MY BASKETBALL career effectively ended the way many do—with my name on a cut list when I was a high school freshman. But even though these days I'm only a once-a-week corporate league player, I've always wondered if I could have hacked it as a pro. Be honest, fellow weekend warriors. You do too.
So when the NBA Development League, the seven-year-old minor league circuit that is apparently desperate for publicity, invited me to train with the Utah Flash and play in an exhibition game, I jumped. Like only a white man can.
I joined the Flash at its training camp in Orem, Utah, last month—and I was in trouble from the first conditioning drill. It was a full-court, three-man weave with a heavy ball. I play pickup games and run 15 miles every week, but after two trips down the floor I was gassed. It didn't help that camp was taking place more than 4,000 feet above sea level.
There are two unwritten rules in the D-League: know the plays, and no layups allowed. The Flash, who use the Utah Jazz playbook, runs a disciplined motion offense. Alas, I am a sloppy, stationary player. I cut when I was supposed to space. I picked when I should have rolled.
I learned the no-layup rule the hard way. During a one-on-one drill, 6'5", 195-pound forward Eddie Ard quickly and easily scored on me. Coach Brad Jones gave me an earful. "No layups, Chris," he shouted. "He gets that close, you foul the s--- out of him!"
By the end of camp three days later, I had my answer about how I'd fare as a pro. Still, there was the season-opening exhibition against the Idaho Stampede. Jones put me into the starting lineup and designed the first play for me, a pick-and-pop that was supposed to get me an open jump shot. It didn't: Though I set a hard (and illegal) screen, I wandered too far from the play and got the ball well behind the three-point line. That didn't stop me from launching an errant bomb.
On defense I was only slightly less of a liability. On the Stampede's first possession my man, a blur of a guard named Jamaal Tatum, blew by me. Remembering training camp rule number 2, though, I hacked him with enough force to send him sprawling underneath the basket. As Tatum lay on the ground clutching his wrist, my teammates reacted as if I had converted a three-point play. "Good foul," said guard Dontell Jefferson. "No layups here."
Two possessions later, Tatum drained a three in my face. I was ready to sub myself out, but then it happened. Four minutes into the game, guard J.R. Giddens caught the ball at the top of the key. He jab-stepped, then fired to me at the elbow. I caught the pass, took one dribble and felt Tatum close on me quickly. I stopped and ball-faked. Tatum bit on the fake and rose up. As he started to come down, I went up for a jump shot. Swish.
The bench, which was on its feet every time I touched the ball, went berserk. Backup guard Ryan Diggs nearly tumbled onto the floor. A foul stopped play at the other end, and I waved at Jones to yank me. When I walked past him, he pointed up at the scoreboard. "Our first two points of the season," he said. "How about that." As I took my seat, I placed a towel over my head and smiled. For the second time in my life, I knew I wasn't good enough to make the team. Only this time I was O.K. with it.