For my birthday, a few years back when I lived near Houston, my wife’s mother got me amazing tickets to the Rockets vs. Lakers game. I love the Rockets. I hate the Lakers.
We arrived at the game early to settle in, get something to eat, and watch the teams warmup. During warmups, a gentleman wearing all Rockets gear walked up from the court to the seats where my wife and I were sitting.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“Great!” I replied.
“Want to participate in a shooting contest at half time with a chance to win a game ball autographed by the whole team?” he asked.
“Seriously?” I replied!
I love playing basketball. I’ve been playing since I was young and I still play regularly. I’m not great, but chances are I’m better than most people who might be randomly picked out of the stands at an NBA game.
I was told that I would be summoned on to the court right before half-time to participate in a layup contest against another spectator. There would be a huge tic-tac-toe board in the middle of the court and I would have to make a layup, grab an O (my opponent had X’s on the opposite side of the court), run to the middle of the court to place my O, run back and make another layup, and so on. Winner of tic-tac-toe wins the autographed ball. Game on.
The game started and I sat nervously awaiting half-time. I couldn’t enjoy the game because I was reviewing tic-tac-toe strategy in my head. I was not worried at all about making the layups, I was worried about screwing up tic-tac-toe in front of a sold out Toyota center with 18,000 onlookers. I would have bet money that I could make more layups faster than pretty much anyone else in attendance that night, save the players.
Corners first, right? Wait, what if he makes the first corner move? Center? Crap, is there a good edge strategy?
The first quarter ended, then the second, and I was summoned to the court.
That was the first time I saw him. My opponent. He must have been at least 6’5″… but, he didn’t look like a baller. In fairness, neither did I, in my slip on sandals.
We were positioned under our baskets on either end of the court. The announcer started counting down as the music started cranking up.
3… 2… 1… game on!
I picked up my ball and completed my first layup. Easy. I grabbed my O and sprinted to the center of the court. My opponent was running towards the board also, but I beat him and secured the first corner.
I started sprinting back to my basket. Now, running in slip on sandals is hard but I was able to pick up speed. I figured the ball would be waiting for me under the basket, but it wasn’t there. I realized, while running at full speed, that there was someone under my basket holding my ball. Great, I thought, he’ll hand me the ball when I get there.
He threw me a bounce pass while I was running full speed in his direction.
He threw a bounce pass at my feet… my sprinting, slip-on sandal wearing feet. A bounce pass. A horrible bounce pass.
The ball hit my feet, I stumbled in my sandals, and I went head over heels. Ass over tea kettle, at full speed. I totally wiped out, missed the ball, and ended up under and behind the basket.
I looked up and there he was, the Black Mamba, Kobe freaking Bryant. Pointing and laughing at me.
I hate the Lakers, and there he was, pointing and laughing.
After what seemed like a lifetime, I realized that Kobe wasn’t the only one laughing… the whole stadium was. 18,000 of my closest friends. Me on my ass, under the basket, losing at tic-tac-toe.
I got up, retrieved the ball and went back to work, but it was too late and I was missing my layups. I was rattled. I lost the tic-tac-toe game. I lost my dignity. I lost an autographed Rockets ball. I lost.
I remember walking back to my seat. I remember the looks from the other fans I walked by. Their faces said, “Sorry buddy. Tough loss. Unfortunate bounce pass. I’m laughing on the inside.”
In a cruel twist of fate, about 10 of my actual friends that I grew up playing basketball with were together, also at the game that night but unbeknownst to me at the time. I received a text message from one of them after sitting down. It read simply, “Nice layups.”
- Kobe’s Return Shows His Worth (intangiblesports.com)
- He’s Back… In case you haven’t heard (bodontlie.com)
- Tic Tactics Heard You Like Tic Tac Toe, So It Put Some Tic Tac Toe In Your Tic Tac Toe [Review] (apple4ladies.com)
- Kobe Bryant Gives Self ‘F’ Grade in Return (bleacherreport.com)
- Darth Kobe (statsheetsandbeats.wordpress.com)
- Hey Nick Young, Nice Layup Bro (welovefun.wordpress.com)
- ‘Tic Tactics’ Review – Tic-Tac-Toe Becomes A True Challenge Again With This Plotting Puzzler (toucharcade.com)
- Kobe rusty in debut; Raptors win (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- Kobe Bryant introduced to Darth Vader’s theme music for first game back (sbnation.com)
- Kobe Bryant, in his Lakers’ return, is a star that falls to earth (latimes.com)