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Sometimes You Have to Challenge Authority to Make Your Point...

My sophomore year in high school I tried out and made the JV basketball team. I was an aggressive defender and rebounder, had a really good shot from the corner, and I was a pass-first kind of player. The coach had his starting five picked long before the season started and the bench five wasn't seeing much action. We were lucky to get 3-4 minutes of garbage time at the end of games and that was only when we were winning, which wasn't often enough.

At practice the bench five played well, sometimes beating up on the overly-cocky starting five, but the coach never made any changes, choosing instead to stick with his starters no matter how poorly they played. By mid-season, the bench five felt more like cheerleaders than actual players. We knew it was highly unlikely we'd ever get our chance to prove ourselves in a regular-season game...

Then, at the beginning of one practice mid-season, I challenged the starting five to a full-court game against the bench five. At first, the starters didn't want any part of it and our coach totally ignored my challenge, but after calling out the starting five for being afraid to play us, they did a 180 and decided they wanted the game. The coach was reluctant, but after the starters said they wanted to kick our asses and then insisted that we play the game, the coach finally agreed, adding that he would referee...

Dhaya Eddine Bentaleb. Unsplash Images.

The bench five consisted of some really good players who might've been starters for a different coach. Jay Namyet was a 6'1" forward who wore a multi-colored headband around his medium-length light brown hair. He was a really good tennis player and we gave him a ration of shit because of it, but he played basketball with incredible intensity and toughness, always hustling up and down the court. Bob Levine, nicknamed "Boomer", was 6' tall with a big body. He ran the court hard and he threw his weight around under the boards, grabbed a lot of rebounds, and was a scoring threat down low. (He went on to serve as a Senior VP for the NBA from 1983-2004) Roy Murray was a muscular 5'10" and wore thick black-rimmed glasses. He was a METCO student who lived in Boston and commuted to Sharon by bus every day. He was one of the first kids I knew that wore Converse All-Stars back in junior high (1968). He walked around wearing ankle weights all day and when he removed them he could jump and he had great hang time when he took his jump shot. (I immediately bought ankle weights and a pair of Cons) Roy was left-handed and when he got on a roll he couldn't miss, but even when he missed six, seven in a row, he continued shooting. We had to get him to stop gunning and convince him to pass the ball, which for this game, he was willing to do. Scott Allen moved to Sharon from California in 7th grade and became my best friend. We played a lot of heated one-on-one driveway basketball together and sometimes they ended in friendly skirmishes. He was 6' 1", real strong, competitive, and had a complete game. He could rebound, shoot, and pass. I was the point guard and for this game, I also functioned as player-coach. No one wanted to win this game more than I did…

Jay Namyet's High School Yearbook Picture (1974)

The scoreboard was turned on and time was kept. This quickly became an important game that both sides desperately wanted to win. There was definitely bragging rights up for grabs but the bench five believed that with a strong performance maybe we could earn some actual playing time.

It was immediately apparent that the coach had his thumb on the scale, and anytime his starters drove the lane, despite the lack of any hard contact, we were whistled for a foul, putting them at the line. When we drove to the hoop we were getting hammered, leveled, but there were no whistles for us…

Bob Levine's High School Yearbook Picture (1974)

We huddled up during the first time out and discussed what we had to do to win, and keeping the coach's whistle quiet was tops on our list. We played tough defense but we made no physical contact so we wouldn't be called for any fouls.

The game was close and the coach was doing everything he could to prevent us from winning. Whenever the ball went out of bounds, according to him, we always touched it last. Saying the refereeing was one-sided would be an understatement… 

Roy Murray's High School Yearbook Picture (1974)

We were playing some incredible team basketball, making the extra pass to get the best shot. This was the only time the bench five got to play four quarters and it was the most important game of the season for us. With two minutes left it was very close and we were trading buckets. The coach continued whistling fouls on us despite the lack of contact, putting his starters on the line, giving them every opportunity to run away with the game. At one point, we were down by as many as 8 points and it appeared that the bench five were gonna lose to the starters… But then Roy hit a bomb, Jay stole the ball and made a full-court pass to me for an easy layup, Boomer tipped one in, and after Scott hit a short jumper off the glass it was all tied up. When the buzzer finally sounded to end it the bench five had not only played well, we beat the starting five by 6 points! There was disappointment on the faces of the starting five and the coach looked pretty damn upset…

Scott Allen's High School Picture (1973). Scott moved back to California for his senior year and we kept in touch. He was a great writer and not long after he completed his first novel "Salvation Beach" he died suddenly at the age of 55…

We celebrated our win like it was a championship game and we figured we'd be getting more minutes for our strong performance… But, the coach was pissed that we challenged his authority and made him look bad and he decided to punish us by further reducing our playing time. The five of us became full-time bench warmers and other than a couple of minutes at the end of games, we rarely got on the court.

The last game of the season the coach put me in with 43 seconds left on the clock. After his starters lost to the bench five, a contest I initiated, he snubbed me the entire second half of the season. Waiting to put me in until there were only 43 seconds left in the season was his final "fuck you"

Once I got on the court my loyal fans started yelling "Zinger" at the top of their lungs, a nickname I got because after getting full extension on my jump, my shot lacked a big arc. It was more of a line drive than a fly ball and the crowd always responded to it with loud cheers. I may have only been one of the scrubs but I had my fans…

Yup, that's my yearbook pic (1974)

Knowing these 43 seconds might be my last hurrah, my swan song, I made the decision to abandon my pass-first mentality and get off as many shots as I could. The second I got my hands on the ball I took what would've been a three-point shot today and hit it. I stole the inbounds pass and made an easy layup. Then, with ten seconds remaining on the clock, I got the ball, dribbled as far as I could, and with 2 seconds left I let one fly from three-point range and it was nothing but net. I scored 6 points in 43 seconds and the bench five was quick to do the math and they were running around the locker-room celebrating, claiming I would've scored 144 points if I had played the entire game.

The coach played favorites and he didn't give anyone else a chance, shame on him. I had gone to every practice, attended every game, and never got to play any meaningful minutes. After this fiasco, I decided not to go out for the team my junior year…

Years later, when I became a vocational instructor at Tri-County Regional, a lot of kids in the plumbing shop were big, strong athletes, but a majority of them didn't play on any school teams. When I pressed them on it they responded with, "The coaches all play favorites and who wants to invest all that time if you're not gonna get to play a lot. Besides, we can get jobs, buy cars, have girlfriends, and have a lot more fun…"

It's a shame when some of the best athletes opt out of high school sports because of the favoritism/politics, but I totally get it. 

The best players don't always get to play…