Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tall Order for the Floor

I dreamed that I was invited to appear on TNT's Inside the NBA. A panel of experts had just decided upon the "All-Time NBA First Team," and I was being asked to analyze the selections alongside the usual hosts of TNT's award-winning post-game show.

The team was composed of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, and Shawn Bradley. In case the names mean nothing to you, those are five actual retired players who were active primarily during the 80s and 90s. Together they would make a good team, but probably not a great one. Bogues was not an All-Star even in his own time, and Bradley was honestly pretty lousy. Frankly, as an "All-Time NBA First Team," it was ridiculous, and I was prepared to say as much.

Kenny "The Jet" Smith started things off, however, by backing the panel, and he proceeded to list off all of the team's strengths, noting that it was perfectly equipped for any possible matchup in history. He then turned to me, and, after noting my respect for both Smith and co-host Barkley, I declared that I thought the team a joke. Barkley assured me he took no offense, but he asked if I could construct a better lineup. Without any hesitation, I named my team of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwan, and Shaquille O'Neal. (For the record, I really do believe that a team of five good seven-footers would dominate any more orthodox starting five. (Yes, I'm aware that Bill Russell is not a seven-footer.))

Smith responded with an amused whistle while Barkley sat in stunned silence. As the program drew to a close, they wished me well, warning me that I could expect to draw a lot of heat for my controversial statements.

They were right about that. For the next several days, I could not show my face in public without confronting hordes of outraged Michael Jordan fans. Every NBA sportswriter, rather than assessing the original official team, was determined to tear apart my televised response. But nobody took greater offense than Alonzo Mourning, who apparently felt snubbed.

Every day, the 6'10" retired center posted another YouTube video voicing his displeasure as he chewed me out. I chose not to respond to my other critics, because I knew it was blood they wanted and not an apology. But I felt genuinely bad about the Mourning situation. He was one of my best guys in NBA Jam. Finally, he challenged me to a one-on-one game. I accepted, knowing full well that I stood no chance.

We played to eleven on an urban street court, which Mourning revealed was actually his best surface, unbeknownst to most NBA fans. To everyone's amazement, including my own, I managed to nail the first jump shot. On my next possession, he immediately stripped the ball and dunked it. He then proceeded to run the score to eleven to end the contest.

I feel a need to point out that he had more than a foot on me, that he was a very recently retired professional player, whereas I had not played any basketball since high school gym class, and I sucked even back then. I wasn't sure what he had proven by this display, but all the cheers were on his side, as though he were the hero and I some vanquished villain. As Mourning collected his applause, I felt confident that it was not me but the world that was broken.

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