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. 

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