Hoop Dreams

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Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true / or is it something worse?

~ Bruce Springsteen, The River

As we attempt to extricate ourselves from winter and launch into Spring, a yearly tradition has again come our way.

No, not St. Patrick’s Day (a “holiday” that continually leaves me scratching my head as to Why?)

Rather…March Madness!

Yes, the Tournament of 64 (well, nearly 70 actually due to all these “play in” games that happen BEFORE the actual tournament starts) – all bouncing basketballs and busted brackets – started yesterday.  And while I don’t follow college basketball like I once did, this tourney is still pretty exciting to me.

Back in the mid-1980’s, I was a basketball fiend, and a gym rat. I played basketball and watched basketball and read about basketball as much as I could.

While I played on my grade school team, once I got to high school, basketball became my passion. The small high school I went to in Northeast Pennsylvania – Bishop O’Reilly – was a powerhouse in the early 1980s, winning state championship after state championship.

In grade school, I’d go to those BOR games in the dead of winter. The gym would be jam-packed with fans and the team would come out for warm-ups to the blaring sounds of Bab O’ Rily (get it?) by The Who, which then segued into Queen’s We Are The Champions.

All I wanted to do was get to high school to play varsity basketball for the for the Bishop O’Reilly Queensmen (yes, that was our school nickname, no I don’t know what it was) and come out for warm-ups to those same songs.

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For me, basketball wasn’t just relegated to the winter, though. All summer, I’d head to the local playground to play against older and bigger guys. I’d go to basketball camp and play in any pick-up game I could find. I’d shoot jump shot after jumper shot, foul shot after foul shot. My parents got tired of me dribbling the ball around. I couldn’t wait for the NBA and college basketball seasons to start…so that I could watch basketball.

As my luck would have it, by the time I got to high school, the school’s glory days were behind it. Winning games, much less winning records, were tough to come by. My hard work had paid off though – I made the varsity team as a sophomore (sitting the bench, mostly) but then starting at point guard my junior and senior years.

My dream came true, though. I did come out for warm-ups to the blaring sounds of Bab O’Riley. (We weren’t champions any longer, so I think the teams I played on dropped Queen and used a Steve Miller Band song, instead).

I was short (still am) so I was always the point guard. I passed the ball pretty well, but for as much as I could fill it up in the summer months, I couldn’t replicate it during the winter months. All pass, no shoot – that was my game.

Still, because I played so much, I gained my letter in my junior and senior years. While letterman jackets weren’t as big as they they were in the 1950s and 1960s, they were still a big thing. It meant something to get your sports letter. I was pretty proud of getting that letter and getting it onto a jacket.

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Recently, our basement took on a bit of water due to the storms. Nothing to bad, nothing permanently damaged, but some things did get a little waterlogged. The letterman jacket has been bounding around with me for 30 years now. It was in the basement and must have fallen off a racket. It got wet during the last storm, so I had to take some time and dry it out.

It doesn’t have leather sleeves like the old classic ones of the ’50s; rather, it’s thick and corduroy, in our school colors, cinched at the waist and cuffs.

And yes, it still fits. And I have to admit to a bit of pride when I tried it on again after all these years. The same type of pride I had wearing it while walking around the mall and grabbing pizza on a Friday night with them.

I remember wearing to the movies when me and a couple of my teammates went to see Hoosiers. Schools in the area got free tickets to give to the basketball team, so when we went, a bunch of other guys from other schools – our competitors – were there too. Wearing their colors, their letterman jackets.

It was like being in a high school athletic version of The Warriors.

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After high school, though, my basketball dreams died. I went away to a city college where even in pick up games, guys were much bigger and better. I put the basketball in the back of the closet and started running more, hitting the weighs.

Guess somewhere along the line, I got caught watching the paint dry.

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Back in the ’90s, there was a pretty good documentary called Hoop Dreams. When I watch these kids now playing in the NCAA Tourney, and when I tugged that jacket back on the other day, I those hoop dreams I once had, all came back.

© Mark V. Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | All Rights Reserved 2018

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