Every night... Around 10:30... After the rest of the family has gone to bed... You leave the house, get on your bike, and ride off to middle school in absolute darkness.
It’s a small town and you live on the bad side of it, so the streetlights are either broken or non-existent.
No matter, though, you know the way there by heart and you could pedal the 2.7 miles from door-to-door with your eyes closed.
Once you get to the school, you pull out an enormous key ring filled with various keys out of your backpack, and you fumble to find the one that opens the gym.
There’s a small beam of light that emanates from the collective burners left on in the cafeteria so you crouch near where that faint light shines through the cafeteria window and hits the outside asphalt, and you rummage through dozens of other keys until you find the right one.
Once you do, the gym is open, the lights flick on, and your work begins.
You pull an old plastic cup from your bag... The type of cup you get with a “value meal” at a fast-food restaurant. But you have no clue what spot it came from because the color on the cup has long faded away.
You fill the cup with water from the old drinking fountain in the corner. A drinking fountain that at one time was reserved strictly for black students and a drinking fountain that was later discovered to be connected to lead pipes.
Regardless of the fountain’s checkered past, you still fill that nameless cup all the way up to the top with a weak but steady stream of formerly racist and poisonous water.
Once your beverage is complete, you rest it on the bench near half-court, tighten the laces on your shoes, grab a ball from the cage, and march right over to the free-throw line.
And you don’t leave there until you hit 100 in a row.
Sometimes, if your lucky, that happens by 11:30. And sometimes it keeps you there until 4 AM... But those variables don’t matter.
It’s the constant that matters and that constant is before you get to lock up and go home, 100 basketballs IN A ROW will leave your 12-year-old fingertips, travel 15 feet in the air, and fall into a hoop that is 10 feet off the ground.
Tonight that constant arrived at 12:55 AM... Not bad... But enough that you are tired as shit.
So you gulp down the rest of your formerly Nazi water, put the cup back into your backpack, turn out the lights, lock up the gym, and then begin the ultra-familiar trek home to your warm bed.
Of course, there are other aspects of your game you can work on, but those get addressed at team practices or on the playground with your friends.
The only aspect you have some sort of “edge” with is free throws. And that “edge” is the fact that you have a private gym every night. And that private gym only exists because your father is the custodian at tour middle school... A position that has caused you TONS of embarrassment in front of your wealthy friends, but a position that has directly shaped you into the best free-throw shooter in your county.
And that dubious distinction meant virtually nothing UNTIL July 1st, 2006.
On July 1st, 2006, the last play of the Summer League U13 Championship came to a storybook close. With no time left on the clock, the janitor’s son is sent to the free-throw line with his team down by one.
He steps up to the line repeating the mantra “BEEF” in his head.
- Eye on the target
- Elbow up
B E E F
By coincidence, at the same moment he was reciting BEEF in his head, just a tiny bit of gas escaped from his clenched asshole that smelled like rancid Salisbury steak.
An opposing teammate caught wind of it and quietly blamed it on the heavyset cheerleader on the baseline... The seven kids in the box (including you) then had a laugh at Fatty Patty’s expense.
But back to the matter at hand... There are free throws to be made, and quite simply, he drains them both.
No dramatic pauses.
Just the son of a lowly janitor putting a team of young men on his back and securing the first Summer League U13 Championship for his town in over 30 years.
Now, fast forward to yesterday.
I didn’t grow up with the benefit of an open gym because my dad wasn’t a middle school janitor.
My dad was a janitor at a women’s prison, so all I got was an unhealthy number of lesbian shower rape stories and access to basic cable.
And similar to our free-throw hero, I used that cable access to my benefit.
Every Wednesday at 9 PM for six years (7 seasons) I religiously tuned my TV to the USA Network and watched burn notice...
So fret not, former number one seed Frank and the Frankettes… No matter what EVERYONE ELSE IS SAYING, you were not beaten by a brighter, more noble, and better-looking Generation XYZ team.
You were beaten by DESTINY.
Take a report.
Wanna look like a winner?… You no longer need a janitorial dad… You just need $28 (plus shiiping&handling).