Last winter, 5'3" Chris Robinson was seeing limited action with the basketball team at Sheridan (Ark.) Junior High School. As any 14-year-old would, he wanted to get off the bench and into the games. So each day after practice he worked by himself in the gym—shooting, dribbling and shooting some more.
One day, after a long solo shooting session, he heard that the Grant County Bank was offering a $25 savings bond to anyone who could sink a shot from half court during a halftime program the bank sponsored at all Sheridan High School home games. Since he was alone in the old junior high gym, Chris decided to try the long shot.
He walked to the midcourt stripe and looked at the hoop. He set his feet, took a deep breath and let loose with his best one-handed set shot. It fell short of the goal, far short. Chris retrieved the ball and tried a two-hander. It was a bit closer but nowhere near close enough. He stepped back from the midcourt stripe, took two giant steps and shot again. No luck. Next, he tried a full run-and-shoot two-hander; after that, a hop-skip-and-launch shot; and, finally, an underhand scoop shot.
All failed to make the distance.
January 15, 1990
One more try. This time he came up with the shot that would make Chris Robinson famous. Sort of.
He turned his back to the goal, dipped the ball down between his knees and, with all his strength, heaved the basketball back over his head...and, swish!
Astonished, he tried his shot several more times. He sank a few of them. Sure, he missed more than he made, but he seemed to have a knack that allowed him to make more of these shots than anyone would expect.
At the high school's next home game, he couldn't wait for the halftime program. While his older sister, Courtney, played on the girls' varsity team, Chris ran around scrounging all the ticket stubs he could. He waited anxiously for the number to be drawn that would give the ticket holder a chance for the bank's $25 bond. None of the numbers on his stubs were called.
As the season wore on, Chris waited and watched and cheered for Courtney, who was having a terrific senior year at forward for the Lady Yellowjackets. It is not easy living in the shadow of an older sister who is blessed with athletic skills beyond the ordinary. Courtney was a star in volleyball, too, and was state-ranked in golf. And she was president of the student council. On top of that, she was Homecoming Queen.
Week after week, as Courtney led her team to victory after victory from November through February, Chris awaited the halftime ticket drawings. Each time he carefully examined the ticket stubs he had gathered...and each time he was disappointed.
He would watch, a little jealously, as some fortunate ticket holder walked to the midcourt stripe and was given three attempts to sink one. No one made the shot. No one even came close.
It was the last game of the '88 season, on Feb. 14, and Chris sat in the bleachers with his ticket stubs spread out before him. He had continued to practice his special shot. He felt confident that he could hit one out of three attempts. He wanted at least to get a chance. By now, he was bargaining for ticket stubs, promising a percentage of the $25 to ticket holders. The opportunity to try his shot before most of the 3,300 population of Sheridan meant far more than a savings bond. He listened for the numbers. He thought he heard one of them called!
Chris scanned his stubs frantically. He didn't see the number. He went through them again. Surely he had it! But no.
His heart sank. Then, an older boy a few rows back said, "Hey, Chris, I've got it. There's no way I'm going out there and try that shot. Do you want it?"
Chris scampered up the bleachers, grabbed the ticket and ran down to the court, where he handed the ticket stub to halftime announcer Don Campbell. Campbell looked at the ticket stub, smiled and handed Chris the basketball. He took the ball and looked at the goal. He looked at the crowd and saw mostly familiar faces, their attention turned to center court.
"Make it, Chris!" someone yelled from the section where all the junior high kids sat for home games. As Chris smiled and bounced the ball, a parade of scenes and thoughts flashed through his mind. His season with the junior high basketball team had been pretty disappointing, and he had even considered giving up the game and concentrating on golf; after all, he had been the top player in the Arkansas junior golf program three times. Finally he decided to stay with it. Golf was one thing, but basketball, football and baseball, those were the sports with the crowds, the cheerleaders and the school buses to other towns on Friday evenings. They were the essence of high school sports.
Chris slowly turned the ball in his hand. He saw Courtney standing near the goal, watching him. She had her fingers crossed. Chris bounced the basketball and carefully placed both heels on the edge of the half-court stripe. The crowd, not knowing what was going on, assumed he was facing the wrong goal. A voice bellowed, "Hey, Chris! Turn around, you're shootin' at the wrong basket!"
But when it became apparent that Chris knew precisely what he was doing, there were a few whoops and shouts of encouragement as the crowd, intrigued by this strange alignment, watched. The gymnasium grew quiet.
Taking a deep breath, Chris twisted around for one last look at the basket. Then he turned and looked at the basket that faced him. He looked to both sides, measuring. He paused, and then, holding the ball in both hands, dipped it between his knees, almost to the floor. The father of one of the high school cheerleaders had been videotaping the scene. He pointed the camera at Chris.
Chris launched the ball toward the goal. "It looked awfully funny," said Charles Whitworth, a former football coach who is now principal of the junior high. "But Chris had found himself a way to get enough leverage to get it there. When he walked out on the court I had this feeling that something was about to happen. You could see it in his eyes."
Chris fired the ball back over his head and then waited. He didn't turn around to look. He watched for the reaction of his fellow eighth-graders who were seated in the top rows of the bleachers. It seemed like an eternity. The ball, rotating slowly, descended quietly. Then, to the absolute delight and shock of the entire crowd, it went...phhffiiittt!
Nothing but net.
"Everybody went crazy!" said Steve Brown, who is now the assistant superintendent of the Sheridan school system. "People just couldn't believe it. They threw programs and popcorn on the floor, and screamed and clapped and laughed and cheered for a long time."
"Chris never turned around," said Whitworth. "He was watching for his buddies' reaction, and then when they exploded he did one of those low hand-pumps with his fist like the kids do these days. It was a sight to see. Courtney was the first one on the court to hug him."
The story was on the front page of The Sheridan Headlight, and the videotape was sent to Little Rock, where it ended up being shown on the 10 o'clock sports report.
Chris Robinson was famous. He was the kid who had made "that shot."
Over the summer, when Chris walked the fairways as he played golf, he sometimes recalled the "shot heard 'round the town." Chris has been looking forward to basketball this season.
The author is a free-lance writer from St. Louis.