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Average Pro | Sports writer plays H.O.R.S.E. with Bremerton's Andre Coleman
Strolling into the Bremerton YMCA last week with a bright gold Lakers jersey and wide smile, I had all the confidence in the world.
My shoes were tied tight, undershirt tucked and hands ready to deal the biggest win of H.O.R.S.E. of my life. All that was missing was a matching headband to honor my hero, the fictional Los Angeles based journalist, Fletch, who also conjures up his own delusions of playing NBA basketball.
I’m following in his footsteps.
The opponent was Bremerton High School guard Andre Coleman, a 2011 All-Olympic League boys basketball standout who led the Knights to a district tournament appearance this season.
But I had no time to worry. Faith trumps fear. The sweat beading from my forehead was from the pregame Mountain Dew and humidity on the floor, not anxiety.
Coleman handed me the ball with an open court and wild ride of circus shots ahead of us. There was just one thing left to decide. Would our friendly but heated contest be H.O.R.S.E. or P.I.G.?
“It doesn’t really matter,” he said, without a hint of arrogance. “I’ll win either way.”
What was once a mere showcase of two talents, one a sports writer and the other a prep sports star, evolved into a full-blown challenge. Simply put, I had to prove the world wrong. I was destined to beat Coleman at his own game in his hometown.
After deciding on H.O.R.S.E., I entered the court, gazing at the rim as it towered over me. Suddenly every famous Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dominique Wilkins and Julius Erving dunk flashed before my eyes. The words of Gene Hackman in “Hoosiers” echoed in my head as his words of overcoming adversity inspired my will to compete.
I thought about seriously taking Coleman. I also thought, ‘What was in that Mountain Dew?’
The game started and Coleman didn’t hesitate to start raining on my parade. He drained consecutive long-range shots, each bucket hurting more than the one before.
His shirt featured a cartoon character that said “Ya Dig?” But I didn’t dig this at all.
Within five minutes, I was on the brink of defeat, holding an “S” while Coleman had yet to earn any letter in this cruel game.
Was this really the end of the dream? Did I just prepare for a potential upset when in reality I was completely hopeless, and maybe even delusional?
I think not.
I come from the affluent suburbs of Los Angeles, born on the not-so-hard streets of Glendale. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from years of playing youth basketball and weaseling my way through pickup games, it’s the art of proving your shot. Proving your shot means making the same shot twice to win, or having your opponent miss it two straight times to lose the game.
I once again weaseled my out by authoring the rules at the end.
Coleman had thought the game was over.
“Oh, are we proving it?” he asked, again not arrogant, just sort of stating facts.
Now we have a game. The Knights star failed to prove his first few makes. There was still hope.
Then, the impossible happened. I hit another three-pointer for Coleman to match. He stepped beyond the arc, knees bent and eyes focused, missing the shot as the ball rolled around the steel cylinder before landing 10 feet down.
It took three seconds for me to give an emphatic shout of “H” to Coleman. I was finally on the board. Anything was possible. I knew that if I kept my hands hot, this game could come down to an “E” for both of us.
The Bremerton athlete walked around the court, scanning the area and strategizing his shot. I thought I still had a chance, but it was something about his demeanor that said the game was over. He walked with confidence and finally settled himself behind the hoop for the ultimate trick shot to punch my ticket home. Coleman walked behind the hoop, sporting a grin, and tossed the ball straight through the nylon net effortlessly. He proved his shot moments later.
Despite the loss, I held my head high. Coleman failed to shut me out with straight letters, and I got in a great workout to burn calories from my two lunches.
Coleman expressed praise for my performance, a few generous lies to salve my bruised ego.
“You did alright, man,” he said.
I felt like the kid in the 1979 Super Bowl advertisement when he gives Mean Joe Green a coke, and receives the Pittsburgh Steelers star’s game towel in return.
To compete with a star prep athlete poised to continue playing basketball at the college level was truly special. However, I took out my postgame anger on my editor, Andrew Binion, thoroughly thrashing him. After watching myself hit several three-pointers, most from my sweet spot, I felt Binion’s pain.
I was just in his shoes, losing to a basketball stud.
It may only be a dream, à la Fletch, to start for the Los Angeles Lakers someday and play under the lights at Staples Center. But for one day, I got to play with Bremerton’s best, and wasn’t completely humiliated.