Nowadays, as Marshall McLuhan has it, kids get the message from radio and television. When I was in high school, 20 years before TV, I suppose I got messages from radio, but the one I really remember came from two basketball players who had come north from California to star on the college team in my home town.
The message was delivered one afternoon when my brother and I were shooting baskets in the Albany College gym along with the two ballplayers. Their names were Stultz and Bradley, and they didn't kick us out of the gym because our father was a professor.
"Don't need to look at the basket," said Stultz, a 6'3" pivot—a big man in the '30s. "Shoot from a spot." And he canned a 10-foot hook, his head turned in the other direction.
"You mean you really don't look?" I asked.
"You know where you are," said Stultz. "You know where the basket has to be."
"Me, too," said Bradley, who howitzered tremendous two-handed set shots from way out. "I always close my eyes when I shoot, but then I open them because I like to watch the ball drop through."
I believed every word they said.
Then Stultz came up with the message. "You practice an impossible shot 20, 30 years," he said, "you could hit with your eyes closed and never miss." That was the moment that my 30-Year Impossible Shot Plan was under way.
Stultz was a white Meadowlark Lemon, and Bradley flipped the ball into the hoop with the consistency of Hal Greer, except that he used the old two-handed set, and from five to 10 feet farther out than Greer shoots his jumper. This was long before the days of the NBA, but if there had been one, Stultz and Bradley would have been in it. They had played industrial basketball for a while and afterward found themselves in Oregon at Albany College on basketball scholarships. They lived in the gym, shot baskets all afternoon and seldom went to class. But when they showed up to play, everyone in the Willamette Valley came to watch.
Even Slats Gill, who was coach at Oregon State in those days and for years after that, attended the games. He sat in front of my dad and mother, my brother Vic and me when Albany played College of Puget Sound. On the opening tip-off, Stultz tapped the ball to Bradley, who turned to the basket and fired a 45-footer right through the hoop. This was in the days of the center jump after every basket, and Stultz and Bradley toyed with every team they played that season. A rumor went around town that Gill was going to get them to transfer to Oregon State, but he never did. I don't know if he ever tried. They played for Albany in the Pacific Northwest conference that year, and then they disappeared.