights against two merciless sisters taught me, often painfully, that girls are just as tenacious, spirited, and competitive as boys. Except their nails are longer.

It came as no surprise to me, then, when Billie Jean King beat the chauvinistic socks off of one Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in 1973. Remember that? It was for $100,000, winner take all. (And one hundred grand was beaucoup money in ’73.) Yes, Riggs was in his 50s, and sure, he hammed up the dominant male role to the hilt, and indeed, King was in her prime, but the action on the court spoke for itself. King blasted Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, using the crafty old guy’s defensive tactics against him. And if you thought Riggs tanked the match, think again. Not many people are aware that Riggs played another “Battle of the Sexes” match four months before the one against King—and he defeated Margaret Court, one of the top women players of the time, 6-2, 6-1.

Not long after this was when Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova began their decades-long rivalry. As big a fan as I was of guys like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, I genuinely anticipated watching Chrissy and Martina go at it as much as any men’s match. To my great surprise and delight, it was about this time, in the early 1980s, that I happened upon Navratilova in, of all places, the University of Texas at Arlington gym. She lived in the area at the time and worked out with the UTA women’s basketball team to keep up her stamina. I was a UTA student, and I jogged in and around that old gym a lot. Martina walked by me once to get a drink of water, and there was not an ounce of fat on her body. She looked as if composed of granite. I blurted something about being a huge fan, and she smiled uneasily at me. Another crazed fan, great, I’m sure she was thinking.

Anyway, what got me thinking about how our society has long viewed women’s sports—you know, with that second-class air of inferiority—were two recent developments. A phenomenon named Brittney and my youngest daughter, Jamie. If you were unaware, the Baylor University women’s basketball team went 40-0 this year. Think about that. Forty wins, no losses. No college team—men’s or women’s—has ever done that. And anchoring that amazing team was one Brittney Griner, the six-foot-eight-inch dunking machine from Houston. Did you watch this team play? Lordy, I was more juiced to watch the women’s playoffs than the men’s this year. Incredible stuff. And it wasn’t all Griner, either. When teams figured out how to shut her down (by double- and triple-teaming her), the Bears’ outside shooters, such as Odyssey Sims, nailed them from long range.

And, oh, my daughter Jamie. It has been one of those dad things this year, I suppose, getting to watch my youngest run the half-mile. Sorry, they call it the 800 meters now. I was a trackster (Truman Administration, I believe) long ago, and it thrills me to watch a chip off the old block stride along that track. She asked me to run with her around the neighborhood, and after a couple of blocks of grunting and panting, I instructed Jay to go on ahead of me. Bad knee or something.

Handing off the ball at midcourt, indeed.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

I’ve Seen the Future, and It’s Full of Zebra/Ostriches and Couchmallows

5 Oct

by Roger White 

If you’re like me, you have these nebulous questions in your head about what you might call life’s little givens. And, if you’re even more like me, you ponder on whether these questions are substantial enough to bring up in public or simply leave unanswered for fear that said public will back away slowly from you and call for psychiatric assistance on your behalf.

Here’s an example of one of life’s little givens that I’ve been contemplating for many years—well, mainly since I was a little kid and personally watched Bobby Hayes run down a football field faster than anything I’d ever seen before. Is it a given that humans will continue to become faster, stronger, and more athletically refined indefinitely on into the endless future, or at least until our sun goes supernova and we all die a horrible, fiery death and cockroaches rule the planet? And even then, will cockroaches evolve into ever swifter, hairier, and more repugnant strains of roaches than their forefathers?

I mean, when I was a tyke, Hayes was earth’s fastest human, and at the time I thought there was no way anyone anywhere, with the possible exception of the dolphin people of the Andromeda Galaxy, would ever cover 100 meters faster than Bullet Bob. His world-record time of 10.06 at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 was topped only by his come-from-behind anchor leg in the 4 x 100 relay in those games, during which he ran so fast that several timers’ watches liquefied and Hayes’ track shoes actually disintegrated into smoke and dust. Surely, I reasoned, Bob Hayes epitomized the zenith of man’s quest for footspeed. Of course, I was wrong. Not only has that record been lowered time and again over the years, today (at least as of this writing) Usain Bolt of Jamaica currently holds the world record in the 100 meters at a genuinely insane time of 9.58 seconds. A two-ton station wagon dropped from the Empire State Building can’t fall that fast.

I guess my burning question is when do we reach a point of critical mass, or do we ever reach such a point? Will there be a moment in history when scientist types say, “Okay, 5.3 seconds is the fastest any human will ever run the 100 meters, ever. So stop trying, people. It’s over.” Or—and this is the scary part—will we humanoids keep stubbornly developing until some mutant guy built like a two-legged zebra/ostrich runs the 100 meters in 0.25 seconds in the year 2107?

Same goes for other sports. Do you remember the classic old tennis matches from the days of yore? Say, for example, those terrific Borg versus McEnroe battles. I recall being glued to the set during those epic bouts: Borg the automatic baseliner against McEnroe the tempestuous serve-and-volley master. Such exquisite tennis. Such creative expletives. Such objectionable hair.

Have you tuned into those old matches lately? Yesterday’s heroes, the very best in the world for their time, now look like juniors playing on a court of molasses. The ball moves so s-s-l-o-o-o-w-w-w-l-l-y. After years of exposure to today’s ever-cyborg-like game of one-shot points and 150-miles-per-hour serves, it’s difficult to watch the tennis of even a decade or two ago and not think, heck, I could beat those guys. (Well, not me personally, but  . . . ) Today’s top players are fashioned like Kareem Abdul Jabbar with Schwarzenegger arms, and they play with rackets designed by Lockheed Martin. In a few years, we may not have to actually play any matches at all. Each player in a tournament will simply e-mail his or her top service speed into a central computer, and winners will be determined scientifically. Headlines will read something like “McEnborger to Win Wimbledon Next Week.”

Ditto for football. Dipping into my childhood personal reference bag once again, when I was 12 I met Dallas Cowboys legend Bob Lilly at a savings and loan grand opening in my tiny hometown. It was 1972; the Pokes had just won Super Bowl VI a few months earlier. Here was big Bob, the All-Pro defensive tackle, six foot five and 260 pounds of gridiron god. To me, he was a human mountain. Today, you have high school and even junior high players weighing in at more than 350 pounds. Some pro teams charter a team plane just for the linemen and another plane for everybody else. Lilly might qualify as a running back these days, or maybe even a trainer. No offense, Mr. Lilly, please don’t hurt me.

Same applies to basketball. The real reason the NBA went on strike this year was to give basketball arenas around the country time to refit the goals to 18 feet high. This just might make dunking a trifle harder, but they’re not sure. They are also contemplating redesigning the hoop to be one inch smaller than the physical dimensions of the ball, just for fun.

Now for you astute readers with long memories and grudge-type personalities, this column does not contradict what I opined some time back about us all morphing into atrophied mushbrains due to our chronic over-exposure to computers and acute lack of physical movement. This is a two-pronged evolution. Just as there will be no middle class by the year 2107, there will also be no “normal, average humans.” You will be either a mutantly gifted zebra/ostrich or a mushbrained couchmallow. There will be no middle ground. Kind of like today’s political scene.

Fortunately for me personally, my best predictions show me not quite making it to 2107, so I don’t have to choose. But you whippersnappers out there best be thinking: zebra/ostrich or couchmallow? Either way, you’re probably going to need a new wardrobe.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.