SI Vault
Peter Alson
November 24, 1986
Because he didn't live with us, my dad didn't know the full extent of my passion for basketball. There was irony in that, because he had been the one to ignite my interest in the first place, having taken me to a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden in 1968, the year they began to get good again. By the time of my 14th birthday, on April 11,I had been playing basketball for more than a year, and the Knicks, with DeBusschere, Reed, Frazier, Bradley and Barnett, were on a run that would culminate in 1970 with the first NBA championship in the franchise's history.
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November 24, 1986

The Gift Of A Leather Basketball Led A Teenager To A Special Game

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Sometimes I would go to the foul line, a spot I had marked out five feet back from my closet door, next to my dresser, take a deep breath and look up at the coat-hanger rim. With the radio roar of the crowd swelling in my brain, I would deliberately bounce the ball, once, twice, three times—boom, boom, boom—before I took the shot.

My mother exhibited tolerance that I have only recently come to appreciate. It must have been very difficult for her, my father not around and she having only the vaguest notion of what this obsessive activity was all about. But she did not pester me as the thundering emanations from my room continued. Her forbearance only came to light when our landlord, who lived a full two floors beneath my room, knocked in distress at the door one night and inquired as to why "the whole house was shaking."

Chastened, I stopped dribbling. By then I was nearly desperate to try out the ball in its natural habitat anyway, and I came up with an inspiration: I would rent a gymnasium.

The Yellow Pages yielded little to start. I found nothing under "Gymnasiums," and the YMCA did not rent its facilities to private parties. But I was dogged, and finally I found a place on West 13th Street called the Evangeline Residence for Women that had a basketball court that could be rented in two-hour time blocks for $40. The weekends were booked solid for months, but there had been a cancellation for a Saturday two weeks away and I took it.

As difficult as obtaining my gym was, filling it was even tougher. Somehow nobody I knew shared my zeal for the game. The four bucks apiece I asked my pals to cough up didn't help either. But I wheedled and bullied until the last holdout agreed to play—and pay—if only so I would leave him alone.

The rest of my preparations were as elaborate as some people's wedding plans. I rated each participant's basketball skills, as a way of dividing the teams evenly. I drew up a game program using a ruler and variously colored Flair pens, naming the teams the Knicks and the Lakers and, without any sense of irony, listing our heights.

Then I dragged my mother into the picture, getting her to help me stencil my name and the number 10 ( Walt Frazier's number) on a Fruit of the Loom tank top. She was amused by my single-minded-ness, although less so when I informed her that she was going to be the game's official scorekeeper. "Can't you get your father to do that?" she protested. "I'm not even sure of all the rules."

The fact that my mother and father were both going to be at the game was the cause of some excitement and nervousness for me. They had been divorced long enough by then (six years) that I harbored no illusions of their ever getting together again, and yet I couldn't remember the last time they had spent more than the obligatory few minutes talking in a doorway when I was being picked up or dropped off.

By the appointed Saturday morning, I was a wreck of nervous energy. Breakfast (prepared by my official scorer) was an impossible chore. I moved my eggs around on the plate with a fork and implored my mother to get dressed.

My father was the first to join us at the Evangeline Residence. I saw him approaching slowly from down the block, and even from a distance I could see that all was not well with him. It wasn't until he got closer and smiled that the problem was defined: His left cheek was distorted, puffed out like a chipmunk's. "Wizzum toof," he mumbled, smiling grotesquely.

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