I play basketball in a league here in the city called the New York Urban Professional League, which basically means, White Person's Basketball League. Actually that's not true, there are a lot of divisions and the more skilled players do happen to be black AND professional. The league is fun though, we play at school gyms all over Manhattan. It's my only experience with inner-city schools and there are some gyms that I dread playing in because of the condition of the building. Somebody should do something about that. Each game has two referees which are paid by the league and they are mostly impartial. I don't like the makeup calls (calling a cheap foul because they called a cheap foul at the other end) but it's hard to complain to a 6' black dude who's pushing 250 and is surrounded by white dudes.
The division in which I play is called "Air Ball," which is more than apt. Last season, our division was called "Most Excellent" and conjured images of wheelchairs and donkey basketball. I like Air Ball more because at least my team, inexplicably dubbed Ill Wind, doesn't feel retarded. We just know that we suck.
Suck might be too harsh. Ill Wind not good, but we're not awful. Last season, we were able to finish at .500 and that only put us out of the playoffs by two spots (remember, "Most Excellent.") That was done mostly by sheer will, not because of any talent.
Ill Wind ostensibly has 8 members but we haven't heard from James, the 6'4" center who is unarguably the best player, in a while. He didn't make the last six games of last season and gave no reason for his absence. I can only surmise that he's found greener pastures and teammates who know how to pass to him. That leaves 7 semi-active players.
Jason, 5'10", is the captain of the team, the organizer. I'd classify him as a small forward, he doesn't really bang down in the paint and he can have a pretty sweet 15' jumper when he doesn't get blocked. His ball handling skills, while better than some, demand that he look down while dribbling so he doesn't always "See The Court."
Han is a tiny Asian guard and he is a viciously hyper perimeter defender. By vicious, I mean that he once had 3 hand-check fouls called on him in under a minute. Offensively, because of his height, he is limited to driving and shooting a floater in the key, which he hits with varying success.
Our point guard and best shooter is Robert, a short Italian guy. He has the best ball-handling out of all of us and can turn the tide of a game with a few well-placed 3s. The problem is when those threes are ill-placed. Basically, when Robert is having a good game, so do we. You can figure out the corollary to that one.
Winston is our center without James. He's about six feet and actually plays more like a slashing forward. He's got a good turn-around jumper and can rebound relatively well. Definitely our best scorer, I feel confident passing the ball to him every time. The drawback to that is the other team figures out kind of quick that Winston doesn't really have that many post-up moves and can be susceptible to a double-team. Things go downhill from there.
Mike is also rarely at games, mostly due to a back injury. He is a shooter, although I rarely see his shots go in. Probably the most athletic build of anybody on the team, Mike needs to drive more and shoot higher percentage shots to build up his Turbo.
Chris is almost indescribable without hurting his feelings. He means well and has a fairly large amount of hustle, but he's a little bit like that kid in Hoosiers who dribbles the ball off his foot in the championship game. Actually, I think that kid was better. Chris shoots the ball with two-hands and he looks like a seventh-grade girl in braces while dribbling the ball. Other than that, he's great. He's "Most Excellent."
And that leaves me, Bob Jingle. I'm the power forward, the workhorse. I don't shoot very well but I try to make up for it by banging the boards and scoring on easy cleanup plays. On defense, I foul a lot and on offense, I get fouled a lot. Which sucks because I don't hit very many foul shots so it doesn't really help the team that much. But I try.
An Ill Wind is blowing in. Cover your nose and mouth.
The spring season just started last night and we were semi-blownout. We played in perhaps the worst gym of the league, the boards of the court are all uneven and lifting up and it's dimly lit. It was Parent Conference Day at the High School of Graphics on 49th and 9th Avenue. After the game, it was strange how we were taking off our pants in the presence of children and their mothers. Not very reassuring for the parents, I would imagine, to have all these men disrobing where their child goes to school.
Anyway the game was a battle. If you didn't get the idea from my description of the team, we are quite small and not very muscular or fast. The other team, called JOBU, were a group of athletic monsters. Not all of them were tall but they were all big and fast. We were down by 4 at the half, but that was only because I figured out that if you dribbled into the key and tried to take a shot, they would foul you. I think I scored the last 7 points of the half by shooting free throws. The second half started with JOBU going on a run, they scored the first ten points and effectively ended the game. I still tried the trick of dribbling in and that worked for a little while. The best play of the game for me was when I got fouled driving to the hoop and the offender judiciously made his claim of inaccuracy known to the official.
"That's fucking bullshit," he said. He was rewarded with a technical foul.
I shot 4 free throws (2 for the T, and 2 for the shooting foul) and I made 3 of them. Actually, last night was my best foul shooting performance to date. I think I hit 8 or 9 out of 12, not bad for a guy who usually is comfortable with shooting %50 from the charity stripe (that's basketball lingo for the foul line).
But it was all for naught. The other team was just too good for out little group of fighters. We had no answers to their superior big men if they got the ball down low and once they learned they could easily block our shots instead of fouling, our offense was shut down. Even a few threes by Robert couldn't keep us in the game.
I hope this doesn't mean that "Air Ball" wasn't somehow an ironic reference to a much better division. We might do better dropping back down to "Most Excellent" and concentrate on our donkey-riding skills.
Over the course of the season, I will try to keep all you dear readers informed as to how Ill Wind is faring. I'm not promising game-by-game analysis but it might keep my basketball fix going now that March Madness is over. By the way, this March was the most profitable for me ever as I made $400 by winning two office pools. I will not, however, be placing any money on the success of Ill Wind. I have learned something from Pete Rose: Don't bet on shitty teams.