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Somewhere Between Slim and None
By G. A. Reagan
E-Book (available as PDF files)
About the Author
When a young boy is diagnosed with an incurable illness, his devastated father will do almost anything to keep his son's hopes alive, even though he has none left for himself. Long Shot - Somewhere between Slim and None, is the story of Gordon Thomas and his son, DJ, who is dying of a bone marrow disorder. With a life expectancy of less than five years, Gordon and his wife, Sally, endeavor to inspire DJ to believe he can be healed. DJ feels the need to believe a "smaller" miracle first, such as seeing his father become a professional basketball player. Now Gordon loves the game, but it does not mean he is any good. Author G. A. Reagan tells the stirring story of an improbable quest that will challenge both father and son to believe that miracles can really happen – but are they willing to pay the high price required for the fulfillment?
March, 1997 The timeless, unchanging sounds of basketball echoed through the rafters of a rundown gymnasium: thump, clang, squeal, grunt, and swish. The grunts and the clangs greatly outnumbered the swishes. A solitary figure worked out on the worn, wooden floor. Another man, a custodian, pushed a broom down the narrow aisle next to the court. The fading sun cast a few dim shafts of light through the high, unwashed windows, leaving the court in shadows. “Good thing,” muttered the custodian, completely unimpressed with this “player.” He sniffed as he leaned the broom against the wall. The old gym had a stuffy odor, and it recalled to the custodian the days when he graced this floor with his game – and his sweat. It had been a thing of art, of a very specific kind of creative beauty. Not anymore, rheumatoid arthritis and old age swept that all away. He shuffled out, relinquishing the alleged “player” to his own devices. Never had grace been used to describe the basketball talents of Gordon Thomas. The man was not a horrible, bumbling fool of a player, though he also was not a good one either, just an average basketball dilettante. At five-foot-nine, he was small even for a point guard yet slower than some overweight centers. His small body frame (albeit one with a growing waistline that is pandemic among the thirty-something crowd to which he defaulted) was little help to someone whose best shot was the lay-up. But Gordon’s deficiencies did not concern him much. He was not of professional caliber and well aware of it. Still, he, like many others who play the game for fun, entertained a hoop’s fantasy every once in a while. His favorite scenario, which he played out often, was knocking down a three pointer as time expired to win the championship. Of course, that dream had him wearing an NBA uniform, but to perform the feat in his thirty and over league would more than suffice. Still, Gordon’s fantasy also revealed hints of the man’s character and realism. He did not indulge in dunks over seven foot centers or twenty rebound games or even spinning, slashing moves to the basket. He’d get dizzy. Dunk? Only on an eight foot rim. But he could hit jump shots reasonably well, especially if he was wide open. A Steve Kerr wannabe, if you will. The multimillionaires of the sport allege how blessed they are to play a game they love for pay. For that kind of money, people would line up to express their love for cleaning toilets at the local fast food joint. “It’s the guys who crowd the playgrounds, who make fools of themselves because they miss lay-ups and manufacture all sorts of unintentional comedy, who get on the court for no other reason than they really do love the game.” At least that is how Gordon would put it, and that’s exactly the category in which he placed himself. Lucky too; he enjoyed a fantastic home life shared with his compellingly beautiful, creative wife, and three, healthy, adorable if somewhat precocious children. He did not exactly earn six figures on the job, but brought home enough to live comfortably without having to burn the midnight oil on a second. This afforded him the free time he craved to spend with his family, volunteer at church, coach for the recreation and parks programs, and play basketball. He did not have a perfect life. Certainly, he possessed lingering and nagging questions about himself, his relationships, even his very purpose. Answers to those kinds of questions were always hard to find, and sometimes not even the questions made sense. At the moment, however, all was good; he spent little time on the big picture. Little did he realize how desperately important that would all soon become. Five other men soon joined Gordon on the court. Several needled Gordon for arriving early, saying that he obviously needed more practice. Gordon shot right back, boasting how he was going to put their lame game to rest; moreover, how he came early only hoping to find better competition. The men knew each other well. They assembled every Tuesday and Thursday after work for an intense game of full court three-on-three. The nucleus of an over thirty team, they played through the fall and winter in a modestly competitive league. The first three to hit foul shots determined the teams; sometimes this took a while. Gordon missed twice, and fell in place with the other two who also missed. That was fine since he had always played well with Stan and Brad; or, at least they had fun. The first team built a quick lead, as each of Gordon’s teammates missed their first shots. On the ensuing possession, Gordon missed a long jumper, but followed his shot to grab the high rebound and banked in a short runner. He waved his hand across his face in an “I’m so hot I can’t feel my face” way and nearly tripped as he jogged down the court. Timeout was called until everyone stopped laughing. The teams traded buckets until the score stood at ten to eight, needing eleven to win. Gordon fed Brad with a nice bounce pass for a lay-up to pull within one. With an impressive, athletic move, Gordon stole the inbounds pass. He attempted to move to his right around a defender but was cut off nicely. Forced to move left, he made a poor decision, trying to barrel his way to the hoop instead of waiting for his teammates. He stumbled over his own feet and struggled to put up a right hand lay-up from the left side. With no protection from the use of his own body, the defender easily blocked the shot, retrieved the loose ball, and delivered a long pass to his teammate for the winning field goal. Stan shook his head as he walked toward Gordon, who gasped for breath at mid-court. He mimicked Gordon’s bent over form. “Are you ever going to learn how to use that left hand of yours?” he joked. Gordon raised his hands, though still bent over and panting for breath. “What? My game’s so complete already! I got to let the other guys have a chance every now and then, you know? And besides, am I really going to need it that much?” Stan put his arm around Gordon’s shoulder. “You needed it just now,” Stan answered. “Get DJ to teach you; he knows how to do it. You’ll be slashing to the basket from both sides in no time.” “Oh yeah,” Gordon smiled, “you bet he does. You want me to submit to that cruel taskmaster? Just ask the guys at Bradley Run how vicious he can be.” They all had a good laugh as they left the court. The others said goodbye as only Gordon braved the musty odors of the showers in the old, decrepit YMCA facility. Less than a quarter mile from work, the convenience and history more than made up for its deficiencies. He knew the building’s storied past. He often lingered behind to check out the old photos of the greats who had played youth ball there: Skip Wise, Marvin Webster, Ernie Graham, Reggie Lewis, Mugsy Bogues, and Keith Booth. The custodian may not have cared for Gordon’s game, but Gordon cared for the custodian’s building.
G.A. Reagan is a freelance writer from Baltimore, Maryland and father of six boys. His love of basketball extends all the way back to a magical night in 1972 when he watched Maryland play mighty UCLA while he lay in the ICU Children's Ward of Baltimore City Hospital.
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