Authors: Amar'e Stoudemire
e played until late afternoon. We were all wiped out by then, and I needed to get home and eat lunch. Things had gotten tense during the game. Sometimes that happens, even if it's just because of a foul or something. I wasn't too worried. Mike, Deuce, and I had been friends for a long time â and a lot of games. In the past, we'd always been good at shaking it off.
Right now, I needed to shake off this hunger. I was starving! I kept picturing my fridge, trying to remember what was in there and decide what I'd eat first. The more I thought about it, the faster I walked. Then I remembered a slice of pie I'd seen on the bottom shelf. If I didn't get home soon, I'd drool all over myself.
And then I got home and forgot all about it. Dad's truck was in the driveway. I'd barely seen him since I'd been back, just a little the night before. I pushed through the door, and there he was, sitting at the kitchen table. He had a fork in his hand and a little plate in front of him with some plastic wrap balled up off to the side.
“Aw, man, Pops,” I said. “I was going to eat that!”
“Eat what?” he said, scooping up the last bite of pie and popping it into his mouth. “Still plenty of food in there, anyhow.”
I made a move toward the fridge, but he was too fast: “Wash up first!” he said.
Man, I really needed to work on my first step.
When I got back, my hands were cleaner than Dad's plate. But the pie wasn't the only thing that was wiped out. Dad was slumped back in his chair. He still had his work clothes on, the sleeves rolled up on his green shirt.
“You done for the day?” I asked as I pulled a plate down from the cupboard above the sink.
“Nope,” he said, letting out a long, slow breath. “Got another job in about” â he looked down at his watch â “about right now.”
Dad had his own lawn-care company, and Saturdays were always his busiest days. A while ago, we saw a sign over in Lakeland that said
SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY
. We both laughed: Every Saturday was Small Business Saturday when you owned a lawn-care company. The main reason was that Dad's customers liked to be home to “help out.” From what I'd seen, that consisted of about 20 percent telling Dad and his guys what needed doing and about 80 percent getting in the way and nitpicking. That made the long hours a little longer.
Dad looked down at the empty plate and gave himself a few more seconds. Then he took a deep breath and stood up. “See you tonight,” he said.
“Okay, Dad,” I said. “Don't forget to give 'em the bill.”
“I never do!” he said on his way out the door.
I heard his truck start up as I was leaning into the fridge and filling up my plate. I heard it pull out as I sat down. I looked over at his empty chair, and I was really glad he got that last slice of pie.
I was back in school on Monday. I'd missed time the week before, but I still had to keep up with the assignments.
Deuce was a really good student, too, and he let me know about the reading and homework and all that over the phone. And Mom did the rest. I'd have one foot out the door, and she'd turn me right around with a quick “You finished that homework, right?”
Most of it I didn't mind, like history. I really liked history. And English, too, because I've always liked reading. Sometimes the assignments were less fun, but it didn't matter. Mom made sure I did them all, just like Dad did when I was home.
Anyway, every class I went to, I handed in a thick stack of homework first thing. Most of my teachers were happy I'd done it, but I think a few of them were annoyed because now they had to grade it all. Especially our science teacher, Mr. Norris. He got a really sour look on his face when I handed in my work. I wanted to say: “Hey, if you just give me all A's, you won't have to sweat it.” But I didn't. We called Mr. Norris “Mr. Bore-us” because he had zero sense of humor.
Anyway, I sat with the usual crew at lunch: Mike and Deuce, plus our friends Tavoris and Marcus. They spent the whole time catching me up on what had happened
while I was away. Dougie joined us, too. He was actually standing there for a while before we saw him.
“Come on down,” I said once I noticed him hovering over us. We scooted over and made some space. He didn't have much to say, though. I guess he was still getting to know everybody.
He did say one interesting thing, right before the bell: “You guys ready for the tournament?”
Mike, Deuce, and I all answered at the same time.
“Sure,” I said.
“Maybe,” said Deuce.
“Think so,” said Mike.
“You need to get your story straight!” said Marcus.
“What we need to do is practice,” said Mike.
“Can't today,” said Deuce. “How about tomorrow?”
“Sure,” I said.
“No problem,” said Mike.
“You should sign up, too,” Deuce said to Dougie.
“Yeah,” I said.
He just shrugged: “It's three-on-three.”
“What about these two?” I said, nodding over at Tavoris and Marcus.
“Don't look at me,” said Marcus. “I just talk a good game.”
We all laughed at that, too: He was the biggest motormouth in the whole grade.
No one was home after school. Dad's truck was long gone, and Junior's beat-up old car was nowhere in sight. I didn't have a car, but I had my Mongoose bike. I loved to skateboard, but is there anything better than the speed of a bike? It can't go as far or as fast as a car, but it never gets stuck in traffic. Anyway, it was another nice day in Polk County, so I decided to take it for a spin.
What I liked best about riding my bike was just thinking. I could go anywhere I wanted. Well, not Miami or anything, but anywhere in town. And I could just be by myself and think.
I thought about something else. Deuce couldn't play today, but Mike could. Used to be, the two of us would hit the court on our own. This was before the tournaments, before the practices. We'd go there just for fun and maybe some one-on-one. This time, neither of us had even mentioned it.
I kept pedaling. I had a lot to think about.
he rest of the week zipped by. It usually did when I was catching up on stuff. Pretty soon it was Saturday morning: tourney time! This one was called the High Flyer 3-on-3, and the signs all said:
A CONTEST OF WILLS AND BATTLE OF SKILLS
. That sounded good to me!
“Check this out,” said Deuce, pointing to one of the signs. “I wonder how we
“That's not what they mean by âa contest of wills,' you nerd,” said Mike.
“Yeah, and you're not what they mean by âskills'!” said Deuce.
We were all in a good mood. The next practice had gone better than that first one. Dougie wasn't there, so
we couldn't play two-on-two and mostly just worked on plays. We'd been running a lot of baseline stuff that we were sure would work here today, and our plays were looking pretty sharp.
We'd arrived a little early because my dad had dropped us off on his way to work. We'd already signed in and stretched out. “We should check out the rims,” I said.
“Yeah, I'm going for an eagle-eye view,” said Mike, raising the ball above his head like he was getting ready to throw down a monster two-handed jam.
“Well, it is called the High Flyer,” I said.
“Bet you a dollar you don't,” said Deuce. At his height, Mike had no shot at dunking. Betting against us was his way of joining in.
“You're on!” said Mike.
Long story short: We owed Deuce a buck. Mike and I each took three tries at dunking. If it didn't happen on the first few, it pretty much wasn't going to happen. And we didn't want to tire out our legs before the tournament even started. (Of course, if Deuce had bet us
bucks, we would've been trying till sundown!)
I got really close on my second attempt. I tried it one-handed. I could extend a little more that way, but holding on was trickier. I had big hands for an eleven-year-old, but still. Anyway, I started with a flat-out sprint, at least ten feet, not even pretending to dribble. Then I launched myself up at the rim. I brought my hand back. The ball wobbled a little, but I held on tight. At the absolute top of my jump, I slammed it forward.
The ball hit the rim, but it shot straight up in the air. That meant the bottom of the ball had hit the top of the rim. I was definitely getting close to dunking â and I was still growing pretty fast. Before I even landed I thought:
I'll get there soon
Mike banged his shots off the rim a few times, but his bounced straight back. He was still growing, too, but he was kind of growing in both directions. He took off like a big old jetliner.
“Look out below!” I yelled after his last attempt, because he landed like a jetliner, too.
The other kids started to show up. Most of them just took lazy jumpers and stuff. That way, if they missed,
they could act like they weren't really trying anyway. Some of them talked quietly because they knew people were listening. Some of them talked loudly for the same reason. I got a kick out of the loud ones.
We were watching this one loud, lanky kid strut around the court. He had bright yellow sneakers on that looked like hyperactive bananas when he moved. He rattled in a ten-foot shot and looked all around to make sure everyone saw it.
“What's he want, a prize?” said Mike.
“Maybe he should try not to use every inch of the rim next time,” I said.
“No need to go bananas,” said Deuce, as the kid chest-bumped one of his teammates.
And then all of a sudden, the court was empty.
“Are we starting up?” said Mike.
“Still too early,” said Deuce.
It reminded me of this show I'd seen during Shark Week on TV. One minute, there were all these seals playing around and doing loop-de-loops in the water. The next second they just vanished. Then the camera started panning around, because the guy holding it
knew the deal. A shark had showed up and scared off all the seals.
And now I saw the shark. He was long and lean like the cocky kid in banana shoes, but he wasn't strutting. He was just walking, nice and easy. And he wasn't looking around either. It was like he didn't care if people were watching or not.
“Check out this guy,” I said.
“What do you mean,” said Deuce, “good or bad?”
He hadn't done anything more than dribble the ball with his right hand yet, but I knew.
“Good,” I said.
“How can you tell?” Deuce asked, but just then, the kid took off toward the basket. Three quick dribbles and he was there. Then he shot straight up and threw down a no-doubt-about-it, rim-rattling dunk. He used one hand, but it wasn't because he needed that extra inch.
“Whoa,” I said.
There was a kid the next row down from us in the stands. He had a basketball in his hand, but I didn't see any teammates.
“Hey, man,” I said.
“Yeah?” he said, looking back over his shoulder.
“Who's that guy?”
“That's Jammer, man,” he said.
“Jammer?” said Mike.
“James âJammer' Jamison,” said the kid. “He goes to my school.”
“He your teammate?” I said.
“I think those are his teammates,” said Deuce, pointing.
Two other kids had edged onto the court behind Jammer. The first one fired up a brick from twelve feet away. Jammer grabbed the ball and fired it to the other guy, who took a long shot that rattled around the rim and off. I was seriously relieved that his teammates weren't as good. But that only lasted the second or so it took Jammer to tip the miss up and in.
Fifteen minutes later, the first-round matchups were announced. We got Banana Shoes and two other kids. I'll admit, I was a little nervous before the game started. It wasn't that long ago that I had shied away from tournaments altogether. I'd always loved basketball, but I
was still getting used to how serious these things were. Sometimes you'd see two teams play an entire game without any of the players cracking a smile, much less a joke. I didn't understand that at all.
Plus, the other team was strutting around the court like they owned it. Banana Shoes was their leader, or at least he was acting like he was. He looked over at us as we headed to center court for the opening tip. “This won't take long,” he said, loud enough for us to hear it. He definitely talked a good game.
Yeah, that lasted about eighteen seconds. I won the tip cleanly, and batted the ball back to Deuce. My legs were moving even before I landed, like how they run in cartoons. The other team tried to keep up, but Deuce was too fast. He blew by them as they backpedaled. They turned to run after him and lost sight of me, trailing the play. Deuce just missed the layup. He was going about a hundred miles an hour, so it had a little too much on it. But I swooped in doing ninety-eight, for the easy tip-in.
Let's just say that their trash talk pretty much dried up after that. The games at this tourney were to eleven,
scoring by ones. After we went up 7â3 on a nice up-and-under move from Mike, Banana Shoes started limping. Funny thing about that limp, though: It didn't affect him when he had the ball. He was just faking it, pretending that's the reason they were losing.
Anyway, we pretty much used the rest of the game as practice for the next one. Deuce did a good job of spreading the ball around, and when I got a rebound, I didn't necessarily go right back up with it. I looked to see if Mike had good position or if Deuce was cutting to the hoop or whatever. We won 11â5, and we all had about the same number of points. But I knew the day was just getting started.