At point guard was my 31-year-old cousin Andrew Moore, 5'8", once an ambitious skateboarder and a nationally ranked windsurfer. Tenacious, lithe, dexterous, mercurial. An accomplished duck hunter. Nearly zero basketball experience.
At two guard we had Andrew's 33-year-old brother Ally, 5'8", roughly 10 years out of Connecticut College, where he was a reliable midfield soccer player. Clever, competitive, graceful, robust. A good fisherman. Not a good basketball player.
At power forward was 24-year-old Sam, 5'11", the once celebrated captain of Wesleyan's ultimate Frisbee team, which he led to the national tournament in 1992. Surefooted, headstrong, consistent, impassioned. Played hockey as a kid and goes to the hoop with the same brute intent with which he slammed people into the boards. Should have stuck with hockey.
At the other forward was my father, 6 feet, the 130-pound center of his high school jayvee football squad in 1956. An admirer of basketball, he could probably teach it if he had to, but he never played the game.
At center was I, at 6'2". In the early '80s I pitched several games for the Pat's Pizza Little League baseball team of Yarmouth, Maine, amassing an ERA of 23.17. Gritty, unpredictable, loyal. Always picked last for kickball. As a big man in the paint, persistent but hopelessly inept.
We were going to die.
Somewhere around the second iron-gated door, we had stopped thinking our predicament was funny. When we heard our opponents limbering up and sensed that the gym was filling up with hysterical inmates, we stopped thinking that the day could be written off as a good educational experience. Behind the closed door of our locker room, we could smell the inmates' height, their heft, their criminality and their ability to dunk. We waited.
Was I paranoid to think that the referee, who came to get us wearing the traditional black and white stripes of that thankless job, was also an inmate, and that we were going to be thrown to the lions? Maybe.
Without looking at our opponents, we started a hapless layup drill, then switched to just shooting around and stretching. After a while each of us stole glances at the opposing team, which was detrimental to our morale: The inmates were making all their jump shots and firing quick chest passes that blurred from one sideline to the other. Inmate fans filled the balcony seating above the court, some of them leaning over the rail and smiling at us.
Somehow I won the tip-off. I got it to Andrew, the most fleet of foot among us, and he sprinted toward our basket with an inmate close behind. Just as he planted his left foot and went up with his right hand for the layup, his defender let out a deep, guttural groan, like a ghost's, and Andrew's muscles flinched and sent the ball 15 feet above the rim. The crowd went wild, and the man who had groaned grinned widely. The prisoners scored a quick dozen points before we could set up a play, and even after we scored our first points, they continued to trounce us.