I’ve always been a pretty lousy basketball player, and I feel certain it’s because of an orange warm-up suit and black tennis shoes.
My failure as a hoops player always rears its head this time of year as my kids begin practicing for their CYO league teams. Invariably I’ll go to pick them up and they’ll just be goofing around after practice, a ball will bounce my way and I’ll snatch it up and pop loose an errant shot that will have fourth graders immediately ragging on my skills.
My 10-year-old son routinely beats me at HORSE — and I’m really trying! My daughter long ago wrote me off as having nothing of value to offer when it comes to basketball advice. (She also doesn’t think much about my advice on pierced ears for 9-year-olds either, but that’s another column.)
The last time I really tried to play a pickup game was about 10 years ago when I worked at the University of South Alabama. It ended with me raking my front teeth across some student’s forehead while trying to guard him. As he gushed blood, I checked to see if I still had front teeth, then quit.
In the ensuing years my equally hoops-challenged brothers and I did try to play a one-on-one tournament where each game would go to 11. The first game lasted an hour so we had to change it to the first person to five wins to avoid exhaustion.
This lack of ability in basketball bothers me because I can generally get at least decent at sports I try. Over the years I’ve come to believe it was fashion that led me to this sorry state.
My mother has always been, shall we say, “frugal.” With five kids, it’s understandable that a parent may need to watch the pocketbook. But sometimes things got out of hand, and this was particularly true when it came to clothing. My mother, my siblings and I went round and round about name brand clothing and shoes.
Levis jeans? Sure, they were a necessity if you didn’t want to be the conductor on the train to Dorksville when I was a kid in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But my mother wasn’t going to pay $2 more when J.C. Penney’s “Plain Pockets” looked exactly the same except for the famous stitching on the back pockets. She even cooked up a scheme whereby she would simply counterfeit the Levis stitching on the back of the Plain Pockets for me, but the thought of unending humiliation if I was busted kept me from taking her up on that gambit.
Izod shirts? Those ones with the penguins or foxes or whales on them looked exactly the same to her. Who needs to pay so much for a stupid French alligator?
And that Nike swoosh was certainly not worth the outrageous $18 or so they were asking back then. Besides, white shoes got dirty. Black, canvas tennis shoes from TG&Y were just as good at a third the price.
So my brothers and I were a gaggle of Plain Pocket-penguin-shirt-black-canvas-shoe-wearing goofballs. Thank God Sears didn’t make Toughskins jeans in larger sizes. I’d probably still have been wearing those reinforced-knee beauties when I went off to college.
Somewhere around the time I turned 12 or 13 my grandparents sent me a very orange — Dreamsicle orange — Tampa Bay Buccaneers warm-up suit for Christmas. It was super hideous and of course at that time the only acceptable warm-up suit colors were red or blue. I hid the thing figuring I’d never wear it, ever.
Unfortunately the next fall I decided to join the local basketball league. Naturally I wanted a cool blue sweatsuit and some fine leather Nikes to accent my skills, but my mother remembered I already had a “perfectly good” warm-up suit I’d never even worn. And my black canvas tennis shoes would suffice as well.
I held out as long as possible, showing up at games without a warm-up suit on, claiming it wasn’t that cold outside. But not having a warm-up suit was also drawing unwanted attention, as I was quickly coming to terms with my less-than-stellar hoops skills. Eventually it was cold enough that I broke down and went to the game wearing the Dreamsicle and black shoes. Far worse than I ever imagined.
A memory is still vividly burned in my mind of spastically dribbling during pre-game drills, coming in for a lay-up and pounding the ball off the rim and having it come back and hit me in the head. In my mind everyone — especially the cheerleaders — was watching the kid in the dorky Buccaneers suit.
The only other memories I have of that season all involve taking that stupid orange suit off over my uncool black shoes when I had to go into the game for the five seconds I was allowed to play. Needless to say that was my last season of basketball.
You may be wondering why I’m telling you about this instead of my shrink, and that’s a great point. All of my basketball-fashion issues came roaring back this past week when I took my kids to get shoes for their upcoming season. We walked into one store to look, the salesperson pointed to her suggested favorites and I looked at the price tag and went into some kind of anaphylactic shock.
“I’m not paying $120 a pair for basketball shoes for a 9- and 10-year-old!” instinctively shot out of my mouth. Somewhere my mother smiled.
I tried directing my son and daughter toward the ugly black shoes on sale for just $45. Truth be told, there were even some canvas honeys for about $20 I proffered, but they were rejected with extreme prejudice.
Apparently kids these days want really gaudy colored shoes. Apparently really gaudy colored shoes cost more. Who knew? I could tell that if they had the wrong shoes they would be embarrassed and be thinking about their shoes instead of playing and they too might quit simply because of the clothes, so I found shoes that were just ridiculously overpriced instead of insanely so. Now that they’re properly outfitted, I’m expecting big things on the court.
Oh, and the way back through the mall I bought my son some blue jeans as well. Apparently they don’t sell the Plain Pockets anymore.