I Measure Myself Against Other Men by How Many Points They Score on Me in a Game of One-on-One

by Justin J. Brouckaert


Ronnie had a mean jumper but he slapped five like a bitch. I mean, yeah, the guy can drain threes, but who wants to wrestle with that octopus arm every time he wets a shot? That’s the other thing: He needs that five. Needs it. Hunts you down with those puppy dog eyes after every bucket like it’s something you owe him. Like I owe it to him. 

I’m not trying to say I’m the best pick-up baller in this city, but I will say I’m definitely the best pick-up baller in this city. That’s not even bragging – if you’ve seen my jump shot, you’d agree. 

Honestly, it’s a disservice to even call it a jump shot. It’s so much more than that. It’s like⎯shit, how should I compare thee?⎯it’s like watching a leaping jaguar devouring a swan floating on a fountain filled with angel tears. If you could freeze that moment where my legs kick out and my wrist flicks forward, you would completely forget about your child being born. 

I mean, brother, that shit would be erased. 

Sometimes I think about what it would cost to hire a guy to videotape every jump shot I’ve ever taken and burn it to Blu-ray. Not for me, for charity. A children’s hospital. I mean, I know it wouldn’t cure diseases or anything, but what if it did? 

Anyway, I never, ever, slap five. Don’t like to showboat.

I guess my old man taught me to ball

I mean, he taught me the basics. After a certain point, how much can you do? Once you sketch Picasso a cube and show him where to dip the brush, it’s pretty much game over. Motherfucker gets the concept, you know? 

My old man, though, he was there. When he had enough of my mom tearing into him or downing Milwaukee’s Best from her coffee mug, he’d shove his kicks and ball in a duffel bag and head over to the neighborhood court three blocks down, taking me with him. 

That’s where shit went off. We’d hoop until two, three in the morning, take on high school dropouts and angry old men looking to blow off some steam. We took them down, two-on-two, over and over until no one had the legs to go anymore. 

We never lost – not once. 

My dad, he was a hustler. Not a lick of talent in him, but that old man played harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. He dove for balls on the concrete, fought through double screens, grabbed rebounds over dudes twice his size. Never gave up on anything. 

He doesn’t play much anymore. Spends more time getting on my case than he does on the court. Tells me there’s more to life than basketball. 

Prove it, I say. He never can. 

Maybe if he had spent more time playing ball and less time having kids, he’d be on the fast track like me. But not all of us have what it takes.

Benny French, now there’s a dude who’s got it

Averages damn near 40 per game over at Central High, and that league’s no joke. Says he’s got a full ride from at least three state schools on the table, and that man Benny French is no liar. 

The problem with high school ball is they make you go to high school to play. I did three years and then hit the streets full-time to ball. Tired of taking shit from suits and graybeards. 

The NBA’s run by a bunch of smart guys, but Europe, Asia, that’s where the money’s at. My parents are on my case to get a job, but I keep telling them: patience. I’ll pay rent once I’m making 3 mil a year in Turkey. 

I’m in the backyard putting up lazy jumpers on our adjustable rim when my dad comes out pissed. I’m thinking he’s going to get on me about the job thing again, but instead he wants to play ball, right here in the yard. 

I say, Sure, old man. Lace ‘em up. I’m thinking he’s hit his midlife crisis, trying to be 20 again. I’ll show him how. 

I give him a cushion for the first shot and he hits it. No big. I take him to the rack and tie it back up. Swipe him on the next play and put up at 12-footer. My next shot rims out and the old man knocks me to the ground going for the rebound. Still got some hustle in him. 

I’m up 9-5 when he starts to talk. He’s on some father-son bullshit, but this ain’t the time. Two more to win it, give the old man a pat on the back and play some real ball three blocks down. 

But he doesn’t stop; he’s got the ball at the key, holding it both hands, talking about a divorce. Me getting my own place. Money’s tight, the old lady needs help. 

I’m pretty steamed, but he’s going off about change and maturity and work and homes so I tell him OK old man, I’ll move out if you hit this shot. 

If you want to play ball, then play. 

He shakes his head, like, This kid, but takes a few dribbles to his right. About time. He fakes left, steps right and goes up for a shot, some rookie noise. 

I’m all over it. I rise, spring, smack that shit over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. Old man falls back, twists his ankle, busts his dome on the concrete. 

I’m about 2,000 degrees. Fuck it. I’ll go to Turkey. 

I step over him on my way out of the backyard, and we don’t give each other half a glance. He opens his mouth to talk, but all I hear is the ball still bouncing in our neighbor’s yard, again and again and again, faster and faster.


Justin J. Brouckaert will always be an English bro. He lives, writes, and hoops in Saginaw, Michigan.
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