In case you missed it, The Colbert Report had a classic segment on all things NBA. They touched on the impending LeBron free agency, the perennial suckitude of the Knicks, and also threw in an interview with an apathetic Mike D'Antoni. They even had the common courtesy of making an Eddy Curry reference. The fun starts at 1:00.

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UPDATES!: ATL, BOS, CHA, DAL, DEN, HOU, MEM, MIA, MIL, MIN, ORL, PHO, SAS, UTA, WAS, and all teams 2010-11 salaries double checked!

July 1st, 2010. It's 12:00 am.

Do you know where your free agents are?

Welcome to my breakdown of the much hyped NBA Free Agency 2010. Here I hope to provide a quick (actually, this is absurdly long) snapshot of each team's current situation and outlook, so that you can survive this dreadful week of non-trading activity. *rolls eyes into back of head as far as possible* Really though, have you tried to visit,, or anything NBA media related recently? I've seen Linda Blair vomit less than the amount of LeBron and free agency bullshit spewed by the media these past few days. So thus, I've taken it upon myself to capture all you need to know to properly enjoy this next week in true BasketBawful spirit.

For comedy's sake, I'm going to ask that we avoid the really crappy wishful thinking type trades and scenarios. Yes, I understand that you could trade Rashard Lewis for LeBron. Yes, I understand that Bynum and Vujacic could be in a sign and trade for Bosh, and then every championship-piggyback veteran could sign with the Lakers. Yes, I understand that you could trade Kirk Hinrich to the Wizards even though they have a poison situation and already have 2 PGs. (Wait, you mean that last one actually is gonna happen?) Anyways, I hope to have the most updated figures, numbers, and rosters by the time of this post, so if you spot any errors or as updates come along, or you just feel like sharing with me your stupid idea of how your team will get LeBron so we can all make fun of you, post a comment!

Other assumptions:
  • Going with the flat $56.1 million cap for next season.
  • This means for new contracts where the 105% rule doesn't apply, we'll use the minimum salary table here, and the maximum contract will be assumed as follows:
    0-6 years of experience: $14,025,000
    7-9 years: $16,830,000
    10+ years: $19,635,000
  • No team is so completely stupid as to talk about their first round draft pick's salary, so we will use the 100% number.
  • Assume all teams in the FA hunt will sign minimum salary contracts after July 8th.
  • We're using face value or near value ideas. No assuming what some guy wants, like Shaq taking the vet minimum somewhere for the Lakers some stacked super team. Unless you have a personal relationship with said player, and his family, and have personally spoken to him about his exact intentions, personally, and how he's okay with leaving tens of millions on the table for the chance at a ring. Then by all means, please share.
  • Crappy players will take their player options. Anyone that has the remote chance at an extension or making more money by becoming a FA (especially considering the end of this CBA) we will assume will not take their player options. Unless we're pretty sure that a team wants to screw a guy into staying on their team, or their qualifying offer/team option happens to be near equal to what they'd make anyways, we're not assuming either is picked up.
  • Think about sign and trades, and if we're going to talk about them, find an incentive for ALL PARTIES (both teams and the players being extended). Not everyone can make deals with Chris Wallace. Otherwise, lets assume re-signings and free agency.
  • Ugh, for the last time, LeBron's not coming to your team, stop bothering everyone about it.
Important resources:The Spreadsheet:
Everything that follows will be a summary of what I've collected in this spreadsheet. (Google docs, no login required, click it now.) First, I've collected and compiled important information from the draft with respect to salaries. This was, as I mentioned earlier, unnecessarily difficult to do, and there's bound to be errors. If you see any errors, let me know.

Second, I've collected a list of free agents who are eligible for max contracts above (in red) or near their respective cap percentage.

List of players who are eligible for greater than max contracts:
Jermaine O'Neal $24,166,800
Tracy McGrady $23,607,280
Shaquille O'Neal $22,050,000
Dirk Nowitzki $20,785,500
Paul Pierce $20,785,498
Ray Allen $19,715,703
Amare Stoudemire $17,197,241
Yao Ming $17,197,241

Finally, there's a tab for every team, where I've copied hoopdata's page, updated the numbers with the latest trades and draft, and complied some cap room scenarios. Since I made lots of notes and formulas such that it's near impossible for anyone else to read what I've done, let's begin with the teams. Oh, also, I use the term "albatross" for long guaranteed contract that you may want to get out of, and the term "S&T bait" for a 2011 expiring that may be used to help leverage this summer's free agency.

Atlanta Hawks:
Current Maximum Cap Space: $6,180,374
UPDATE Maximum non-Cap holding onto Joe Johnson: ($21,656,885)
Notable Free Agents: Joe Johnson [$14,976,754, no player option]
Albatross: See below.
S&T bait: Jamal Crawford [$10,080,000]
Summary: The Hawks have some sign and trade bait with 2011 expirings, or could try to sign and trade Joe Johnson, but it's probably too late for that. Too many albatross contracts with Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, and Zaza through 2013 and Bibby through 2012. Maybe shoot for J.J. Redick? Or hope for the Mayan apocalypse?
Final Verdict: A good hope-crusher for Minnesota fans to show the long lasting effects of what happens when you keep drafting players that play the same position.

Boston Celtics:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space: ($11,098,826)
Maximum Cap Space if Paul Pierce opts out and Rasheed Wallace retires and Ray Allen isn't re-signed: $15,789,807
UPDATE Maximum non-Cap Space with Paul Pierce cap hold: ($4,522,087)
Albatross: Kevin Garnett [$18,832,044, through 2012]
S&T bait: Kendrick Perkins [$4,890,208], Glen Davis [$3,000,004]
Summary: To blow up or not to blow up. This team could go lots of ways, even down to asking KG to take a pay cut. Too many stupid rumors, only time will tell what their plan is (if any).
Final Verdict: Bleh.

Charlotte Bobcats:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space: ($4,448,542)
UPDATE Maximum non-Cap Space with Tyrus Thomas qualifying offer: ($17,999,938)
Notable Free Agents UPDATED: Raymond Felton [$5,501,196]
Albatross: The entire team.
S&T bait UPDATE: Tyson Chandler [$12,600,000], Nazr Mohammed [$6,883,800]
Summary: No draft pick, locked down guaranteed salaries, and an owner with a Hitler mustache. Hey, at least the defense is good, right? It might be worth it to give up big and try to unload some salary. If you need a reason to blame, I'd suggest Smithfield Foods and what they've done to the state of North Carolina.
Final Verdict: Yea, y'all are fucked.

Chicago Bulls:
Current Maximum Cap Space: $20,578,404
Maximum Cap Space if that completely stupid trade to Washington is true: $29,933,796
Notable Free Agents: Brad Miller?
Albatross: Luol "king-o-albatross" Deng [$11,345,000, through 2014]
S&T bait: None.
Summary: The Bulls are definitely in FA search mode, as they don't really have the assets to pull off a sign and trade deal. Let's also assume no one's picking up Luol Deng's crappy crap. Yet somehow Washington is absorbing over $9M in cap for Chicago. Something just doesn't add up.
Final Verdict: It's looking tough to clear the room for 2 maxes, but a strong team can be built here.

Cleveland Cavaliers:
Current Maximum Cap Space: $9,472,590
Notable Free Agents: That one dude [$15,779,912, player option] and that old fat guy [$21,000,000]
Albatross: Antawn Jamison [$13,358,905, through 2012]
S&T bait: Some, but is obviously on the giving end of a S&T if one were to happen
Summary: Screw this,
Final Verdict: Y'all are fucked.

Dallas Mavericks:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space UPDATE: ($17,812,046)
Maximum Cap Space if Dirk opts out, Najera and Barea lowballed a.k.a. "The Mavs are fucked" case: $2,499,850
Notable Free Agents: Dirk Nowitzki [$19,795,714, player option]
Albatross: Shawn Marion [$7,305,500, through 2013]
S&T bait: Caron Butler [$10,561,960], Jason Terry? [$9,873,000]
Summary: Wow, Dirk can really screw over the Mavs, can't he?
Final Verdict: Is Cuban good at pulling off sign and trades?

Denver Nuggets:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space: ($19,593,497)
Notable Free Agents UPDATE: Kenyon Martin? Nope.
Albatross: Everything.
S&T bait UPDATE: J.R. Smith [$6,694,851], Kenyon Martin [$16,795,454], disgruntled Melo and crappy front office bargaining.
Summary: Looking bleak. Everyone's locked down this year, and I don't see Kenyon Martin earning a max contract. No draft picks, no real assets to trade, Carmelo likely leaving, and Birdman through 2014. Update: Or, the front office is threatening to trade Melo if he doesn't extend. Ya, okay.
Final Verdict: So fucked.

Detroit Pistons:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space: ($2,572,216)
Notable Free Agents: KWAME BROWN BITCHES [$4,000,000]
Albatross: Detroit fans probably shouldn't look at their team's future salary chart...
S&T bait UPDATE: Tayshaun Prince [$11,147,760, no player option], Chris Wilcox [$3,000,000]
Summary: Still in the early years of the "how to blow your cap space by severely over-paying" era. But look on the bright side; only $9,000,000 of Rip Hamilton's contract in 2012-13 is guaranteed.
Final Verdict: What's the suicide rate in Detroit again?

Golden State Warriors:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space UPDATE: ($1,085,353)
Notable Free Agents: Uhh...
Albatross: Monta "McTurnover" Ellis [$11,000,000, through 2014]
S&T bait: Bleh.
Summary: Welcome to the Udoh era.
Final Verdict: Not much to do this summer.

Houston Rockets:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space UPDATE: ($16,080,834)
Notable Free Agents: not Yao [apparently picking up $17,686,100 player option]
Albatross: Kevin Martin [$10,600,005, through 2013], Trevor Ariza [$6,322,320, through 2013/14]
S&T bait: A lot.
Summary: Assuming Jared Jeffries picks up his $6,883,800 option, you've got Shane Battier's $7,429,500, Jordan Hill's $2,669,520, David Andersen's $2,500,000, not trading Aaron Brooks, etc., the Rockets have a lot of indirect options this off-season. They can afford to take on a mini albatross with a top tier free agent in a sign and trade, but it's gonna be work to get it done.
Final Verdict: Needs some more Morey Magic.

Indiana Pacers:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space: ($10,547,446)
Notable Free Agents: Uhm...
Albatross: Uhm...
S&T bait: A lot.
Summary: The Pacers have cleared the decks for the 2011-12 season, with Danny Granger locked in through 2014. Maybe this is a brilliant move by Bird to not get screwed by the new 2011 CBA, or maybe there's a bunch of trades incoming. In any case, the 2010-11 roster looks just like last season's roster, only somehow worse.
Final Verdict: Lookin' pretty screwed.

Los Angeles Clippers:
Current Maximum Cap Space: $17,210,816
Notable Free Agents: Bleh.
Albatross: Baron Davis [$13,000,000, through 2012], Chris Kaman [$11,300,000, through 2012]
S&T bait: None really.
Summary: Lacking the assets, the Clippers are going for the homerun swing here this summer. I guess if there's some max contract FA that feels like getting treated like shit and then somehow getting injured, his 4 other teammates will welcome him with warm arms.
Final Verdict: Uh, it's the Clippers.

The Supreme Ultimate Los Angeles World Champions of the Universe Lakers:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space: ($29,530,299)
Notable Free Agents: Adam Morrison [$5,257,229], Derek Fisher [$5,048,000], Jordan Farmar [$1,947,200]
Albatross: Kobe Bryant [$24,806,250 $25,244,493 $27,849,149 $30,453,805], Pau Gasol [$17,823,000 $18,714,150 $19,000,000 $19,285,850], Ron Artest [$6,322,320 $6,790,640 $7,258,960], Lamar Odom [$8,200,000 $8,900,000], Andrew Bynum [$13,700,000 $14,900,000]
S&T bait: Sasha Vujacic [$5,475,113]
Summary: Pour some milk into that bowl of championship rings as part of your balanced breakfast. What kind do you prefer? I always enjoyed 1%, a balance of taste and health.
Final Verdict: Fuck this shit.

Memphis Grizzlies:
Current Maximum Cap Space UPDATE: $6,549,212
UPDATE Maximum non-Cap Space with Rudy Gay qualifying offer: ($3,293,779)
Notable Free Agents: Rudy Gay [$3,280,997]
Albatross: Hasheem Thabeet [$4,793,280, through 2011]
S&T bait: A lot lot.
Summary: There is $0 guaranteed on the books for 2011-12! Another team preparing for the new CBA and lockout? Maybe they can spice things up by attempting to offer Gay the qualifying offer.
Final Verdict: See Indiana Pacers, minus franchise killing brawl.

Miami Heat:
Current Maximum Cap Space: $43,635,815
UPDATE Maximum Cap Space with Wade's hold: $27,952,027
UPDATE Maximum Cap Space with retarded Raptors S&T: $16,726,145 ($17,199,749 for LeBron)
Notable Free Agents: Jermaine O'Neal [$23,016,000], Summit Member #1 [$15,779,912]
Albatross: Michael "oh how the great have fallen" Beasley [$4,962,240, through 2011]
S&T bait: Don't you need people on your team in order to have bait?
Summary: It seems the Heat are giving up their triple max contract plan, as the Mario Chalmers team option was just picked up. They can offer $15,018,876 to three FAs though, or $15,156,048 if Joel Anthony decides to be a nice guy as reported, so if that summit crap was actually true, this is the number they'd be looking at.
UPDATE: The Heat are really waiting for that final cap space number, as any small change will affect if they can give 3 max contracts. You know, assuming this completely fucking stupid S&T with Toronto doesn't happen.
Final Verdict: Keep mentioning the reduced taxes and nightlife!

Milwaukee Bucks:
Current Maximum Cap Space UPDATE: $1,402,899 $7,382,671 (Salmons didn't take option lol)
Notable Free Agents: John Salmons, apparently
Albatross: Bad Porn [$9,600,000, through 2013]
S&T bait UPDATE: Michael Redd's picked up option [$18,300,000]
Summary: No idea. UPDATE: Still no idea.
Final Verdict: A strange combination of team options, weird contracts, and pretty much being stuck this off-season. Stuck still with a bad team.

Minnesota Timberwolves:
Current Maximum Cap Space: $13,235,591
Notable Free Agents: Darko [$7,540,000]
Albatross: Al Jefferson [$13,000,000, through 2013]
S&T bait: Some, not really though.
Summary: T'wolves have basically given up on the max FA chase. Unless Kahn pulls something amazing *snicker*. How sad is it that re-signing Darko actually becomes an urgent priority? UPDATE: Looking deeper at Rudy Gay's qualifying offer, I've added a line for his proposed salary [$13,709,195]. But otherwise yea, this team still sucks.
Final Verdict: Can you even make paella in Minnesota?

New Jersey Nets:
Current Maximum Cap Space: $29,989,807
Notable Free Agents: Barf.
Albatross: Devin Harris [$8,981,000, through 2013]
S&T bait: Terrence Williams [$2,214,480], Courtey Lee [$1,352,640], Quinton Ross? [$1,146,337 player option]
Summary: The Nets need a few more minor cuts to make the double FA signing work. Getting rid of Yi was a surprisingly good start. Will hanging Kris Humphries by his feet over a gold mine help read the goal?
Final Verdict: Comrade, trust the motherland! and Jay-Z!

New Orleans Hornets:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space: ($11,913,649)
Notable Free Agents: ....
Albatross: Emeka Okafor [$11,795,000, through 2013/14]
S&T bait: Maybe?
Summary: This is pretty depressing to analyze.
Final Verdict: So fucked. Does Chris Paul feel worse than a slowly dying burning oily sea turtle?

New York Knicks:
Current Maximum Cap Space: $34,528,263
Notable Free Agents: Tracy McGrady [$22,483,124], David Lee [$7,000,00]
Albatross: Eddy Curry [$11,276,863, 2011]
S&T bait: Not much, really.
Summary: This one mistake, Eddy Curry, has pretty much kept NY out of the picture for LeBron. At least the Knicks are the only team in the clear for double max salaries!
Final Verdict: Hello, Boozer and Joe Johnson!

Oklahoma City Thunder:
Current Maximum Cap Space: $6,898,156
Notable Free Agents: None.
Albatross: None.
S&T bait: Tons.
Summary: So the plans to steal Sam Presti and make him GM of the Suns is underwa-...oh, ahem. Anyways, even look at those trades FOR Daequan Cook and Morris Peterson, both expiring in 2011. Could Indiana, Memphis, and Oklahoma City be onto something here?
Final Verdict: Wow, just look at this team build year after year.

Orlando Magic:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space: ($27,200,430)
UPDATE Maximum non-Cap Space with J.J. Redick hold and Barnes opted out: ($34,118,654)
Notable Free Agents UPDATE: J.J. Redick's sweet touch [$2,839,408]
Albatross: Ahahaha.
S&T bait: No, in a bad way.
Summary: Man, next year is gonna hurt.
Final Verdict: As with the Detroit fans, Orlando fans may not want to gaze directly at the ORL salary chart. UPDATE: Like seriously, don't look.

Philadelphia 76ers :
Current Maximum non-Cap Space: ($10,735,638)
Notable Free Agents: Allen Iverson [$650,686]
Albatross: Aaaaahahahaha-
S&T bait: Sorta?
Summary: Even if players opt our from their options, the 76ers still would be stuck this off-season with their same crappy crew.
Final Verdict: Nothing's changed, pretty much screwed for the next 3 years.

Phoenix Suns:
Current Maximum Cap Space (assumes Amar'e opts out) UPDATE: $14,461,055 $11,221,055 (Grant Hill picked up option)
UPDATE Maximum non-Cap Space with Amar'e max hold: ($5,502,582)
Notable Free Agents: LOU!
Albatross: Not really
S&T bait: Yes.
Summary: Didn't think the Suns could pull off getting under the cap and come close to offering a max contract. UPDATE: Not close anymore, but for the love of God please let go of Amar''''''e's cap hold!
Final Verdict: Rebounding and defense, rebounding and defense...

Portland Trail Blazers:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space: ($11,862,668)
Notable Free Agents: None.
Albatross: Lamarcus Aldridge [$10,744,000, through 2015]
S&T bait: Andre Miller [$7,269,264], Joel Przybilla [$7,405,300 player option]
Summary: Maybe Kevin Pritchard did try to screw Portland on his way out, as his draft day trades ultimately put the Blazers about $7 million even more over the cap.
Final Verdict: *tears ACL*

Sacramento Kings:
Current Maximum Cap Space UPDATE: $15,366,159
Notable Free Agents: [This section is intentionally left blank]
Albatross: Beno Udrih [$6,478,600, through 2012/13], Francisco Garcia [$5,500,000, through 2013].
S&T bait UPDATE: Samuel Dalembert [$13,278,129], Carl Landry [$3,000,000]
Summary UPDATE: Lost about $3 million in cap space, probably not gonna find a good use for the cap space. Maybe fight Minnesota for Gay? (This is quite possibly the most favorite sentence I've ever written.)
Final Verdict: Who'd want to come to a team that gets screwed by the refs anyways?

San Antonio Spurs:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space UPDATE: ($13,802,086) $1,343,330
Notable Free Agents UPDATE: No. LOL RJ.
Albatross: Manu? Duncan?
S&T bait: Richard Jefferson [$15,200,000], Tony Parker [$13,650,000]
Summary: Gonna assume Richard Jefferson picks up his player option here, unless I missed something. They might start a trend of when being over the cap by $13 million, saying instead "one Tony Parker over the cap". UPDATE: Aaaaaaahahahahahaha Richard Jefferson probably should have asked Bonzi Wells for advice before this decision. Or like anyone with two eyes.
Final Verdict: Lots of sign and trade opportunity.

Toronto Raptors:
Current Maximum Cap Space: $6,243,868
Notable Free Agents: Summit tag-a-long Member #3 [$15,779,912]
Albatross: My eyes...
S&T bait: Eh.
Summary: Just look at all that Albatross! A core of Hedo, Calderon, Bargs, and Jarrett Jack through 2013?! And you thought LeBron played with some bad teammates!
Final Verdict: More like, sign and trade away.

Utah Jazz:
Current Maximum non-Cap Space UPDATE: ($5,518,526) ($6,176,046) (2 qualifying offers)
Notable Free Agents: Carlos Boozer [$12,323,900, no player option], Kyle Korver [$5,163,636, no player option]
Albatross: Paul Millsap [$7,600,000, through 2013]
S&T bait: Maybe
Summary: Doesn't look like there's much to do here, maybe leverage Kirilenko's expiring for a swingman to make way for Gordon Hayward. Also to buy Fesenko some shake weights.
Final Verdict: Well at least you've got some nice green jazzy mountains.

Washington Wizards:
Current Maximum Cap Space UPDATED: $14,861,038
Maximum Cap Space if that completely stupid trade with Chicago is true UPDATED: $5,032,042
Notable Free Agents: Are there markets for Josh Howard and Mike Miller?
Albatross: *points upwards at BasketBawful banner* [$17,730,693, through 2014, player option in 2013]
S&T bait: Ugh, who cares anymore.
Summary: So, back to this trade again. It becomes official July 8th or something, but with the Yi trade it pretty much shows how desperate the Wiz are to fill the slots. In complete give-up mode. On the plus side, I hope to see tons of John Wall driving and kicking it to Yi for the missed shot, followed by awkwardly looking at each other.
Final Verdict: Abandon all hope all ye who enter here.


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For those of you who might be wondering, I, Evil Ted, am completely over the Celtics losing Game 7 to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. So completely over it. It’s not bothering me one bit. I mean, sure, it bothered me right around the end of the game, but that was for, like, five minutes.

Does this guy look like he's still upset?
I think not.

People get way too attached to their sports teams. I’m not like that. Hell, I didn’t even notice the Celtics were in the playoffs until they got past the Cavs. Yeah, I followed the Magic Series pretty close, and sure I got a little excited when the Celtics made it to the finals sporting a team that, on paper, had all the talent it needed to win. And I’ll admit, I was enticed by the fairy tale playoff run leaving in its wake the crushed dreams of Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, and, potentially, Kobe Bryant, but it’s not like I wanted to kill myself because it didn’t come true…in the final minutes…of Game 7…of the Finals...against the hated Lakers...

...where was I? Oh yeah...

So what if everything Doc said to the media was coming to fruition, about how it was more important to go into playoffs as a healthy team than as a high playoff seed? And about how he was just managing the minutes of his aging veterans, trading regular season wins for the ability to sustain a lengthy playoff run. I know, he could have added a huge tangible milestone to his coaching legacy and to the legacy of the Celtics franchise with banner number eighteen, but so what? That’s not important to me. If it were, would I be writing this right now? Of course not.

If I were a lesser man, I would rail about the Celtics being up for most of Game 7, and about the Lakers getting a dozen dubious free throws in the last six minutes, but I’m not a lesser man. I’m beyond that. If I were a resentful, puss-oozing homer yutz, I would probably say that Kobe appeared to nudge Perkins' right leg from behind as he came down with that rebound in Game 6. Again, not me. I'm above it, and we should all be thankful I'm not that guy. I'm beyond such baseless, biased accusations, and am well grounded in the knowledge that there are more important things in life. For example, I'm apparently the father of three children. What’s better than that? Kids who are obliged to love you because of blood relation? That's just awesome. And you know what? They kind of look like me too. Imagine that - little semi-clones of me walking the earth after I’m gone. You know what that is? That’s everlasting life. Or practically. I mean, it’s close to that.

Sports, by comparison, aren’t really important. I mean, if they were, and I wanted to be petty, I would point out that the Celtics still have 17 World Championships to the Lakers 16, and if I were a REAL douchebag, I’d point out that 5 of those championships were won by the Minneapolis Lakers, so they aren’t even worth the fabric on which they’re printed. At least, that’s what I would say, if I even cared. Thank God I don’t.

And yeah, I’m a Red Sox fan, so when it comes to counting championships, I’m aware of how the Yankees are up like 27-6 in championships (at least I think that’s what it is. Fortunately I don’t care), and yeah, from 2004 through 2007, I could always shout down a Yankees fan by saying “Think you’re so great? Well which of the two teams has won the most recent championship?” Fortunately, the Yankees won it all last year so I’m no longer forced to engage in such petty arguments. It’s really wonderful to be given the gift of perspective, to know what’s really important. I consider myself a far more well-rounded individual for it. Imagine, people caring so much about the wins and losses of an athletic team. It borders on pathetic, really.

I’ll bet you’re going to come at me now with the Boston Bruins, up 3 games to none against the Flyers, collapsing in the playoffs. Now that’s hilarious. I mean, its hockey. Seriously. I wasn’t even going to watch unless they got to Game 7 of the finals. To my great fortune, they didn’t. The idea of being forced to watch a hockey game as if it were important is a frightening proposition.

Now, Ghana beating the U.S. in the World Cup, that event actually involves some relevant world implications. I can’t think what they are right now, but I’m sure there are some.

This sport is globally significant.
No seriously, it is.

I’m getting away from my point. My point is that we’re all going to die someday, and when that happens, is it really going to matter if the Celtics won Game 7, elevated the historic status of Garnett, Allen, Pierce and Rondo, and gave the Celtics an 18-15 lead in franchise championships over the Lakers? Not to me, not when I’m a corpse rotting in a casket. Ask the worms eating my dead flesh if they care who won. See? They didn’t even notice that you asked a question. They’re still nibbling away on my small intestine.

Speaking of the hereafter, I wonder if I could be cremated, have the ashes dyed green, and then decree in my final will and testament to have myself poured from a helicopter into Kobe Bryant’s swimming pool. Now THAT would be a grand statement. You know how hard it would be for Kobe’s pool guy to clean out the ashes? And the water would probably be green for, like, days afterward. That would be something.

Take that, Kobe's pool.

No. I’m not going to do that. Kobe’s not worth the effort, and I’m far too mature and above such behavior.

Listen to me here, going on about something as inconsequential as my own demise. Have none of us come to the realization that someday the sun is going to burn out, our planet will become uninhabitable, and the human race will cease to exist? Who’s going to give a crap about the Celtics-Lakers rivalry then? Nobody. Furthermore, I’ll bet the Staples Center and TD Garden won’t even be able to remain structurally in tact against the atmospheric extremes of a sunless universe, leaving championship banners floating aimlessly in the vacuum nothingness of space. How much is this year’s NBA Championship going to matter then, Laker fans? Hmmm? Think your team's victory is a big deal? I’ve just proven without a shadow of a doubt that it’s not.

See? When we're all gone, it's not gonna matter.
Who would read this, Martians?

Now, for argument’s sake, let’s suppose that a small band of scientific misfits, funded by an eccentric, benevolent billionaire, manage to build a spaceship to escape from our dead rock of a planet when the sun goes cold. They’re going to collect as much data about the history of mankind as they can, right? By then, I imagine the Celtics will have amassed 535 championships to the Lakers’ 534, only to be eclipsed by the 760 championships of the Hong Kong Fast Dribble Galaxy (the NBA would go international some time around the year 4,020). Think my hypothetical situations are ridiculous? Tell that to 2 billion Hong Kong Fast Dribble Galaxy fans. In the long run, their team, captained by the cryogenically frozen and reanimated head of Chow Yun Fat, will dominate the EBA (Earth Basketball Association), creating a legion of followers prone to chanting a series of virtually unpronounceable Chinese characters that translate loosely into “Win big and much, Hong Kong Fast Dribble Galaxy! Win big and much!”

Sorry, I got sidetracked again. I guess what I’m really trying to say here is, sports fans do care a lot about these stupid rivalries - sometimes, even, at the expense of their jobs, emotional stability, and personal relationships. But ask yourself which is more important: being glued to the TV when your favorite team wins a championship, or spending time bonding with your young daughter by pushing her in a swing at the park?

I think we all know the right answer to that question.

If I were a petty, small-minded sports fans, I’d conclude with something like:

Eat it, Laker fans. I’m gonna go get ready for the Patriots season to start.
Don’t have an NFL team there in LA? Awww. Too bad.

Fortunately, I’m not that type of person.

I am SO over it.

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Over the course of The Pickup Diaries, I plan to take the occasional "20-second timeout." During these timeouts, I'll set aside my linear narrative to discuss current events and observations.

This is one of those timeouts.

On Saturday, I went on an epic five-hour bike ride all over the Chicago suburbs. Near the end of my ride, I decided to stop by my gym, Lifetime Fitness, to take a dip in the outdoor pool. On my way through the gym, I noticed the basketball court was nearly empty. I figured it was the perfect time to practice my shooting.

Lifetime's court has four baskets. One basket was occupied by a group of small children. The opposite basket was being used by a father and (I presume) his two sons. At the third basket, two friends were shooting around and/or playing one-on-one (or some strange hybrid of the two). The fourth basket was empty.

Choosing a basket

There are subtle rules for choosing a basket to shoot at. Keep i mind that these rules assume there isn't currently a full court game going on.

If there are multiple baskets but one basket is empty, you obviously use that basket. If there are multiple baskets and all of them are in use, you go to the basket with the fewest people unless there is an active game going on (such as one-on-one, H-O-R-S-E, and so on).

Now, assume you go to the basket with the fewest people. Let's say there are four people at that basket (making you the fifth) and all other baskets have at least five people. Further assume that, while you are shooting, three people leave a nearby basket, reducing the number of current shooters to two. As the last person to start using your current basket, you are morally obliged to move to the basket with only two people, thus decreasing the number of people at your current basket and creating a more even distribution of shooters at all the baskets.

Mind you, these rules are never discussed. They are intuitive but nonetheless expected. And you never want to be the asshole who's creating an imbalance of shooters at a particular basket. Everybody hates that asshole. Just so you know.

My routine

When I shoot around, I do my own version of Around the World. I start on the right baseline about three-to-five feet from the basket and work my way around the basket in an arc until I reach the left baseline. Then I take two steps back and work my way back to the right baseline. I continue this process until I pass the three-point line, and then I work my way back in. If I get through that circuit, I do sets of 10 free throws until I go 10-for-10. That usually takes me about three to four sets.

If I can get through all of that, then I start working on specific moves or weaknesses in my game (like finishing at the rim with my left hand, for instance). Also, during these practices, I only ever dribble leftie. It sounds simple, but little things like that can really help improve your handles with your off hand.

Approaching a basket

Anyway, I was three rounds into my Around the World routine when a scrawny high schooler entered my zone. Just as there are unwritten rules for choosing a basket, there are also unwritten rules for approaching a basket already in use.

If the basket is in use by multiple players who do not know each other, you can walk right up and begin shooting. If the basket is in use by multiple players who do know each other, you must assess whether they are about to start a game or are currently between games. Never start shooting at a basket where friends are playing a game or are about to play. To determine what's going on, you can aask outright, or you can dribble around the area until it becomes obvious.

If the basket is in use by only one other player, you can either walk up and start shooting or ask the basket's "owner" if he or she minds whether you shoot around. Of course, this player doesn't really own the basket, but good manners are free.

In this case, the high schooler opted for the "walk up and start shooting" method. However, even this approach can vary. Some people walk right into your general area and start chucking up shots. Others dribble around the perimeter for a minute or two in an effort to figure out what you're doing. At a big gym like Lifetime Fitness, there are some people who don't really play basketball but still end up on the court. These people are usually just messing around, wasting time or loosening up before or after a workout. These people are afforded the least respect.

Then there are people who play ball but are just idly shooting around with no real purpose. These people are afforded a medium level or respect.

Finally, there are players (like me) who are practicing with purpose. They are exerting effort and seem to have a specific routine of shots and/or drills they are going through. Generally speaking, these people are afforded the most respect. When joining a basket where this kind of player is shooting, most people will do their best to stay out of his or her way.

The high schooler was pretty respectful. He spent a few minutes either practicing or pretending to practice his ball handling skills while determining what my shooting process was. When he started shooting a couple minutes later, he made sure to move automatically to the areas I had just vacated or was moving away from. We adopted the all-important "boom...boom" rhythm, where one player doesn't shoot until one or two hearbeats after the other player has launched his shot. This way, neither person has to rush shots to avoid in-air basketball collisions.

The challenge

The high schooler and I had been shooting around for 10 minutes or so when the two friends -- who had been doing their hybrid one-on-one/shootaround thing -- asked if we wanted to play two-on-two.

When friends ask to play against other non-friend players, they almost always want to play on the same team. However, etiquette dictates that you offer the non-friends the option to play together or mix things up (usually by shooting free throws to determine the teams). Unless it will create a large imbalance in talent, etiquette also dictates that the non-friends will let the friends play together. So I said it was fine, that I would play with the high schooler (even though his shooting had been erratic at best).

The two friends appeared to be in pretty good shape. One was about 5'9" and probably in his mid to late-30s. The other was over six feet tall and might have been in his early 40s. Both were sturdily built. For the purposes of this story, we'll call them Short and Tall.

Tall suggested we shoot for first possession. We all agreed, and since Short was holding the game ball, he took the shot and missed. So the high schooler and I started the game. I inbounded to him on the wing, set a pick for him and then made a quick roll to the basket. He hit me with a nice pass and I scored an easy layup. Tall wanted to play "make it, take it," so we got the ball back. The high schooler inbounded to me as I was flashing across the lane. I caught the pass and turn in for a hook shot. On the next play, I inbounded to the high schooler who easily beat his man off the dribble for a layup.

I'm sure you can see how this game was going.

We beat them pretty easily. I should mention at this point that, when the game started, I sensed that Tall believed he and Short were going to beat us. You can usually tell from body language and the way someone talks what that person thinks about his or her skills. When Tall had asked whether we wanted to switch things up, it felt like he was suggesting that letting him and his friend play together might be unfair to me and the high schooler.

As it turned out, the pairings were unfair. Just not in Tall's favor.

The excuses

Still, that didn't really hurt Tall's confidence. After we pounded them 11-1 in Game 1, he said, "Boy, you guys sure hit a high percentage in that game. Not much you can do when the other team's so hot, you know?" I just smiled and nodded. I understood he was trying to save face.

Game 2 was more of the same, although Tall and Short went on a 4-0 run to make it 6-4 before me and the high schooler closed things out with a 5-0 run.

After that beating, Tall said, "I think the key is keeping the ball away from you guys. We've gotta stop you on defense and then keep scoring on offense."

Gee, thanks, Captain Obvious.

Reading between the lines, what Tall was really saying (in part) was that he and his teammate had to get serious on defense. After the first game, Tall had dismissed out win as "hot shooting." When that continued in Game 2, he suddenly realized that, hey, his opponents were actual basketball players with actual basketball skills.

Now they were going to D us up.

But here's the thing: Part of the problem was that Tall and Short didn't match up with us very well. Specifically, the high schooler was much faster thans Short and I was faster and a little bigger than tall. On every possession, one of us would drive, draw the double team, and kick to the other one. Whoever received the pass would either shoot or drive-and-kick again.

Basically, we got an open shot on every possession.

In cases like this, the only thing the opposing team can do is start fouling. Short, to his credit, played clean. Tall? Not so much. He started bumping, grabbing, holding, and reaching. When none of that work, he would hack. At one point, I posted him up and absorbed four consecutive hacks before turning to shoot and getting whacked on the arm.

"I'm going to go ahead and call that," I said, "but that was, what, the fourth one?"

Tall laughed. "Sixth, I think." And then he smiled a friendly smile. See, that's what a lot of hackers will do. They play it really nice so, if you get mad, then you'll be the jerk. Man, I hate that little ploy.

Their newfound commitment to "defense" didn't change anything. The high schooler and I busted them again, this time 11-3. After the game, high schooler and Short went to get a drink. As I was shooting around, Tall said, "You know, usually I play every week, but I haven't played for the last three. I'm a little out of shape. Funny how fast you lose your wind, know what I mean?"

Ah, excuse number three: The "I was too tired" excuse. I love excuses.

For whatever reason, Tall wanted one more shot at us. He took his hacking to the next level, but the result was another 11-4 beating. During the game, he was jawing at his friend/teammate to play harder and shoot better. After the game, he walked off the court and then flopped down in disgust. He couldn't understand how he and his buddy had just been defeated so completely in four straight games. They hadn't even been able to compete.

The thing was, I could tell that Tall had been good once. Maybe even very good. But he had lost a step. Maybe even two or three steps. It happens. Age happens. Which reminds me of a phenomenon I've been observing over the last decade or so...

The Post-Alpha Dog Sydrome

The progression and regression of a typical pickup player's abilities can be represented by the following simple bell curve:

Age bell chart

At some point, no matter how good a player is, he starts the slow but inevitable regression from "good player" to "bad player." There's no shame in this. It's simply the cycle of life. But not everybody is ready to accept that. Not at first, anyway. Which leads to the Post-Alpha Dog Syndrome (PADS).

PADS affects players who were once really good -- you could rightly call them the "franchise players" of a pickup league -- but have recently begun the slippery slide down the second half of the curve.

They're still good players, but they no longer control games the way they used to. They can't take over anymore. They can be stopped cold by the better defensive players. They can't quite keep up with the better young players who can run faster and jump higher.

Many times, this regression is hard for the aging pickup baller to take. At this point, PADS sets in and the pickup player goes through the five stages of grief for their dying career:

Stage 1. Denial: During the denial stage, the PADS player simply denies anything has changed. He continues playing the same way he has always played.'s not working. It's clearly not working. And once he realizes it's not working, that leads to...

Stage 2. Anger: Once anger kicks in, the PADS player tries to compensate for his declining skills by becoming a dick. On the offensive end, he begins calling cheap fouls that are often punctuated by verbal flops and/or cursing. On the defensive end, he starts calling constant violations like charging, palming or traveling...regardless of whether he was involved in the play (such as a charge) or had the right angle to see the play (such as with a travel). And even on those rare occasions in which he doesn't call a foul or violation, he will complain loudly enough for everybody to hear (e.g., "Goddamn, that guy travels on every play!").

The anger stage is also where many players start to develop Bruce Bowen-style tricks. Stepping on a player's foot. Undercutting people on "accident." Setting moving picks that involve more elbow than anything else. So on and so forth.

At first, this anger catches people off guard, especially if this player has a long history at a given pickup league and is generally well-respected. However, pickup ballers will only accept anger for so long. Then they start to turn up the social preessure until the PADS player's rage turns to...

Stage 3. Bargaining: When the other players have had enough of his bitching, the PADS player starts to openly plead for help. He may request to be on the better team "for once." If you're defending him, he may ask you to "take it easy on him." He will talk to anyone who will listen about his age, his conditioning, his weight, his old ankle injury...anything that might earn him some sympathy and therefore soften up his opponents. And it might even work. For a little while. But eventually, people will wise up to his little game and stop enabling him. This leads to...

Stage 4. Depression: The PADS player no longer enjoys playing basketball. Every game is a bittersweet event for him. Every possession seems joyless. Between games, he will talk to other players about "being done" or how he doesn't know how much longer he's going to play with "all you young guys." He might even use the word "retirement" half-jokingly, half-seriously. Some people will try to make the PADS player feel better -- "C'mon, you're still really good" or "Hey, I hope I can still play as well as you when I'm your age" -- but those efforts are in vain.

The real inside.

State 5. Acceptance: Some PADS players will quit before they ever reach this stage. But many won't be able to give up. When you've been playing pickup ball for 30, maybe 40 years, quitting would be like divorcing your wife or maybe giving up masturbation. The PADS player is too old to be the player he once was, but he's also too old to change.

And so he comes to grips with the skills he's lost. He tries to contribute as best he can, never doing anything that's beyond his current abilities. Winning becomes less importand and losing less crippling. He starts to call fewer fouls and becomes friendlier to new people who join the league. He vows openly to "play until I can't play anymore." The battle is no longer against his opponents on the's against time itself.

And that's when PADS ends.

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This year's Draft is in the books, and another round of young athletes have been enlisted for duty in the NBA.

The impending free agency overshadowed anything happening on the draft board, as several teams seemed more focused with culling salaries than anything else. You know it was a slow news day when Kirk Hinrich-to-the-Wizards-for-nothing was the night's "blockbuster" move. Anyway, let's take a look...

John Wall: Wall didn't exactly dominate in college, but he is a big point guard (6'4"), he had a high assist rate, and is the best athlete in the draft. If Gilbert Arenas can adapt to playing off the ball, the Wizards could have a formidable backcourt this fall...they hope. Gil is still under contract for four years at nearly $20 million a year. Not to mention he is untradeable due to knee problems and a tendency to almost shoot teammates in the face. The Wizards expect: Derrick Rose. Statbuster expects: An improvement over that Kwame Brown guy they drafted #1 back in 2001.

Evan Turner: Turner suffered a spinal fracture back in December, which was only the third or fourth worst injury he's ever suffered. But that didn't discourage Philly. Turner is a SF with ball handling and playmaking skills like a PG. Besides health issues, another issue is that he doesn't have NBA three-point range. The Sixers were 21st in in the league in 3PT field goals last year, which means he will fit right in. The Sixers expect: Brandon Roy. Statbuster expects: plenty of rebounds for Elton Brand and Marrese Speights. Not so much job security for Andre Iguodala.

Derrick Favors: This officially marks the end of the Chinese Fred Roberts (also known as Yi Jianlian) project in New Jersey. Favors was another player that underwhelmed in college (12 ppg, 8 boards) but was picked based entirely on potential and athleticism. Fortunately for everyone, scouting reports stopped short of calling him a project, which we all know is the kiss-of-death. The Nets expect: Dwight Howard. Statbuster expects: Al Horford.

Wesley Johnson: We are now three picks in and not a single outlandish outfit in sight. that what I think it is? Problem solved! The T'Wolves resisted their instinctive urge to draft another point guard, power forward and/or someone who has no intention to move to Minnesota. For a change, Johnson fills a need in their lineup. Johnson fills up a box score (16.5 ppg, 8 reb, 1.7 steals, 1.8 blocks, 41% 3pt). But he is an old rookie (22) that didn't produce until his senior year. But those are the things you don't care about when Corey Brewer and Ryan Gomes are playing 30 minutes a night. The T'Wolves expect: Shawn Marion. Statbuster expects: Sean Elliott 2.0.

DeMarcus Cousins: Cousins posted some outrageous stats on one of the best teams in college, but intangibles caused him to slip to #5. Well, maybe an elbow to the head isn't "intangible", but still. Since high school, Cousins had a reputation for being combative, uncoachable, and out of shape. But, with all this baggage, and he still posted 24 ppg and 16 boards per 40 minutes in college?!? The Kings will take that chance. The Kings expect: Al Jefferson. Statbuster expects: Benoit Benjamin.

Ekpe Udoh: Udoh's abillity to pass, block shots, and score facing the basket seems like a good fit for the Warrior's offense. One red flag is that, before transferring to Baylor, Udoh had two completely forgettable years playing for Michigan, where he shot 45%, which is an unforgivable number for a PF hoping to be a lottery pick. And he is reaching a Sam Mitchell-level of old rookieness at 23 years old. But knowing Don Nelson's penchant for small ball, not to mention they already have similar players in Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph, this may the last we'll hear about Udoh for the time being. The Warriors expect: A poor man's Lamar Odom. Statbuster expects: Derrick McKey, if they're lucky.

Greg Monroe: Monroe is a big man that can score inside and out. He nearly averaged 4 assists per night as a center, and he has excellent basketball instincts. The knock on him is that he's slow, soft and lacks killer instinct. Which begs the question..if Brad Miller had went to Georgetown, would he have been a lottery pick? The Pistons expect: Brad Daugherty. Statbuster expects: Vlade Divac.

Al-Farouq Aminu: Aminu has been repeatedly compared to Josh Smith. Since Aminu is an insanely athletic SF that can't shoot worth a lick, the comparison is somewhat valid. But it ends there. Josh Smith can play guard in a pinch; passing and put the ball on the floor. Aminu mustered an anemic 41 assists in 31 games. But this may be due to some severe astigmatism he seems to be suffering from. The Clippers expect: Josh Smith. Statbuster expects: a nice backup for Rasual Butler.

Gordon Hayward: Another jump-shooter from a relatively unknown college in Indiana, that had his draft stock inflated by an improbable NCAA tournament run? No, I'm not talking about Bryce Drew. Scouts will tout his shooting as his strong point, but I don't think 29% 3pt shooting qualifies as "accurate". The Jazz expect: Mike Dunleavy. Statbuster expects: Luke Jackson.

Paul George: You can never accuse the Pacers of not taking chances. Remember, they traded for Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy, and signed Dahntay Jones to a long term deal. The Pacers again rolled the dice on this pick, since scouts expected George to slip into the second round back in January. George is a big SG/SF that already has NBA three-point range. One red flag is his ability to create his own shot, which he will need if he hopes to supplant Brandon Rush at SG. Also, he didn't play with much intensity in college, and he tends to disappear, which raised questions about his basketball IQ. The Pacers expect: A poor-man's Danny Granger. Statbuster expects: Martell Webster.

Soul-crushing fail of the night: Hassan Whiteside, who was projected to go as high at 10th in mock drafts earlier in the year, slipped into the second round due to teams finding out he was diagnosed with ADD. I'm sure Whiteside didn't show up in New York hoping to walk on stage and shake Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver's hand after 9PM.

Speaking of Adam Silver: From Henry Abbott via Twitter: "Fans at MSG greet Adam Silver with a raucous "Sexy Silver" chant. This is a very serious night for some, but not those guys in section 201."

Stay classy, my friends: There was a rousing "USA! USA!" chant when the Toronto Raptors announced their Ed Davis pick. How can you be anti-Canada? That's like saying you hate North Dakota, even though you've never been there. They later booed Kevin Seraphin, who is a native of French Guiana. Last time I checked, we are not at war with Canada or Guiana. Really, guys?

Sleeper pick of the night: Being undersized will normally scare teams away like a disease, and this is what happened to PF Trevor Booker. Despite having the 2nd best overall numbers (behind John Wall) in the pre-draft camp athletic testing, he measured in at 6'7.5" in the combine. The same thing happened to Paul Millsap and Carl Landry, and you can argue that they are two of the top 15 PF's in the league right now. Not to mention Leon Powe was a valuable rotation player when the Celtics won the title in 2008. The point is, you can't teach talent. The Wizards realized this and traded him from the T'Wolves on draft night. Cue the slow, congratulatory applause.

Are mock drafts a CWOT?: Again this year, once you are past the top five picks, the accuracy of mock drafts goes in the toilet. Mostly they are completed by NBA outsiders who weren't there for the Combine or the workouts, and have no direct insight on the thought process in each team's head office. I should now...we can smell our own. Here is how the top 12 mock drafts (according to fared this year:

#1: John Wall. Mock drafts that got it right: 12/12
#2: Evan Turner. Got it right: 12/12
#3: Derrick Favors. Got it right: 7/12
#4: Wesley Johnson. Got it right: 7/12
#5: Demarcus Cousins. Got it right: 9/12
#6: Ekpe Udoh. Got it right: 5/12
#7: Greg Monroe. Got it right: 4/12
#8: Al-Farouq Aminu. Got it right: 8/12
#9: Gordon Hayward. Got it right: 1/12
#10: Paul George. Got it right: 0/12
#11: Cole Aldrich. Got it right: 1/12
#12: Xavier Henry. Got it right: 1/12

Just for fun: This year's draft was surprisingly well-dressed. And, as a result, we missed out on some unintentional laughs. Well, here is your consolation prize: The Worst NBA draft suits EVER.


As my junior year of high school arrived, I was feeling pretty good about myself. After all, I was now about 65-ish pounds lighter than I had been, I had my driver's licence and -- most importantly -- I had a car. At my school, back in my day, probably only about one out of four students had car. It might have even been fewer than that. So having a car was a very big deal.

Kokomo High School required students to pick up their new books about a week before school actually started. I remember the day I picked up my books very clearly. Unfortunately, the Fury had gobbled up pretty much all of my excess cash. If I'd bothered to open my wallet, it might have screamed in agony. For this reason, I hadn't been able to buy a new wardrobe for school. In other words, I was still wearing my "fat clothes."

I may as well have wrapped myself up in a tarp. I had actually worn my favorite outfit from the year before -- a pair of gray, faded jeans and a white t-shirt with some logo that was popular at the time -- but it looked ridiculous now. And, despite my much-improved situation, I felt just as much of an idiot as I had the previous year.

You know how sometimes when you're out in public, you'll hear people laughing and talking, and paranoia causes you to assume that they're laughing and talking about you? Well, that's how I felt while waiting in that line. I started to sweat. Then I heard words that almost caused an involuntary urine spill: "What a fatass."

Despite the fact that I was now obviously thin -- in point of fact, I was a wee bit too thin and was trying to gain back a few pounds -- I was absolutely certain that "fatass" comment had been aimed at me. I wanted to turn around and scream, "I am not fat anymore!" But somehow I kept myself under control.

Of course, my first thought was: I need to lose more weight. But wait, wasn't I trying to fill out a little more? Then it hit me. It must be the clothes. It had to be the clothes. I wasn't fat, but they made me look fat. That's why somebody had called me a fatass.

Yes, the notion that the "fatass" comment had been directed at someone else never even occurred to me. That's the kind of tunnel vision I was dealing with at the time.

My mom agreed to get me some new clothes. The only shirt I remember specifically was this long-sleeved, button down shirt made out of blue denim. They were extremely popular at the time, and putting it on made me feel like a Grade A beefcake. So much so that -- despite the fact that the temperature was still hovering around 80 degrees -- I wore it on the first day of school.

But that wasn't the only stupid decision I made that day. The previous year, I had developed a mad crush on this girl Maureen W. To this day, I still have no idea why. I had never even spoken to the girl. She had sat three rows in front of me in art class. To my knowledge, she had never uttered a single word in that class the entire year. But I thought she was adorable.

As it happened, Maureen lived down the street from my friend Greg. So, that summer, we had walked by her house countless times. We'd never actually caught a glimpse of this girl who had captured my imagination, but it wasn't due to a lack of stalking.

Anyway, I was so full of piss and vinegar that I was determined to ask Maureen out immediately. My transformation had been so dramatic, so complete, I really believed I had a chance. C'mon: I was not thin and (to my mind) athletic, I was a licensed driver with his own car, and damn it, I was rocking a kickass mullet. How could she say no?

I wasn't sure when I was even going to see I said, we hadn't made an actual audible connection yet. But as pure dumb luck would have it, her locker ended up being in the same hallway as my first period class. So, as I was pacing the hall looking for my usual crew of friends, I passed her. I remember thinking, in these exact words: What tremendous good fortune!

I know. What a nerd, right?

Now, I hadn't planned any of this out in advance. Not that a script would have actually made a difference in the outcome, but I might have looked less silly. Or maybe not. At any rate, I didn't even bother to stop and think this decision through. I walked right up and tapped her on the shoulder.

She turned around without a single flicker of recognition. "Yeah?"

"Hey, Maureen," I muttered. "I was wondering if, uh, you'd like to go out sometime?"

She looked at me like I'd actually just said, "Here! Eat this kitten!" The look had equal parts fear and disgust.

"Uh, no, I don't think so," she replied.

And that, my friends, is what we call a crash and burn.

I went to first period, which happened to be German class. My friends Greg and Dave D. were already there. I slumped down in my seat, a broken, defeated young man.

"Well," I began, "I asked out Maureen."

"How'd it go?" Greg asked.

"Not good," I replied.

"Bummer," Greg said.

And then life went on.

In the long run, getting turned down by Maureen was fine. After all, I had a much bigger crush on my long-term prospect, Cindy. And anyway, at that moment I was more obsessed with playing basketball than dating. I could hardly concentrate on my school work. When I looked out the window into those sunny, late-summer days, the only place I wanted to be was on the court.

I was still spending countless hours shooting around at Boulevard school, but I knew it was time for me to start branching out, playing against actual human beings. That was the next logical step.

But I was afraid.

See, during those solitary hours at the Boulevard court, I could imagine all sorts of things: Taking over games, hitting buzzer-beaters, have one-on-one duels with other great players. In my own basketball fantasies, I would always be The Man. But to play against other people, I risked the humiliation of losing. Maybe even losing badly.

Remember, my weight problems had made me a pariah in gym class. At KHS, juniors and seniors didn't have to take gym anymore. Therefore, I couldn't use gym class as an opportunity to measure my new skills. I had to go out and find competition.

That wasn't hard to do. At the time, Kokomo had two main courts where games were always going on: Highland Park and Forest Park. They were (and, as far as I know, still are) the two biggest public parks in the city. But Kokomo had many other smaller parks, most of which were equipped with a basketball court. Remember, Indiana has long been a hotbed for amateur basketball. A park without a basketball court was considered blasphemy.

I wasn't ready for the big parks yet. The idea of full court five-on-five made me queasy. I needed to ease into this whole "competing against other living, breathing humans" thing. So I began driving around the city, trolling for mini-games to get into. And I was about to learn that there were countless variations of basketball to be played when there was a limited number of available players.

Naturally, shooting games like H-O-R-S-E, 5-3-1, Knock Out and Around the Key were popular, but they were considered warmups for real competition.

As far as "real competition" went, here are the two games I found myself playing most often:


This is the most basic form of basketball. It was also the most gladiatorial in nature. Think Thunderdome here: Two men enter, one man leaves.

The rules generally go like this: Scoring is by 1s (for a standard two-point shot) and 2s (for a three-pointer). Many games go to 11 or 15, although you can agree on any set score before the game begins. I have also played games to 9, 11, 17 and 21. Usually, you need to go ahead by at least two points to win a game, which can lead to "overtime" sessions.

Possessions typically alternate with each scored basket (this is called "loser's out"). A player usually has to dribble the ball back past the three-point line after rebounding an opponent's missed shot. Some people only require taking the ball past the free throw line, which provides for more "fast break" opportunities where you scramble over the charity stripe and then make a mad scramble for the hoop before your opponent can recover.

There's also a rule by which you don't have to take the ball back past the designated line if your opponent shoots an air ball. I tend to avoid that rule.

Players are expected to call their own fouls ("Got it" or "Got one" or "Jesus Christ! That's a foul!"), although opponents will sometimes admit they fouled you (but don't count on that). They'll be very quick to call you for traveling or over the back of course. In some circles, it's considered bad form to call certain types of fouls or violations (such as offensive fouls or palming).

After fouls, turnovers (like traveling), out-of-bounds violations or made baskets, you have to check the ball in at the top of the key. For some players, the checking process is a mind game. Good form dictates that you either hand the ball to the offensive player or pass it directly to his waiting hands. However, some people will either set the ball directly on the ground (so it won't bounce up to the offensive player) or they drop lightly so it won't bounce high, thus forcing the offensive player to bend over to pick it up. This is usually a sign of disrespect and/or an attempt to psyche the offensive player out.

It's a bush league move. But certain players will do it to you every time.

Some people play by "make it, take it" rules, which means that you get the ball back every time you score a basket. I don't particularly like this style, because alternating possessions is a standard part of organized basketball. Plus, it can result in very short and unsatisfying games.


Here's the definition of 21 from Wikipedia:

"Twenty-one" is a game that can be played with two or more players. Each player has their own score, with the winner being the first to reach 21 points. The game begins with one of the players "breaking", which is to shoot one free throw with the ball to determine if he or she starts the game. While all other players can attempt to stop the score, the player who missed the last shot is usually the one "responsible" for playing defense against the next offensive player. However, no player has any teammates at any time in the game. The player with the ball may shoot at any time, and may collect his own rebound and shoot again. On a defensive rebound, the rebounder takes possession and must clear the ball by dribbling it beyond the three-point line before taking a shot.

Whenever a basket is scored, that player receives two points and goes to the free throw line, where each made free throw tacks on another one point to their score. The player is allowed to shoot free throws until he misses, at which point another player must rebound the ball, and the sequence starts again. This game can be played with the concept of tipped shots, where a player tips the ball in the basket off of a rebound of an opposing player's missed shot, the original shooter's score is reset back to zero. The game can also be played with deductions, such as minus one point when a player air-balls a shot or commits a traveling violation. Twenty-one is nearly always played in a half court game.
Now I personally have never played this game where you could continue taking free throws until you missed one. The cap has always been three free throws, and if you make all three, you get to check the ball in and try to score again. I've also played where you can choose to take one three-pointer instead of the three free throws. Hit it, and you get all three points and the ball back.

Speaking of which, this game (unlike one-on-one) uses 2s and 3s. Furthermore, in my experience, you always have to hit 21 exactly. Like hitting a three-pointer when you're at 18 or nailing a free throw when you're at 20. If you go over 21, your score returned to 13, which can be a real bitch in a close game. This leads to lots of fun scenarios. For instance, let's say you hit a two-pointer to put your score to 19. Now imagine you hit the first free throw and now you're at 20. At this point, your opponent might say something like, "Uh oh, lotta pressure on this free throw..."

If you brick it, not only are you stuck at 20, but you're guaranteed to go back to 13 the very next time you score.

Additionally, the tipping rule has some variations. For instance, I used to play with a group of guys who had a "three tips and out" rule. In other words, if your shot was tipped in three times in a single game, you were knocked out and couldn't play again until the next game. These guys also played it so that if you had fewer than 13 points, your score returned to zero on a tip. If you had more than 13 points, your score returned to 13.

21 is a great game to play when you have an odd number of players. However, if you play with more than three or five guys, it can quickly descend into anarchy and I will explain in a future installment.

So these were the games I was now playing. Since I wasn't going to the bigger parks, I wasn't facing off against the best competition. But still, it was the first competition I had ever faced.

Early on, I wasn't really keeping track of whether I won or lost. These were purely experimental ventures. And yet...I was winning my fair share of games. This was in part a reflection of the talent I was facing, in part due to my height an shot selection (primarily inside), and in part because of my discovery of...

Pickup Rule #2: Rebound, rebound, rebound

You know that old saying possession is nine-tenths of the law? Well, in pickup basketball, possession is ten-tenths of the law. Which is, uhm, 100 percent. Of the law. Okay, what I'm getting at is this:

You can't score without the basketball.

I know, I know. That's obvious. And just as obviously, your opponent cannot score without the basketball. You may think it's idiotic to walk through this concept in your mind because it's so freaking "duh!" it hurts, but if you really embrace it, it'll change your game.

Just look at what Rajon Rondo did during the 2010 playoffs. He changed Boston's postseason destiny by going after the basketball. Sure, the Celtics lost the title, but they wouldn't have even been competing for it without Rondo's rebounding.

As obvious as this is, it stunned me -- and, frankly, it still stuns me -- how often pickup ballers just stand and watch the basketball. If you can develop a mentality for aggressively pursuing every rebound, every loose ball, every "50-50"'re going to end up with a lot of extra possessions. And, more than likely, a lot of easy shots.

One of my most successful "plays" was wildly crashing the board after attempting a short jumper. I usually knew where my shot was going and I could run right to the spot I expected it to end up. In a lot of cases, I would simply run past my defender, catch the rebound and lay it back in.

Just as important, if not moreso, is defensive rebounding. Let's face it, pickup ballers are not in the NBA for a reason. Well, they're not in the NBA for many reasons, but the point I'm trying to make is: Pickup shooting percentages tend to be pretty low. That means lots of misses and plenty of rebounding opportunities.

To be successful, you've got to box out. And it's actually pretty easy to do. You don't need to be stronger or taller than your opponent. For the most part, rebounding is about focus and determination. When your opponent goes up for a shot, you absolutely must stay between him and the basket. Stand wide -- legs apart, elbows out -- and try to make physical contact with your opponent so you can a) know where he is and b) keep him from pushing past you.

As the ball's coming back down, time your jump so you can catch the ball at the height of your jump. Mistiming your jump can and will lose you possession of the ball. Go up and grab the ball with both hands. Don't tip it or try to yank down a one-handed board. Yes, it looks impressive, but no matter how good you are, it's going to cost you possessions. Which brings me to the next pickup rule...

Pickup Rule #3: Lost possessions lose games...and earned possessions win them

There are going to be games in which you're hopelessly overmatched. There will be games where you destroy your opponent. But many games -- if not most of them -- will probably be reasonably close. One or two possessions here or there decide the majority of games you'll play in (unless you're awesome...or awful).

For this reason, you can't fuck around. Unless you're working on new moves, taking bad shots or trying things you're not good at will cost you possessions. Taking even one bad shot can cost you a game. So don't do it. Being smarter and maintaining your focus will allow you to beat "better" players.

See, some people just don't go all-out or remain focused for an entire game...even short games to 9 or 11. This happens for various reasons. Sometimes they just don't have the necessary discipline, other times they may be too embarrassed to try so hard you'll realize they care about winning.

Use this against them.

You're not going to steal the ball every time you try to do it. You're not going to block every shot attempt. But you'll accomplish both here and there if you keep focused and work hard from start to finish. Trust me, effort can trump talent. It happens all the time, especially in pickup basketball.

So...I was out there, playing and learning, and becoming reasonably happy with where I was at as a basketball player. And it was time for me to make some loftier goals.

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Once I discovered the joys of shooting a basketball, the rest of the summer after my sophomore year in high school was a blur of balling, working out, and bussing tables at the Ponderosa. And even though I didn't love working at the 'Rosa as much as I enjoyed the other two activities, it was a means to an end. Namely, my first car: A 1978 Plymouth Fury.

Cherry red and roughly the size of a small ocean liner, the Fury -- which I named "The Red Baron" -- was a one-way ticket to freedom. I could now go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. You know, as long as my mom was cool with it and it was before curfew.

I purchased the Fury on a Friday night in early July. If I recall correctly, it cost around $800, which seemed both like a small fortune and a ridiculously tiny price to pay for virtual independence. The bad news: I didn't have my license yet. I had actually failed my first driver's test a couple weeks prior.

This still pisses me off. I was kicking ass on the test and then, at the very end, right outside the DMV, the woman administering the test asked me to parallel park. I nailed that too, and I naturally assumed I'd passed with flying colors. However, she failed me. When I asked why, she said it was because, while turning left onto Markland Avenue -- one of the main streets in Kokomo -- my left tire had passed ever-so-slightly through the opposite lane and cut over the front edge of the yellow line separating the two sides of the street.

"If there had been a car there, you would have hit it," she said.

"But there wasn't a car there," I replied.

"True, but there could have been."

"But...but...people do that all the time," I said.

"Yes, but new drivers shouldn't," she answered. "I think having to retake the test will break you of that bad habit, don't you?"

Seriously, I could have choked a bitch.

The Tuesday after buying the Fury, I went in to retake my test. I got the same instructor, and yes, she remembered me. She literally had me drive a circle around the DMV and passed me.

"I trust you learned your lesson?" she said.

The only lesson my 16-year-old self learned was that people in a position of power can and probably will screw with you. But at least I was now a licensed driver.

Now, I had taken the test in my mom's car -- a 1987 Buick Somerset -- because it was much smaller than the Fury and therefore easier to drive under testing conditions (that is, if I needed to parallel park again). When I got home, the first thing I did was jump into the Fury. Jammed in the key. Turned the ignition.

Nothing but a dry cough-like sound.

See, on Friday night, shortly after getting my new car home, my buddy Greg had come over and -- since I couldn't actually drive us anywhere yet -- we had spent the night sitting in the car listening to the tape deck...which was wired directly to the battery. That meant the radio could be on and running even when the key wasn't in the ignition. Sure enough, I'd left it running and the battery was now deader than Shaq's bathroom scale. Dead and so old, in fact, that jumping it only blew a little rust off the connectors.

One battery replacement later, I was finally on the road.

But I wasn't taking too many joy rides. Not at first anyway. About the only places I drove to were my friends' houses -- it kind of rankled them at first that I wouldn't drive us to the mall or the local cruising strip -- and my "home court." This was a little basketball court behind Boulevard School, my old elementary school, which just so happened to be about two blocks away from my high school, Kokomo High School.

The Boulevard court had some definite downsides. The backboards were made of the creakiest wood imaginable, and the rims were composed of the clangiest iron in the known universe. The blacktop surface of the court was covered in dead spots and shallow, nearly imperceptible depressions that tended to collect water. Oh, and it was surrounded on three sides by nothing but corn fields. This meant that a) there was no protection from the burning summer sun (so I often had no choice but to shoot toward the sun from one angle or another) and b) there was no protection from the wind.

And, if you've ever played outdoors, you know the wind can be a real problem.

That said, the Boulevard court was also relatively private. Nobody liked to play there for the reasons outlined above and the fact that there was no three-point line. As a result, I could practice for hours upon end without being interrupted or even seen. And I was definitely in Learning the Game mode. And for that, I wanted privacy.

Since I didn't have any actual coaching, I decided to make Larry Bird my coach. I re-read Bird's autobiography, Drive. I re-watched Larry Bird: A Basketball Legend as well as every old Celtics game I had on tape. I went to Kokomo's only major bookstore -- Walden Books -- and found a copy of Bird's instructional manual Bird on Basketball: How-to Strategies From The Great Celtics Champion. (Still available used from!)

I read. I watched. I read and watched some more. I digested. And then I tried to incorporate Bird's concepts into my budding game.

Which brings us to...

The Pickup Rules

In case you haven't seen Zombieland yet -- and I highly encourage you to do so immediately if you haven't -- the main character, Columbus, is a painfully awkward nerd who managed to survive the zombie apocalypse by strictly adhering to a series of zombie-specific survival rules. For instance:

zland rule 8
Kickass indeed.

But long before Jesse Eisenberg was unintentionally (one assumes) fooling people into thinking he was Michael Cera -- they're entirely different people, I swear -- I was inventing the rules necessary for my survival in pickup basketball. I will be describing these rules throughout The Pickup Diaries.

Now...despite his reputation as a fearsome outside shooter, Bird's arsenal also included a wide variety of drives, dunks, layups, hooks and scoops. He also had some killer low post moves. That's why his career field goal percentage was just a shade under .500, and he probably would have finished above .500 if he hadn't limped through his final four seasons with bad back.

Just for kicks, here's Bird beating the Portland Trail Blazers left-handed. I'm not kidding. You might have heard or read about this one: Bird told teammates beforehand that being so great was boring him...and he he vowed to shoot left-handed all game. He didn't, but Bird still ending up scoring 22 of his 47 points using his left hand. I know. Awesome.

At any rate, Bird's shooting philosophy became the basis for my very first rule regarding pickup hoops:

Pickup Rule #1: Always take the highest percentage shot available.

Sounds obvious, right? So simple...but so very hard. I mean, you'd think everybody would do this. But take LeBron James and Kobe Bryant for example. They're probably the two best basketball players in the NBA, but they take an unbelievable number of crap shots. At times, it seems like they're stuck in permanent heat check mode. And they aren't alone. Lesser players do it (think Monta Ellis). Hell, even lousy players do it (for further reading, please refer to the collected works of Hughes, Larry).

Mind you, Bird wasn't without sin. He had the blood of a hundred bastard field goal attempts on his mangled hands. But in general, Bird tried to always get -- for himself or his teammates -- the highest percentage shot available. And for Larry Legend, that meant close to the hoop.

When Bird retired, he was perhaps the greatest three-point shooter in league history. Even today, he's considered the one of the all-time greats, in part due to his dramatic victories in the NBA's first three Long Distance Shootouts (1986, 1987 and 1988).

But in many ways, Larry hated the three and decried its use. This was because a) he felt it was a low percentage shot (which it is) and b) that if a team had a two-point lead at the end of the game, that team should never lose to a last-second shot. Which is kind of ironic, considering Bird won several games on last-second treys during his career.

However, despite this slight contradiction in philosophy and behavior, Bird's word was Basketball Law to me. For this reason, I never practiced threes. Never even attempted them while goofing around. To me, it was a waste of time that could be spent practicing shots I could actually use in a game. (For this same reason, I've never attempted a half court shot or developed any trick shots for HORSE, unless you consider a three-pointer from NBA range to be a trick shot.)

Therefore, all my shots were attempted from 15 feet and in. After all, I had almost grown to my full height of 6'3" -- I've often wondered whether I would have grown even taller had I not spent much of my childhood malnourished -- which made me a "big man" in pickup basketball terms. This meant that my game should be close to and going toward the basket.

I worked on every variety of layup I could think of. (Although it was quite a while before I realized the value of trying to develop my left fact, I'm still working on that.) I used my mental chalk to draw a 15-foot arc around the hoop and practiced shots from every angle. (However, due to dead spots and funky rims, I often avoided baseline shots, which would haunt me later.) And I worked on my inside moves.

Fortunately, I was a natural in the post due to decent footwork, a long wingspan (or, as my college roommate BadDave called them, my Gorilla Arms), and a soft touch. Plus, I had spent my formative years following the Bird-era Celtics. This meant hours upon hours of watch Kevin McHale put opponents into his torture chamber.

McHale -- yes, my last name is also McHale, no Kevin and I are not related -- had a seemingly endless array of low post moves. This wasn't exactly true. He had a set number of moves, but the moves had so many subtle variations that they seemed endless. These moves are actually described in stunning detail in The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, which makes the book a must-read for anybody who wants to became a killer post player in pickup ball.

And that was my life for the next two months. Endless, tireless practice. I practiced in the morning, the afternoon, and at night. I played in the sun, the wind, and in the rain. By the end of that period, I was knocking down a fairly high percentage of my shots, which made me feel pretty good about myself. After all, I had only just picked up the sport.

What I didn't (and couldn't) understand at the time was this: A large part of my early "success" was due to the fact that I had focused on a very specific and therefore very limited number of shots. Not to mention that every shot had been attempted against no defense. But these things don't matter when you don't know any better. I was confident. A little cocky even. And with the new school year fast approaching... was time to take my game on the road.

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Warrior Dash: Made with lightning...real lighting!

I'd like to open this post by telling you about the Warrior Dash. It's basically a 5K with obstacles like barbed wire, mud pits, rope walls and freaking fire. It is without question the manliest thing I've ever done. I actually grew a second pair of balls by the time I dragged myself across the finish line...and it can do the same for you. For our female readers, don't worry: You'll merely grow some extra ovaries.

Anyway, welcome to this year's summer series The Pickup Diaries. Written in the spirit of Livin' Large, this series will serve as the memoirs of my "career" as a pickup basketball player. Hopefully, this will provide you with a little entertainment while you're waiting for the next NBA season to start up.

Part 1

As of the summer of 2010, my pickup basketball career has spanned 20 years, or seasons, or whatever you want to call them. Of course, based on how my teenage years began, my career almost ended up being zero seasons.

You see, here's the thing: I was fat and sucked at basketball.

When I was three years old, my mom was in a bad car accident. During the following year, she had several surgeries, but her main problem -- severe nerve damage in her neck and arms -- would never heal and could not be corrected. That was bad, because my mom was a manual laborer at a local car factory. And now she couldn't do that work...or any other work for that matter. As a result, she spent the next seven-plus years on disability.

That was a rough seven-plus years. My mom was a single parent with two kids and no support from either father. Suddenly, her yearly income was one-third of what it had been and, on top of that, she had a Shaq-sized pile of medical debt. And of course I'm talking about the post-2001 Shaq, alternately known as "Fat Shaq," "Shaq Albert" and "The Shambling Pork Beast." As you can imagine, this presented our little family unit with a lot of problems, not the least of which was food. Specifically, the lack thereof.

This is how it worked. My mom got paid only once a month, around the first of the month. Usually, buying groceries was the first thing she did. For the first week, we ate really well. During the second week, we nommed on the leftovers from the first week. Weeks three and four were...bad. By the end of the month, we had almost nothing to eat. I used to get by on mustard sandwiches. That's exactly what it sounds like, by the way: Two pieces of (usually semi-to-mostly stale) bread with nothing but mustard between them.

If you do the relatively simple math, I spent about half of my childhood either hungry or nearly starving. And my mom and sister were right there with me.

Occasionally, my mom would try to supplement our diet with offerings from the local Rescue Mission. Hell, we even stood in line for a few hours to get a two large blocks of that horrific government cheese that was being handed out during the Reagan administration. (Speaking of which: Fuck you, Ronald Reagan. That shit sucked.) But my mom was a very proud woman, and, more often than not, her pride prevented her from accepting food stamps or standing in food lines with the rest of Kokomo's needy.

She never wanted to admit just how needy we were.

At the end of that seven-plus year period, my mom finally made it back to work. This was due in part to the fact that she had finally adjusted to the constant pain of her physical condition, but also because the UAW had gotten her company, Delco Electronics, to agree to a series of physical restrictions for partially disabled employees. Basically, Delco could no longer discriminate against workers who couldn't lift and move objects beyond their physical capacity.

A steady paycheck didn't make out mountains of debt disappear in the blink of an eye, but my mom could afford food again. Not just for one or two weeks, but every week of every month of the year. Unfortunately, all those years of being deprived one of life's most basic necessities had a nasty effect on my mom's outlook on food. No matter how much food she bought, she always felt like we were still on the brink of starvation. Every time she walked into a grocery store, she shopped like our cupboards were bare.

She's still like that to this day. I had to move her to a new apartment a few years ago, and she had (for example) three gallons of milk, 21 jars of pickles, 172 cans of soup, and 68 boxes of JELL-O. Yes, I counted. No, I am not making this up. Mind you, she was living alone at this point. I asked her what one person could possibly need with 68 boxes of JELL-O. She said: "You just never know." I took her shopping a few weeks later and she tried to buy four more boxes.

Sometimes, life can really screw with your mind.

Anyway, I was hitting full-blown puberty around the time my mom went back to work. I was a skinny little runt, which is about what you'd expect of a kid who was living off bread and water half the time. But now, suddenly, food was coming at me from everywhere. Fatty, high calorie food. (Science hadn't discovered nutrition yet.) And I ate it. I ate everything in front of me. I asked for more. I ate well beyond what my hunger necessitated. Now that I could eat however much I wanted, that's exactly what I did. I literally couldn't help myself.

My metabolism -- metabolism being something else science hadn't discovered yet -- couldn't handle the extreme change in my caloric intake. Not surprisingly, I started gaining weight. Within a year, I had gone from skinny to pudgy. Within two years, I was very pudgy. Three years later, I was a hadn't quite reached the "human beanbag" stage, but I was a fatty. And you know how some people can be overweight but they're also just big, solid people? Like, you can tell there's significant muscle under all those extra pounds? Yeah, well, that wasn't me. I had always had been slender and long-limbed. For most of my life, I had been skin and bones...more bones than skin. Now I had some serious extra flesh wrapped around those bones.

Extreme weight gain over a relatively short period of time didn't exactly do wonders for my physical abilities. Mind you, I had spent about six years playing P.A.L. soccer. Now, I was the dreated Last Guy Picked For Anything in Gym Class. I was bad at almost everything. I was that kid who couldn't do a chin-up, or climb that damn rope that ran to the ceiling fo the gymnasium. I remember failing a really easy running test. I remember someone flicking one of my man boobs during a swimming lesson. It was humiliating, and so I began to avoid sports, or anything else that required physical exertion.

This, of course, didn't help my condition.

By my sophomore year, I was still a walking sausage, but my life changed course one day when I was waiting for my Driver's Ed class to start. I think nearly every high school has one or a small handful students who are universally regarded as the absolute bottom of the social ladder. You know...The Losers. Everybody, no matter how fat or ugly or whatever can make fun of The Losers because, well, just because. It's a high school thing.

Anyway, I happened to be standing next to Mark M., who was one of The Losers of my school. I wasn't talking to him -- I doubt I even knew he was there, being of a (only slightly) higher social caste -- when, unprompted, he turned to me and said: "You're a real fatass."

I was stunned. Not only had I just been blasted for no reason whatsoever by one of The Losers, but he was right. I was a fatass. I was completely disarmed. I had no comeback. He was right.

That afternoon, I went straight home, stomped up to my mom and said: "I need a weight set."

This wasn't the first time I had shown a sudden, passionate interest in exercise. However, because that interest had never sustained itself past the "sudden, passionate expression of interest" stage, my mom was more than a wee bit skeptical. She said: "Are you sure? Will you really use it."

At this point, my determination was absolute. "Yes," I said. And I damn well meant it.

We went to the local Service Merchandise and bought a 125-pound weight set. Service Merchandise worked like this: You bought what you wanted in the store and then drove your car around back to pick it up at the end of this long conveyor belt. The weight set was packaged in a large cardboard box. When it reached my end of the conveyor belt, I tried to pick it up...and couldn't. I tugged with all my might but couldn't budge it. Soon, a man came out of the warehouse and casually picked the box up then dropped it into the trunk of my mom's car. I felt like such a weakling.

At home, I still couldn't pick up the box. I had to open it in the trunk and carry the weight set into the house weight-by-weight.

I went from binging on food to binging on workouts. I lifted weights. I ran up and down the hill in my backyard. I did three aerobics shows every day: "Getting Fit" with Denise Austin -- yes, I'm man enough to admit I once worked out to Denise freaking Austin -- "Bodies in Motion" with Gilad Janklowicz, and "Basic Training" with Gilad's sister, Ada. The funny part? All three of these programs were broadcast back-to-back-to-back on ESPN. I'm being completely serious. It's hard to imagine that now, right? Kind of hard to fit in aerobics shows on ESPN these days. You'd have to make room between mock drafts and people screaming at each other about when Brett Favre is going to retire or whether Kobe Bryant is now the Greatest Laker Ever...and that's not going to happen.

I also returned to starvation mode, this time by choice. Some days I might eat nothing but one piece of bread with a little peanut butter on it. Other days I only ate a doughnut. It was a terrible diet for a growing teenager, but my obsession with losing weight quickly reached "borderline eating disorder" mode.

The school year ended and I kept pushing harder. By the end of June, I had lost almost 70 pounds. The old, skinny me was back, only now I had some actual muscle tone to go along with it. Not as much as I should have, maybe, because doughnuts didn't pack a lot of protein.

One Saturday evening around the end of June, I was hanging out with my friend Gauvin. We were chilling in his backyard -- which, like many homes in Indiana, was equipped with a rickety basketball goal -- listening to my latest discovery: Surfing with the Alien by Joe Satriani. While Gauvin was rewinding and replaying the tape over and over and over again, I picked up an old, half-flat basketball and started casually shooting hoops.

I don't know exactly what happened on that lazy summer night, but basketball -- a sport I loved to watch but loathed to play -- suddenly felt right to me. I became almost obsessively fascinated with the ball flicking through the net. After making it happen once, I wanted to do it again and again. So while Gauvin was wearing a hole in my prized tape, I stood about 15 feet from his old basketball goal and attempted several hundred, maybe even a couple thousand jump shots.

I was hooked. And my new vice would, in part, define the next two decades of my life.

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