Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Free Throws

After Oklahoma State hoops player, Marcus Smart, went into the stands a couple of weeks ago I've been thinking about crowds, and fans, and all the indiscretions that people get away with at sporting events. And since I'm working on a high school memoir, I went back to the early nineties, to this moment in the Crook County High School gym: my least favorite place to play in all of Central Oregon.

Free Throws
I stand at the line, find the center and press the toe of my high top to the edge. I take my three dribbles and lift the heels of my feet in little steps like I always do. I spin the ball to my fingertips, set, shoot, and drain the first of two free throws.

I step away from the line.

That’s when I hear someone from the crowd yell, “Connie Chung.”

I freeze. The sweat chills on my skin. I forget the score. I want to peer over my shoulder, to rewind the audio and listen again to make sure I really just heard that. With my ears piqued, I hear laughter from the crowd, and then silence. Then I hear it again. “Connie Chung” in that sing-songy way that crowds chant names. But it’s not a crowd. It’s just one voice. Then the giggles again.

I step to back up to the line and the referee bounces me the ball. I line up my toe and on that first dribble I wonder if someone is really saying that to me. I’m not sure. All I do know is that I’m the only one with an Asian name on the court. I’m the only Asian in the gym since Dad isn’t here. I shake my head. I dribble again.

Second dribble. I barely even look Asian since I'm only half, and don’t they know Connie Chung, the news anchor, is Chinese American and I’m Japanese? And my name’s in the program. Nori Nakada. Clearly Japanese, not Chinese. Why can’t people even be racist right?

My third dribble echoes in the silence of the gym. At least no one is joining in.

I take a deep breath and it’s there again, “Connie Chung.” The laughter again.

I take a second deep breath. I never do that. I never break my free-throw shooting routine, the one I took on in middle school and haven’t changed since. The one I’ve used to shoot over 90% from the line all through high school.

I stare through the net at the back of the rim and suddenly want to cry. I study the orange metal, feel the ball heavy in my palm, bend my knees and shoot. Don’t think. Just shoot. Rely on all that muscle memory.

I shoot, watch the ball arch through the silence, and I swishes right through. Figures. Another stereotype. The model minority. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Some Favorite Sports Moments

I am really glad there isn't much video evidence of my basketball playing days. I'm sure some AV kid could dig through the archives at Mountain View to find tapes from the glory years when the Lady Cougars' varsity squad won two, maybe three games a season, but I think it's pretty safe to say no one will do that.

If they posted said videos on Youtube, you'd catch me rolling my eyes at referees, complaining about calls, maybe giving an occasional extra shove after a foul... and I was playing basketball in a small town for a team that rarely won. My stakes were so incredibly low that I can't imagine how my emotions could have gotten away from me on a larger stage.

So when I see athletes react in the heat of competition, in a big college game or playing in a playoff game at the professional level, I love it. I love seeing the raw emotion of competition on display. I understand Marcus Smart pushing a fan in the stands this past weekend, and Richard Sherman's impassioned post-game smack talking. I doubt either of them see this as one of their finest moments, but I can relate to their responses.

But as women's basketball rolls back around, this emotional moment by Shoni Schimmel upsetting Baylor in the Sweet 16 is one of my favorites.

She says after that shot she got up and asked Brittney Griner about the weather. I've written about Shoni before. Girl can ball and, Mountain View AV students, you can just toss those videos.