“Dad, you looked so …”
And then Noah paused, from back in the third row of the Honda Pilot, as we turned up Lake Avenue in Manchester away from the Verizon Wireless Arena, where roughly an hour earlier I had made free throw No. 700,000 on the way to 1 million as a guest member of the Washington Generals against the Harlem Globetrotters.
“So … what, Noah?”
He was laughing. This was going to be good.
The folks at Verizon Wireless Arena and the Globetrotters had been terrific hosts. After inviting me to participate in the game and then sharing “Buckets” Blakes with me for a half hour to rebound two days earlier, they had doled out 16 seats in the first couple of rows behind the Globetrotters bench for the Cummings/Wormald/Lorio clan. The goal was to get me into the game during the traditional Guest General segment near the end of the first half, get me to the line, and get the ball into the hoop for No. 700,000.
Then get me off the floor.
But first I had to change.
So there I was, in the locker room of the losingest team in the history of the world, 20 minutes before the 2 p.m. game, and there were my seven temporary teammates, on average probably 20 years my juniors. They were stone-faced and silent.
As Mason would say … awkward.
Not much was said for the next 10 minutes, and then I asked a question I’d wanted to know the answer to for years, considering this was the Washington Generals, a team that claims victory something like once a decade.
“Who tells you guys if you get to win?”
It probably wasn’t the first time they’d heard the question, but it wasn’t exactly met with great enthusiasm, either. “Nobody. We just play hard every game.”
Then, a few minutes later, I got a question: “Who you with, the newspaper or TV?”
And then it dawned on me. These guys are probably used to the Guest General being a media type, asking a bunch of questions for an upcoming report titled something along the lines of “lovable losers.”
Like, “How’s it feel to get booed every day?” or “What’s it like, being Wile E. Coyote to the Globetrotters’ Roadrunner?” or, um … “Who tells you guys if you get to win?”
Once I told them what I was actually doing there, things got a little lighter.
Then it was time to go play.
Into the tunnel and onto the floor we went, resplendent in our green and yellow, heading for our tidy little layup lines, and greeted unanimously …
So, Noah, what’s that you were saying? I looked so … Handsome? Athletic? Comfortable?
Well, not exactly.
I made a few layups, then a short jump shot, then air-balled a couple in warmups. Then the game got rolling, and the Globetrotters were, well, the Globetrotters … spectacular and funny as ever, taking an easy lead throughout the first half.
I was introduced and entered the game with about four minutes left to the break.
“I’m not going to go too hard on you, because you’re helping the troops,” said Nate “Big Easy” Lofton, the team’s official showman and a 6-foot-9, 250-pound piece of steel, whom I was to guard. “I’m going to go hard on you, just not too hard.”
He got the ball in the low post, knocked me back about three feet back with the first hip bump, knocked me out of bounds with the second, then laid the ball in, and laughed.
Our ball, and it was my turn to shoot a 4-pointer, which is a 35-foot shot from either wing, marked by a big circular mat.
Front rim, over the backboard.
Their ball, and this time Big Easy pulled up from about 25-feet, his elbows taking off from somewhere in the neighborhood of my forehead, and drained the 3-pointer.
Our ball. I got it on the left wing, Big Easy told me to drive, and as I was unloading what probably would have been an airball layup from the left side, he thumped me. Two shots.
I must say, as uncomfortable as I had been for most of the game in anticipation of this moment, that feeling slipped away as I stood at the line. I put the first one up and thought it was perfect.
And then, as uncomfortable as I would have thought I’d be having missed the first one and standing over the next (and final) one … it didn’t happen. For whatever reason, I had no doubt in my mind I was going to make it … in spite of the fact that my new best pal, Big Easy, handed me the ball with this: “You’ve made six hundred and some-odd thousand free throws. Don’t be nervous.
Then he pulled up my shorts. You know, a Steve Urkel.
I readjusted the wedgie, dribbled twice, heard the P.A. announcer say, “For seven-hundred thousand made …” and then floated one in.
And that was it. To the bench I went.
Halftime came, I changed back into street clothes, then watched the rest of the game with the fam. Despite my heroic stat line — 0 for 1 from the field, 1 for 2 from the line, 1 point, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals — the Generals came up short for the 10,000th time or so, and the Verizon crowd went home happy.
And then there was Noah, who it turns out was simply trying to come up with the most diplomatic word for “dorky.”
After 10 seconds or so, he had it.
“You just looked so … white.”
Truer words may never have been spoken.
For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.