In 1990 the Pistons played the Bulls in my driveway most days of the week. Weather permitting of course. Countless battles were waged between those titans. Every game was close. Every game was decided by a last second shot. Every position was played by a small, red-headed white boy.
These games might seem silly to an adult reading this today but to me they were pretty serious. Putting on the perfect game day after day was no easy task. Each was carefully constructed, with thought put into highlighting my favorite players. Heroics had to be displayed by each, while players who had recently displeased me had horrible nights and were jeered by the fans. I also did the announcing and filled the ears of millions of imaginary listeners with such memorable phrases as, “This might be… the most bravest performance… by any team… ever.” I was a dramatic kid.
One spring day I went out to the driveway with my basketball and found my dad washing and waxing his truck. This left me maybe six feet to work with between the hoop and the truck. The show must go on. Unfortunately there was going to be a lot less three-pointers.
Things started steadily. Both teams were going inside more than usual leading to Laimbeer and Cartwright having better games than normal. Because dunking was out of the question things were kind of boring, and it wasn’t long before I started mixing in some jumpers to spice things up. I had to get Jordan and Isiah involved somehow, they were my favorites after all. It didn’t take long before a poor bounce sent the ball off the door of the truck. I snatched it up as fast as I could and tried to ignore the murderous glare tossed my way by my dad. Maybe he should have kept his truck off the Palace’s free-throw line. The game continued, once again compromised of lay ups and hook shots.
It wasn’t long before the day cooled and I tired of this confined version of my usual game. I was going to have to tie my storyline up. The way things had come together I needed Dumars to hit a three while getting fouled and then make the free-throw. A four point play for the win. Suitably dramatic I think. I ran to the far edge of the driveway, jumped into the air, and chucked up my desperation three. The ball bricked badly off the back of the rim and pounded into the side of the truck, disturbingly close to where my dad was waxing. I’d gone too far.
He grabbed the ball. I froze guiltily. I tried to say something about being sorry and it being an accident. The words came out in a whispered jumble… meaningless. He lifted the ball in one hand and then pounded it off the pavement as hard as he could. The ball shot into the air as if from a cannon. He turned towards me, preparing to unleash his fury. Fate intervened. Whether it was chance, a stray gust of wind, or the hand of our lord we’ll never know. The ball came to a halt for a split second before gravity took over and dropped it onto the slant of the garage roof. The garage roof bounced it up and out, back towards the driveway. I saw it all in slow motion. My eyes locked on the ball. My fathers eyes locked on me, an arm extended, pointing. His mouth was opening in preparation to chew my ass. The ball dropped towards the truck. My hands rose to my face as if to cover my eyes or mouth. I cringed like a beaten dog. The ball struck the windshield of the truck and then shot like a bullet straight at my fathers face. The sound of rubber striking flesh filled the air.
I saw confusion on his face. I saw rage. I saw embarrassment. And that’s all I saw because I ran for it. I’d decided I wanted to be in the barn on the other side of the property. He didn’t stop me. We didn’t speak of it later. No one on the planet witnessed it but him and I. But I know it was a miracle. And I like to think, that this one time, God reached out and said, “It was an accident. Leave the boy alone.” Sorry dad.