You never forget
your first felony. Mine was mail tampering. As a hoops-crazed 13-year-old, I
rifled through a new neighbor's mailbox to confirm that the occupant of the
split-level on 98 1/2 Street in Bloomington, Minn., really was former Gophers
basketball star Flip Saunders.
Then my brazen
best friend, Mike McCollow, dribbled for hours in front of Flip's house, hoping
the homeowner would come outside, if only to make the noise stop.
When that failed,
we shot basketballs against the streetlight pole on Flip's corner, even though
it had no hoop. The endless parade of air balls that followed was more than
Flip could abide and--after several torturous evenings--he finally came out
with his hands up. We had smoked him out of his hole.
By then, Flip was
a 24-year-old coaching prodigy at Golden Valley Lutheran College, where his
teams would go four full seasons without losing a home game. Yet he did an
extraordinary thing: He invited us to shoot hoops in his backyard.
It was a concrete
half-court overlooked by the luxury suite of a small deck. We called him Flip,
and he called us Mike and Rush--or more accurately, Mike&Rush, a single
entity joined by an ampersand, always two feet behind him, like backup singers.
We were Flip's Pips.
On Flip's court,
we organized an annual, all-day, two-on-two tournament in which a couple of
lucky teenagers (Mike&Rush) got to play with and against NBA players (like
Houston Rocket Jim Petersen) at a time when teens and NBA players were not one
and the same.
writer with a weakness for wordplay, I suggested we call our shindig the
Saunders Hoop Invitational Tournament, whose acronym Flip gleefully scrawled on
a piece of white trainer's tape and adhered to the trophy, which he made from a
Cool Whip tub and Nerf ball wrapped in aluminum foil.
And thus was born
the SH*T, at which, on June 23, 1984, play was suspended every time Ryne
Sandberg, our athletic ideal, hit for the Cubs. On the Game of the Week,
against the Cardinals' Bruce Sutter, Ryno hit two game-tying homers that
When we got
older, Flip and Mike ran small basketball camps all over Minnesota, with a
talent show on the last day, when Flip might close the show by dancing to
Billie Jean, with steps choreographed by his wife, Debbie, an alumnus of the
dance line at the University of Minnesota.
Flip was chasing
ballers, not dollars. When he became the coach of the CBA's Lacrosse Catbirds
and Mike was assisting him, I visited them in that Wisconsin city, happily the
home of the G. Heileman brewery, maker of affordable tipples like Old Style and