I was at dinner the other day with people I had not met before, and I was telling them about the Boston basketball league in which I played for years, which was such a tough league—with former college basketball and football players and even a guy who had played professional rugby for Wales—that guys lost blood and skin and hair during games, from being raked and hammered and yanked as you tried to slide through the lane toward the basket that was sometimes so well defended you expected to find a foul scummy moat around the thing. To my surprise, there was a general burble of disbelief about this around the table, and to counter this polite skepticism—such a common and vulgar sin of the modern age, I feel—I hauled these moments up from the inexhaustible quarry of memory:
One: Driving the lane against the team with the Welsh rugby player, and getting past the first defender (admittedly by grabbing his arm and shoving him behind me), only to find the Welsh rugby player looming before me like Aran Fawddwy or Glyder Fawr, or another of the wonderfully named mountains of Wales, but just as I was trying to decide in a hurry if I should hoist a little floating teardrop shot over him, or fake one way and try the other, or just careen right into him and try to climb him for an instant before the referee got a good look at the action, the defender behind me yanked my hair so hard that I fell backward, landing, luckily, on the idiot defender. The referee, to his credit, called a foul, for once—but he called it on the rugby player, who was so angry about this unfair charge that he was useless the rest of the game. This still makes me laugh.
Two: Our grim excellent point guard losing his temper early in the second half of a game, and absolutely shredding the other team’s defense for about 10 minutes, one of the great epic one-man destruction narratives I have ever witnessed in person, and the other team finally getting so annoyed and frustrated and embarrassed at being tortured by a brief thin guy that when he got the ball and took off weaving through three guys to score yet another easy layup, all three of the defenders reached for him with malice aforethought, actually, no kidding, tearing his shirt in two places, and drawing blood, not to mention knocking the ball out of bounds. The referee, reverting to form, did not call a foul, and our point guard, furious, tore his shirt off to show the referee the bleeding marks of raking fingernails on his chest. The referee then called a technical on our point guard, for being out of uniform. This still makes me laugh.
Three: A guy on another team driving down the lane recklessly, and careening into a knot of our defenders in the lane (not me—I was watching from the perimeter, as usual; I mostly avoided the lane, which was always crowded with testy people), and the ball being knocked away, and the opposing player roaring and skipping out of the melee shaking his hand, and whining bitterly about assault, while the referee, as usual, looked averse to blowing his whistle—but then our power forward bent down and picked up what looked like a finger, and showed it to the referee, who backed away slowly. It turned out to be the tip of a wizened hot dog that had been on the court for a while, but I report with the utmost sincerity that you never saw a wizened frankfurter that looked more like the finger of a guy who had just been hammered driving to the basket. We all gathered around it for a while trying to decide if it was a forefinger or a ring finger, but then the referee got annoyed and gave both teams a technical foul, which still makes me laugh.
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