This being the first day of tryouts, everybody was herded outside for a conditioning test on the parking lot of the activities center. To qualify for the team, boys who wanted to play guard had to run a mile in six minutes, and prospective forwards and centers had to do it in 6:30.
Coach Mendoza blew his whistle, starting all 60 on their way, and Abdul-Jabbar stood at the finish line and studied his watch. He waited just as any other coach for any other team anywhere would wait, and when the front-runners started to appear, he ticked off the seconds in a loud voice that rose in the cold autumn air and seemed to beat against the mountains and echo back down.
The boys ran past him, some glancing up in disbelief, others keeping their heads down so as to avoid being distracted.
Minutes later, as the last of the stragglers came around the corner and entered the final stretch, team members gathered in a loose huddle by the finish line. Some bent over with their hands on their thighs, but even they kept their heads up, eyes fixed on the new coach as if to memorize him.
"Come on!" Abdul-Jabbar shouted. "You can do it! Nineteen...20...21...."
It was amazing just to watch him count.