Saturday night was family night at the Hamilton house. Fred, who was a recent transplant to Williamsburg from Arizona would bring us all over to his house just about the time his step father fired up the grill. I was never sure if Fred wanted us to stay for dinner, but the burgers, dogs, and basketball were hard for us to walk away from.
We were such regulars that we had chores, talked back Fred’s mom and step father like they were our parents, and even received consequences for our idiocy. Once I made fun of Mr. Hamilton’s job on a submarine and I found myself eating alone on the back porch. Either way, inside or out, the hot dog was perfect and the family nights were a lot of fun.
There was a regular crew. I was the only basketball player. My hoops skills were average for high school, but my confidence in my abilities often bordered on delusional. There was Glen, who had Superman features, played football and smiled a lot. Brian was the cocky one in the bunch who loved no-sleeve shirts and swore he was the desire of every girl in school. Brothers, Donald and Ronald, filled out the group. They were also from out west and had a cool arrangement with their father who lived in a hotel. In all, the regulars were a decent bunch of dudes.
Then there was Fred. He may have been the best basketball player of the bunch. He could put the ball on string and dribble you to sleep. He brought the Arizona game east with spins, crossovers, and between the legs moves that the establishment coaches weren’t ready for yet. He also brought a dislike of running, conditioning, and defense that kept him from ever playing in high school. On his driveway, though, Fred was transcendent.
Whenever the Williamsburg night life failed to provide a heartbeat, we would stay at the Hamilton’s house and play 2 on 2. The games weren’t much more than some dribbling and a long jumper, but the sweat was as real as our desire to win. I never wanted to lose to the younger guys who weren’t basketball players. They always wanted to beat my teams for the satisfaction of sticking it to the “white shadow.” Eventually, we would tire and have our version of an NBA dunk contest.
The basket was just above the garage, so it probably measured just under nine feet. None of us could dunk on a ten foot goal, so this was the perfect hoop for us to live out the dreams of throwing one down. We all had a style, Glen brought power, Brian came with finesse and a lot of talk after his dunks, I like to fly from as far away as possible, Fred always finished with a scissors kick, and the twins never dunked. Nobody ever got more than an eight, because everyone thought that their dunk was the best. It was all fun until the gutter got pulled down and we were banned from dunking thereafter.
One night the games were fierce. The young-ins were feeling like they had a chance. All week long at baseball practice they had been talking smack about how Fred and I were done. I paid them no attention during the week which only fueled their energy. In our last game of the night the score was tied at ten. We always played first to eleven, so Fred and I needed a defensive stop and score to shut Glen, and mostly, Brian up. Glen had the ball straight out from the basket and I locked in for the stop. Then it happened.
Fred’s sister got home from work. As she was walking up the driveway, I caught her eye and for a second lost my focus. Glen drove right down the middle and by the time I looked back he was already airborne. All I could do was duck. He threw down a garage door shaking dunk that ended the reign Fred and I had ruled with over the last year. Brian went crazy. Fred packed a lip. Donald and Ronald were looking at a Muscle and Fitness. I drifted off the court towards Fred’s sister. We would hang out together through the rest of the summer. Then she would go to college and I would get dunked on again.
Those were great nights. College would bust us all up. We would see each other on the odd holidays, but we never played basketball again. I wonder what would happen now. I can only speak for myself, but if we had a dunk contest, it better be held on a seven foot rack. Thirty years does a number on jumping.