Good Mornin’! Good Mornin’!
In my backyard, I was unbeatable. With my green and white rubber basketball, wooden backboard and grass court, I added multiple NBA Championship banners to Boston Garden.
I was Bill Russell. I was John Havlicek. I was a superstar with my own public address and play by play – all by myself.
There were more redo’s on shots missed than you can imagine. I was editing and rewriting long before I knew I had a talent for that sort of thing. Lol. In my version, I always persevered like Willis Reed gimping into game seven for the New York Knicks and taking down the Los Angeles Lakers.
On the real court, I was second or maybe third string with a lot of DNPs in the scorebook. There was one game when we hosted IA in junior high. We were either way ahead or way behind because I was in the game. I actually scored six points and blocked a shot with all that adrenaline flowing through me. I reckon that’s how Mike Sibley feels on a daily basis.
But that was my highlight for all my years on the actual hardwood. At IA, I sprained my knee twice in one season as a junior and hung up my high-top Chuck Taylor’s. But I still wanted to be part of the team, the camaraderie and the winning. I put on my khakis and starched white shirt, tie and V-neck sweater and became the “assistant trainer” to Domino Bellipanni. Manager was “beneath” me but that’s really the job I had. And I did it to the best of my ability with my Boy Scout knowledge and intuition. There were traditions to uphold when winning began. Somehow, I did an Indian dance that Larry Boggs liked and insisted on as we rambled toward a winning season that senior year. I think we went 19-9 and won the North AAA, put the first loss on Jackson Prep in their own brand-new gym but a two-point loss to Adams Christian ended our fairy tale run to the state championship. It was almost Hoosier-esque.
I got my nickname, Penguin, from the legendary IA Headmaster Peter Jernberg who provided the Public Address. I used to walk out of the dressing room with my coke crate full of Sqwincher and water cups and held it way out so I wouldn’t spill any on me. I waddled out, he saw it and announced to all, “Here comes the Penguin!” I actually loved it and thought it was cool and now it’s even emblazoned on my truck tag. I was far from the backyard winning championships by myself. I was part of a team, part of something not made up but real with hard times and good melding us together.
It’s something I remember to this day and will never forget. It helps also that Jim Abbott hired me to write a weekly sports story each week on the team and the Lady Colonels. That sprained knee actually cemented my career. I just didn’t know it. Those hours on the backyard grass court laid out my imagination and honed my Public Address and writing skills as well.
I reckon I needed both to make me what I am today. Unleash your imagination and chase your dreams but find something real to be a part of along the way. It’s a great ride.