Hockey players, among all athletes, have the coolest way of
entering a game, hopping over the boards with one hand, like
Steve McQueen getting into a convertible. But basketball is
forever, and so players are often made to genuflect in front of
the scorer's table for a moment before stepping onto the court,
as if entering a house of worship. Which, in a manner of
speaking, they are.
For one is baptized into basketball not with water but confetti
(conferred on the head by Curly Neal). And one believes in
basketball, as one believes in the Bible and in all those names
that are common to both: Moses and Isiah and Jordan....
Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden and
so--eventually--were the Celtics, and sometime in between I
became a believer, and this is my profession of faith:
I believe in Artis Gilmore, whose wife is named--as God is my
December 9, 2002
I believe in new hightops, always evocative of Christmas morning,
for you get to open a large box, remove the crinkly paper stuffed
into the toes and--before wearing them for the first time--inhale
deeply from each sneaker as if from an airplane oxygen mask.
(It's what wine connoisseurs call "nosing the bouquet" and works
for Pumas as well as pinot noirs.)
I believe in tearaway warmup suits, which make the wearer
feel--when summoned from the bench--like Clark Kent, ripping off
his business suit to reveal the S on his chest.
I believe a team's fortunes can always be foretold--not from the
length of its lifelines but from the integrity of its layup
I believe in God Shammgod and Alaa Abdelnaby and James (Buddha)
Edwards (and in Black Jesus, Earl Monroe's nickname long before
it was the Pearl).
I believe in accordion-style bleachers that push back to expose,
after a game, car keys and quarters and paper cups, which sound
like a gunshot when stomped on just right. (And always, stuck to
the floor, the forlorn strands of molting pom-poms.)
I believe--now more than ever, in this time of global
disharmony--in World B. Free and Majestic Mapp. And that control
of the planet's contested regions might be better determined by a
simple, alternating possession arrow.
I believe that 300 basketballs dribbled simultaneously by
eight-year-old basketball campers sound like buffalo thundering
across the plains. And inspire even greater awe.
I believe that two high school janitors pushing twin dust mops at
halftime can be every bit as hypnotic as dueling Zambonis.
I believe that any sucker can wear a $40,000 gold necklace as
thick as a bridge cable when the only necklace worth wearing in
basketball is a nylon net that costs $9.99. (But--and here's the
point--it can't be bought.)
I'm a believer in Lafayette Lever and regret never having covered
him, for if I had, my first sentence about him would have been,
"There must be 50 ways to love your Lever."
I believe that jumping off a trampoline, turning a midair
somersault, slam-dunking and sticking the landing--while wearing
a gorilla suit that's wearing, in turn, a Phoenix Suns warmup
jacket--is enough to qualify you as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
I believe in Harthorne Wingo, and I believe in Zap the dingo, the
Detroit Shock mascot whose costume was stolen from the Palace of
Auburn Hills by two men who were caught--one in the dingo head,
the other in the dingo feet--drinking in a bar across the street.
I believe in former Notre Dame guard Leo (Crystal) Klier and
former Providence center Jacek (Zippity) Duda and former Iowa
State center (What the) Sam Hill.
I believe in dunking dirty clothes into the hallway hamper and
skyhooking--from the shotgun seat--quarters into highway toll
baskets. And I believe in finger-rolling heads of lettuce into my
shopping cart, even though I have never, in the last 10 years,
eaten a piece of lettuce at home.
I believe I can still hold, in my right hand, a boom box the size
of a Samsonite Streamlite while carrying, in my left, a slick
rubber ball whose pebble-grain stubble has long before been
dribbled away. And that I can do so while riding a 10-speed bike
and steering with my knees.
I believe that the Truth (Drew Gooden) and the Answer (Allen
Iverson) are out there, if we will simply follow the bouncing
I believe that we, the basketball faithful, speak in tongues: the
red, wagging tongue of Michael Jordan and the red, wagging
tongues of our unlaced Chuck Taylors.
I believe that Larry Bird's crooked right index finger--which he
raised in triumph before his winning shot fell in the 1988
All-Star weekend three-point contest--resembles, almost exactly,
God's crooked right index finger, as depicted on the ceiling of
the Sistine Chapel.
Which would make sense, if God made man in His image. For I
believe, above all, in what G.K. Chesterton wrote, and what Rick
Telander echoed in the title of a book: Earth is a task garden.
But heaven is a playground.
One believes in basketball, as one believes in the Bible and in
all those names that are common to both.