MY BASKETBALLcareer effectively ended the way many do—with my name on a cut list when I wasa high school freshman. But even though these days I'm only a once-a-weekcorporate league player, I've always wondered if I could have hacked it as apro. Be honest, fellow weekend warriors. You do too.
So when the NBADevelopment League, the seven-year-old minor league circuit that is apparentlydesperate for publicity, invited me to train with the Utah Flash and play in anexhibition game, I jumped. Like only a white man can.
I joined the Flashat its training camp in Orem, Utah, last month—and I was in trouble from thefirst conditioning drill. It was a full-court, three-man weave with a heavyball. I play pickup games and run 15 miles every week, but after two trips downthe floor I was gassed. It didn't help that camp was taking place more than4,000 feet above sea level.
There are twounwritten rules in the D-League: know the plays, and no layups allowed. TheFlash, who use the Utah Jazz playbook, runs a disciplined motion offense. Alas,I am a sloppy, stationary player. I cut when I was supposed to space. I pickedwhen I should have rolled.
I learned theno-layup rule the hard way. During a one-on-one drill, 6'5", 195-poundforward Eddie Ard quickly and easily scored on me. Coach Brad Jones gave me anearful. "No layups, Chris," he shouted. "He gets that close, youfoul the s--- out of him!"
By the end of campthree days later, I had my answer about how I'd fare as a pro. Still, there wasthe season-opening exhibition against the Idaho Stampede. Jones put me into thestarting lineup and designed the first play for me, a pick-and-pop that wassupposed to get me an open jump shot. It didn't: Though I set a hard (andillegal) screen, I wandered too far from the play and got the ball well behindthe three-point line. That didn't stop me from launching an errant bomb.
On defense I wasonly slightly less of a liability. On the Stampede's first possession my man, ablur of a guard named Jamaal Tatum, blew by me. Remembering training camp rulenumber 2, though, I hacked him with enough force to send him sprawlingunderneath the basket. As Tatum lay on the ground clutching his wrist, myteammates reacted as if I had converted a three-point play. "Goodfoul," said guard Dontell Jefferson. "No layups here."
Two possessionslater, Tatum drained a three in my face. I was ready to sub myself out, butthen it happened. Four minutes into the game, guard J.R. Giddens caught theball at the top of the key. He jab-stepped, then fired to me at the elbow. Icaught the pass, took one dribble and felt Tatum close on me quickly. I stoppedand ball-faked. Tatum bit on the fake and rose up. As he started to come down,I went up for a jump shot. Swish.
The bench, whichwas on its feet every time I touched the ball, went berserk. Backup guard RyanDiggs nearly tumbled onto the floor. A foul stopped play at the other end, andI waved at Jones to yank me. When I walked past him, he pointed up at thescoreboard. "Our first two points of the season," he said. "Howabout that." As I took my seat, I placed a towel over my head and smiled.For the second time in my life, I knew I wasn't good enough to make the team.Only this time I was O.K. with it.
Which Land Is His Land?
IT WAS the question of the winter after the 2005season: Where exactly was Alex Rodriguez from, at least as far as the WorldBaseball Classic was concerned? Rodriguez, who was born in New York City,originally said he would represent the Dominican Republic, where his parentswere born, in baseball's inaugural world cup event. (WBC rules say players canrepresent either their birth countries or nations of citizenship.) Then heswitched to the U.S. After a storm of protest from Dominican fans, he decidednot to play at all so as not to dishonor either country. Finally, six weeksbefore the event, the Yankees third baseman changed his mind yet again andplayed for Team USA.
This year there are no questions about A-Rod'sintentions. While playing a golf tournament hosted by Red Sox slugger DavidOrtiz in Punta Cana last Saturday, Rodriguez said he will represent theDominican Republic in the 2009 WBC, which begins March 5. "This time therewill be no doubts," he said. "It will be a very special day for me andmy family." Fine. Now that we know what uniform he'll be wearing, thatleaves only the most frequently asked question about the WBC: Will Madonna bethere?
DAVID FRAZIER (MANNIX)
IMPACT PLAYER Delighting his mates, the author (above, left) hit a jumper in his debut.
DAVID FRAZIER (MANNIX)
[See caption above]
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SI ART: JOHN BIEVER (RODRIGUEZ)
DOUG BENC/GETTY IMAGES (FLAG)