A Flick of the Wrist
Phillip had done it a thousand times. When only the hollow clang of tetherball chains echoed through the empty schoolyard, there he was, basketball in hand.
Aim, push, swish.
When the last glint of sunlight came over the horizon, when the smell of warm family dinners wafted through the cold air, there he was.
Aim, push, swish.
It was such a simple rhythm. Just a flick of the wrist. The way the ball just rolled off his fingers, the way it arced through the air, its black ridges spinning perfectly towards him, it was all such a rewarding sight. And after that long, sticky-hot summer, all his aiming and pushing paid off. He made the team. Swish.
"Here you go, son. One shot. Wait for the whistle."
With those words, the man in the striped shirt handed Phillip the ball. It felt heavy, like it was full of sand instead of air. He let it drop, and to his amazement, it bounced back up to him. He had trouble catching it.
A whistle blew. Phillip flinched. It was the man in the shirt again. As he pointed to Phillip, the whistle fell out of his mouth and dangled around his neck. Phillip looked around. All the yelling, all the stomping feet had melted into a distant buzz. Everyone was looking at him.
The glass backboard was so nice. so was the bright white net that hung from the rim. They were so far from the frayed, green wooden boards and limp rusty chains at the park. Phillip remembered the time when Coach stood on a ladder and dropped two balls through the hoop side by side. "See?" he had said. "It's huge. All you have to do is be close." Coach was wrong, Phillip thought. This rim looked like the ones at the carnival: twice as far away and only as wide as the ball. You had to be perfect, or your buck was gone. Perfect.
He thought about how hard it was to push, and then he realized that he never really knew. Phillip looked at his hands. Were they his? They seemed detached. The ball felt so wrong. A second ago, it was heavy, but now, it felt like a balloon. Phillip thought of what was to come. He saw it bounce off the backboard, coming right back to his hand. He saw it falling limply to the ground, halfway to the hoop.
A drip of sweat crawled down his back, itching all the way. But, he couldn't touch it; his hands had to stay dry. He wished he was back outside. He thought of those long nights. The cold air, and the dim light. Just for a second, everthing seemed familiar to him again. The ball felt right. Phillip seized it. The ball sailed from his hand. The dark ridges spun back at him; it was always such a rewarding sight.
First published: July 1996