Last Friday my string of one-on-one basketball victories came to an end. And I knew it would the second I saw my challenger.
He was around 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 with a very long wingspan. When you play enough times, you can just tell when guys are good. You develop a sixth sense for this stuff. This guy looked like he had played in high school.
But I'm never one to back down, so I accepted his challenge and we played a three games to 11 on a blustery, 94 degree afternoon. (I had already been shooting for almost an hour by the time he arrived, and the winds that day were cruel.)
The reason I blog about this particular game is not that I lost, which is certainly rare enough to warrant such a report. It's that the guy took off his shirt and displayed a tattoo I will never forget.
"Fuck Every Body" ran right across the top of his chest. You should have seen my face when I saw it. "Dear God, he's going to destroy me." He also had tattoos of woman's faces on his stomach. It was distracting. And sort of scary.
In the first game, I took a quick lead driving to the basket without abandon. But then I missed a shot wide right (remember, 15-20 mph gusts that day) and he decided, "Perhaps I should post up this 158-pound stick figure." From then on I was powerless to stop him.
My strategy was to play off him and pray that he would shoot jumpers. It worked here and there, but he built a 7-2 advantage. At one point, I blocked one of his jump shots, but the ball went right back to him and he attempted a hook shot. He missed that one, too, but rebounded over my back and laid it in. I screamed a profanity in frustration. You can't call "over the back" in pickup hoops, but I was still peeved. He told me to "calm down."
Yes, the guy with "Fuck Every Body" tattooed on his chest told ME to calm down.
This lit a fire in me and I hit five straight shots to tie the game, but he went on to win 11-9. Absolutely exhausted and my right shoulder killing me, I rested for ten minutes and then we faced off in a rematch. I entered Schaible mode and shot almost nothing but two's (shot from behind the arc). I couldn't drive on him. He was too tall. I couldn't do my patented drive, stop and shoot a fade-away because he had arms like the tentacles of a giant octopus.
He got out to another big lead, but I found my touch once again. It was 9-9 and I missed three two-point attempts in a row. Thankfully, he was taking jump shots and missing them. At last, I grabbed a rebound, raced to the top of the key and nailed a two-pointer. I ran forward in case there was a rebound, saw the ball touch nothing but net and raised my arms in sweet, sweet victory.
Whatever is beyond exhausted, that's what I was at that point. I also had to be at work, but a true man can never leave if a series is tied at 1. A tiebreaker must be staged.
He toyed with me down in the paint, at some points laughing to himself because he got about 90 percent of the rebounds. Again, this guy's wingspan was ridiculous. Up 7-1 at one point, he thought victory was assured. Little did he know that his spindly opponent is not called "Ironwill O'Houlihan" for nothing.
The gusts FINALLY died down and I started draining everything. I took the lead at 9-8 and had a chance to make it 10-8 but I short-armed a very makeable hook shot. Unfortunately for me, he did his thing in the paint and won the deciding game 11-9.
Yes, this story ended tragically. But perhaps I gained a modicum of respect from this fellow I shall forever know as "Fuck Every Body." He said, "Good shootin'" and we clasped hands before I stumbled deliriously to my car.
My streak of not having lost a one-on-one series, which lasted all of 2011, is over. But my pride shall never die.