Tales from the Playground Courts: Men Against Boys

Sep 20, 2012 by


I recall two teachings from attending Catholic school – sex was bad and the Soviet Union was public enemy number one.  In 8th grade, my school outsourced sex education to a hideous-looking tightly wound lady pushing fifty years of age.  Her voice was shrill.  I learned nothing substantial about the act of sex. during her budget reduced allotment of two classroom visits.  I did learn, through a series of graphic images, about sexually transmitted diseases you will most assuredly contract if you partake in any type of sexual activity.  She was clear, my classmates and I were headed for the same fate as Ryan White.  I envisioned my teenage years being spent attending funerals of my classmates with Elton John singing a personalized version of Candle in the Wind at the church altar.

If not sex then for sure a Soviet nuke would end my and every other life within a fifty mile radius of my town.   Cold War news littered our newspapers and nightly newscasts.  It even made its way into the curriculum via the segment Current Events.   The Soviet Union had Nuclear bombs pointed directly at our coast lines, Reagan and Gorbachev couldn’t agree on shit, and our government worked tirelessly marketing the defense system  Star Wars.  We were headed to war and if war was spared for a day then we better not fuck anyone.

An 8th grade boy is a simple creature.  Their environment lends itself to certain things.  For instance, an 8th grade boy must have access to a great extent of privacy.     Alone in locked bedrooms and bathrooms with the SI Swimsuit issue masturbating at levels of grandeur.  Their metabolism functions at an alarming rate, they need to stockpile food, they need to eat and they need to eat often.

8th grade boys are deemed worthless to society.  These puberty stricken males’ posses zero talent, limited social skills, and minimal intelligence.  They are have no real responsibilities and are inexperienced in life’s harsh realities.    They are ugly yet armed with ample unwarranted confidence bordering on sheer arrogance.

They know how they are perceived, it comes as no surprise and they relish every second of it.  It very well might be the happiest time in the life of any man.  The bar was set exceptionally low, no one expected much from us.   We didn’t give two shits about world events and happenings’ outside of our tiny social circles.  It was more important to be cool amongst peers and avoid any moments of embarrassment.   Middle school boys should be left alone to deal with this time in their life.  Fourteen marks the final year before what remains of their innocence is ripped away from forever.   This is especially true for kids growing up in towns across the Midwest.

My friends and I were no different than any other adolescent boys coming of age in the 1980’s.  We took sex and war in stride.   Since we could not avoid someone lecturing us, whether at school or on the home front, we more or less dealt with them the only way we knew how – listening to profane rap music and playing basketball.   Every day was pretty much the same; listening to Too Short, 2 Live Crew and the latest from N.W.A., followed by a bike ride to the playground basketball courts.  We took care of our sexual needs through hand-me-down Playboys and scrambled Cinemax.  My friends and I watched the film Red Dawn about a half dozen times, so we felt prepared to deal with Soviet troops invading our soil.  Red Dawn brought an inner calm to our minds.   Gorbachev, communism and the threat of World War III would be handled by Patrick Swayze and friends; we were perfectly content going on with our lives.  Our reality was fighting battles on the courts and embracing our freedoms by listening to five gangsters from Compton say fuck every other lyric over heavy bass lines and drum beats.

We had more significant matters to address.

Summit meetings regarding arms control between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev typically were devoid of progress during much of the 80’s.  Obviously the failings of reaching an agreement led to disappointment and for some, a sense of fear.  However, the most disheartening event of the 80’s Cold War era occurred in the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea.   Since there were no true military battles occurring, the only time the Soviets and the United Sates would actually fight  face off was during  Olympic competition.  The United Sates basketball team , led by former Georgetown University head coach John Thompson, returned home from Seoul with Bronze medals draped around their necks.  Making matters worse, the US squad lost to a solid Soviet team loaded with seasoned veterans in the semifinals.  When the news reached the states, you would have thought we lost the Cold War right then and there.  The overreactions were expected, even knowing our team of college kids was outmatched in every facet, most notably in physicality and international play experience.  The Soviets were a team of highly skilled men with beards; we sent over college boys who had never picked up a razor.   The loss was a massive blow to the collective American basketball fan ego.

Something had to be done.

Within four short years, the soured feelings and embarrassment in America were ultimately repaired.  The US Olympic Basketball Committee told the NCAA there services in international basketball were no longer needed.  We all know the team the US marched over to Barcelona in the summer of 1992.  Gold medals were restored to their rightful owners led by guys named Magic, Bird, and Jordan.  The Russian hoops team, no longer able to acquire talent from the Baltic regions, failed to medal.  Americans were back on top in basketball, a 44 year conflict had concluded;  Russia now sucked – all was well in America.

Twenty years have passed since the 1992 Summer Olympic Games.  The “Dream Team” to this day is still held in the highest of regard within American sports culture.  I am quite positive we will all be long gone before any other team replaces the 1992 Olympic squad as the greatest team ever assembled.  Americans still have fond memories of 50 point blowout wins.  There is a sense of pride that Coach Daly never called a single timeout during the Olympic run.   We grin widely when reminiscing about Charles Barkley elbowing some player from Angola.  Great times had by all.

Personally, I wish that team never existed.

I was not a member of a young Communist society.  Hell, all I knew about Communism was  it was packaged in red and spoken in unfamiliar languages.  I was fond of the color green and preferred English as my source to communicate verbally.  I enjoyed watching  the NBA.  I was familiar with each member of the Dream Team, in fact, my favorite player of all time ran the point.   I wanted this team to stand on the gold medal podium and listen to our country’s anthem play throughout the stadium.  I was proud this team returned to the states victorious.

I still wished this team never existed.

It had nothing to do with the inevitable outcome lacking any suspense, or the games were tedious to watch.  It would have been interesting to see how the 1992 crop of college kids matched up in the 1992 Olympics. Penny Hardaway, Chris Webber, Shaquille O’Neal and others would have probably fared well, but then again, we will never know.    However, none of that influenced my sentiments towards the Dream Team.

So what  makes me the only person in America with a less than favorable reaction to the 1992 Olympic men’s basketball team?  There is an outdoor basketball court located in Newburgh, Indiana.  Its location shares  grounds with the public pool.  I cannot even begin to figure how many hours I spent there with my friends throughout the late 80’s and most of the 90’s.  Once the short Southern Indiana winter vanished and handed the season over to spring, the court was packed with players daily.  Pickup games began as soon as school let out and continued on into the evening.   Games to eleven, call your own fouls and winners stay were the only rules.   The court hosted an array of players,  mostly high school kids, but during the summer an influx of college players would show up at times.  You would also see on occasion, mostly on weekends, a few guys in their late 30’s early 40’s.  There would also be groups of spectators hanging around the court.  A girlfriend of someone, a drug dealer and a slew of younger kids dribbling a ball on the sidelines wishing they were old enough to play.

You were welcomed to begin hopping in on games around the age of fourteen.  If you were younger than that but blessed with ungodly basketball talent, an exception could be granted.   Otherwise you were to remain on the sidelines and just watch.  My group of friends reaching the age of fourteen signified the moment we went from the driveway to the big leagues.

You often made your way to the courts after school, it was easier to get into a game if you came with five guys to round out your team.  We sat on the sidelines watching the action until it was our turn to take on the current team laying claim to kings of the court.

My 8th grade year at St. John’s had wrapped up and I was off to high school that August.  A group of us that summer would make our way to the basketball court each day and see how far our talents could take us.  Mostly, we got our asses kicked.  There was a group of high school kids who held court most of that summer.  There was a player who stood out; the de facto leader of his pickup team or something to that extent.  Though he didn’t play high school ball, he was a decent athlete and physically stronger than most.  He was also a dick.  Running his mouth, talking shit to anyone within ears distance as his team consistently held court.  I fucking couldn’t stand him, my friends concurred.  We referred to him as Dickhead(Behind his back).  We came close a few times but always eventually ended up on the losing end.  Sure enough, and without hesitation, he let us know about it each and every time.  Though our basketball skill set was equal or in my opinion slightly better, they were just more physically and athletically greater in stature than us; which if you know anything about pickup hoops can take you a long way.

We came back that next summer and took it to Dickhead and his team.

We had a year under our belt of high school play and summer camps.  We had filled out some, and our bodies had finally caught up with our skills.  Throughout the month of June, Dickhead and his gang could not touch us.  A few on court skirmishes broke out, mostly due to their frustrations of inadequacy. We never had to say a word; our play on the court was enough.  I felt so much pride watching them with their heads hung low leaving the court in disgrace.  After each victory against them, my friends and I had letters swimming around in our minds that spelled out,  F-U-C-K Y-O-U, D-I-C-K-H-E-A-D-!

As the summer progressed, we saw less and less of Dickhead and his squad.  Then one particular Saturday evening he showed up with new members that rounded out his team.  We had won about four or five games in a row, when I looked over at the sidelines to see who we would play next, I noticed Dickhead staring right back at me.  He confidently strutted onto the court with four new guys; one of them just finished up his freshman year at Boston College trading elbows with Alonzo Mourning.  David Hinton stood 6’ foot 11” and became a local celebrity as an all state player from our town.  Along with him were three other stand out high school players who we knew all too well from watching them play during last year’s high school season.

We might have scored three buckets against them.  Dickhead was once again his boastful self.  “What a pussy.”  I mentioned under my breath to my friend Tim.

Since he could no longer push us around with his former team, Dickhead recruited players he knew would torch us.  And that they did.  That cop out resulted in loss after loss to them throughout the remainder of the summer.

Cop out.  That is what comes to mind when I look back to the team we sent over to the 1992 Olympics.   It was the path of least resistance to make us feel better about ourselves again.  We wanted it fast and easy.  Heaven forbid we endure any adversity to do so.  The 1980 Olympic hockey team moment was a nice story and all but no way would we accept college players to represent our country’s basketball to the world.  Too much at stake I guess.

I am sure on the surface Dickhead’s pride was restored to some extent.  I like to think deep inside his soul the pride he felt was half empty compared to what it had been with his original group of friends beating on us during that first summer my friends and I played.  Did our successful run against Dickhead and his counterparts  put a dent in his ego that remained unrepaired for a very long time?  Or is it just another case of petulance being rewarded with an easy way out? Who’s to say?  What I can tell you is he was a dick whether he won or lost, and the Dream Team, while great, didn’t take away our previous losses nor prevent us from losing again.

It did however; make the usual rite of passage for a 13 year old boy on the mean streets of Indiana a little more difficult than it had been in the past.  For that, I will never forgive them.







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  1. Yeagerbomb

    it’s still about being cool among your peers!

  2. nate

    Great read and quite a trip down memory lane! This made me think of Shawn Shelton playing in red jeans.

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