Sunday, October 15, 2017

Basketball: Like Father, Like Son?

My Next Toastmasters Talk: A Family’s Basketball Highs and Lows - Like Father Like Son? Not quite.

He jumps. He shoots, swish! Another two points for the local high school basketball team. That was my boy, my step-son Phil Chiang, doing what I rarely had been able to do.

It took two generations to attain high school basketball glory in our family.
I loved playing basketball, but I was not very good at it. I tried to be like the pro-basketball player Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics point guard for over a decade, or one of the Harlem Globetrotters, perhaps Meadowlark Lemon. I was fancy, not soundly fundamental.

I dribbled well with my right hand, poorly with my left.

I shot only with my right hand, never with my left, even for lay-ups. I practiced hook shots that I’d hardly get a chance to use in a game.

My long shots were two-handed, not very accurate. My vision was poor, and I refused to wear glasses, so my depth perception suffered, and I was shooting at doubled rims.

I passed well, but sometimes passed behind-the-back, a bit erratically, surprising my teammates.

I was a tenacious defender, but not much of a jumper and a so-so rebounder.

I almost never got into a game as a junior varsity (JV) high school player, and I did not even try out for the varsity.

As a JV, I would scrimmage during week on the second string against the first string, then spend the actual game on the bench.

“Send me in, Coach” I would pray.

If we were well ahead or way behind, I might get some playing time, late.

Once, in my second year, I dribbled most of the way down the court, and took a shot from near the foul line. It went in. My only two points in two years of JV basketball. Thus, I averaged a point a year.

My last three years of high school, I played football as a skinny but determined defensive end, earning a varsity Valley Central letter my junior and senior year.

My son, Phil Chiang, from my wife’s first marriage, loved basketball, too. By sixth grade, he was a fine player, but short for his age. What to do? I advised him to work on jumping: 5’ 3” Muggsy Bogues, 5’ 9” Calvin Murphy both were NBA stars. Phil worked on it.

In junior high, he started to grow, and within a couple of years, he was one of the few kids his age who could dunk the ball. He was an excellent defender and rebounder and a good shooter.  There was no behind-the-back dribbling, no hook shots, just sound fundamentals.

He played in various youth leagues and then for the Ramsey, NJ, high school JV team, becoming first-string his second year. His last two years, he played for the varsity, and in his senior year they won their league, going almost undefeated. His coach offered to pursue getting him a college basketball scholarship for a Division Three college team, but Phil had other tuition support and did not request this be done.

Tina and I would go to most of his games all four years, even though she was in a wheelchair. We would sit at court-side, and occasionally, I would have to catch a ball that otherwise would have struck her. We had a great time.

I still remember a play that Phil made in one of his last games. The other team had shot, and the ball bounced off the rim and started to go out of bounds under the basket. Phil dove for the ball, caught it, threw it to teammate Steve Kupfer at mid-court, before hitting the end wall himself; an excellent shooter, Steve made a basket at the other end of the court. Beautiful and thrilling....for the parents, at least.

It took two generations, but we finally got our basketball star.

Phil had been almost three when he and Tina came to live with me, after our marriage. His Chinese father and I were both academics: professors with modest athletic ability. More athletic than academic, Phil eventually also did earn an MBA. 

Like father, like son? Not wholly so, but people who know us well say that Phil has my smile. I like that.

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