Seven Foot, Two Inches

Nebraska — the land of my birth — is a football state. Based on the sorry past few years, young people can’t imagine that the University of Nebraska once was a powerhouse in the world of college football. In fact, the November 1971 matchup between University of Nebraska and University of Oklahoma was referred to by Sports Illustrated as the Game of the Century. Nebraska defeated its rival by four points, thanks to a late-game touchdown by the Cornhuskers. I was 17 years old, and I remember the game like it was yesterday. Indiana might have its basketball, but Nebraska was football All The Way.

The high school I attended offered three primary sports: football, basketball, and track. Three sports for BOYS, that is. There were, hmmm, let me think, NONE for girls. At least not back in the 1970s. Now I think the school offers girls AND boys many sport options.

I watched basketball in the winter when the Shamrocks basketball team (which included my high school boyfriend) played. I enjoyed watching the games, but see above: Nebraska was a football state.

It really wasn’t until Jen’s now-deceased husband Leroy entered our lives that we paid any attention at all to basketball. But to my surprise, when my son Court became old enough to hold a ball, basketball was his game of choice. Oh, he liked football and still does. But even to this day, he loves his Denver Nuggets.

One of my fondest memories of my mother was how pissed off she was at Court’s high school basketball coach when he was cut from the team. Court was a decent basketball player, but the Catholic high school he attended during his freshman year was as well-known for its sports teams as it was for its academics. That Court didn’t meet the coach’s expectations didn’t sit well with his grandmother. I won’t say what she called the coach, but the word includes an F. Court transferred schools the next year, and played basketball.

When Court was a youngster, I bought ticket packages for Nuggets games for a couple of years. We could attend something like seven games each season. We had so much fun. The Nuggets were a good team in those years, and very exciting to watch. Their center was Dikembe Mutombo, who was known for his blocking, rebounding, and finger wagging: Not in my house, he would say. When he was introduced at the beginning of the game, the announcer would say: And at center, standing 7 feet and 2 inches, Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo, which his birth name from his birthplace, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The crowd would go wild!

This trip down Basketball Memory Lane is because the past two nights, I watched Court’s first-born — Kaiya — play basketball for her middle school. As I watched, I realized just how much I enjoy watching basketball. I like the sounds of squeaking rubber soles on the wooden floors. I like the spinning plays and the tosses of the ball resulting in a great assist. I love nothing-but-net.

Of course, when you’re watching eighth grade basketball, there isn’t a lot of nothing-but-net or three-point conversions. But I love how hard the girls work. And I love that Kaiya scored a couple of goals the first night, thanks to some tenacity under the basket, especially given her short stature. She made an extra point for her team on the second night, and had a great assist — something I find even prettier than a nothing-but-net basket.

I have tried watching basketball on television the past few years, as the Nuggets have once again emerged as a decent team. For me, however, it’s just not the same as being in a hot gym with the smell of sweat permeating the room. Plus, you never see the Nuggets center Nikola Jokic being hugged by his little brother in the middle of the game like this…..