I met Andy at his old roommate’s apartment in North Hollywood, and we walked over to the park together. When we arrived, it became pretty apparent that I wasn’t part of the regular crowd. Not only were Andy and I the only two Caucasians in the entire park, but my conservative Adidas ensemble clashed with everyone else’s wife-beaters and shorts that were worn around their ankles. I honestly felt like I had walked into the opening credits of THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR, and my goal became less about playing well and more about escaping the afternoon unnoticed.
Once everyone was assembled on the court, the two tallest players convened out front to pick teams. The taller and more intimidating of the two made the first selection, announcing, “I’ll take Notre Dame.” Holy Shit! Was he talking to me?! I looked down and realized that I was unintentionally wearing a “Notre Dame Basketball” T-Shirt and a pair of “Notre Dame Basketball” shorts. I feared that this ensemble was sending the wrong message, as an outfit this obnoxious was usually reserved for players who wanted to show off, not players hoping to blend in. Also, I hadn’t shot a basketball in well over a year, and I doubted that my bounce pass was going to be enough to warrant my first-round pick.
As play got underway, I somehow managed to secure the first rebound of the game. Just then, someone yelled the N-word at me. I was appalled. I don’t know that I’ve ever really heard people use that word outside of rap songs and films. I looked around and realized that it was my teammate yelling it at me. It took me a second to figure out why he was angry with me, but then I realized that he was just calling for the ball. Clearly, I was not at Knollwood Country Club anymore. As play went on, I did my best to blend in, taking minimal shots and just making sure that the player I was guarding didn’t score. I took one 3-point shot because I was wide open, but it wound up being an air ball so I reverted back to my initial plan of bounce passing. I could tell that the tall teammate was disappointed that he had wasted his first pick on me, but what could one do in this situation?
Going into the second game, I decided that I would play a bit more aggressively. If nothing else, I wanted to at least get in a good workout. As we matched up with our opponents, I was a bit startled by the guy who elected to guard me. The dude looked like Snoop Dogg’s shady doppelganger. He had cornrows, a face tattoo, and appeared as though he hadn’t showered in at least a week. His basketball shorts’ pockets were full of metallic objects that kept making noise every time he ran down the court. Once I got past these initial observations, I realized that I had at least a 3-inch height advantage over Snoop Jr. I told the point guard to look for me down low, and on our next offensive possession, I called for the ball and easily scored. The next two possessions, I did the exact same thing. The fourth time down the court, I started to call for the ball when Snoop Jr. leaned in and said, “N-word, do that again and I'll f*ck your shit up.” Umm…maybe that’s how people joke with each other in North Hollywood?? The only thing I knew for sure was that I wasn’t going to take any chances. So when the ball was thrown to me, I quickly threw it back to the point guard. He yelled at me for not shooting, but at least he didn’t threaten me so I felt like I had made the safest choice (literally).
For the rest of the game, I passed the ball and refused to take any shots. Tired of running around the court like an idiot, I volunteered to sit out the next game. At that exact time, another white guy showed up at the park, and took my spot. He was about three inches taller than me, and I watched in admiration at his aggressive play. Apparently he didn’t care that Snoop Jr. was potentially carrying weapons in his pocket, as he guarded him incredibly close. He also attempted to block shots left and right. At one point, the tallest guy on the court (the same guy who foolishly selected me first) was driving toward the basket and the white dude managed to block his shot. I was impressed by his gumption, but on the very next play, the tall guy knocked out the white guy’s tooth. Watching the white guy with a bloody mouth squirm around on the ground desperately searching for his tooth, I couldn’t help but think that that might have been me. The tall guy, completely unfazed by his actions, asked me if I wanted back in the game. Frightened, I lied and said that I was too tired to play. For the next thirty minutes, I kept to myself until Andy finally announced that he was ready to leave.
After fist bumping my new “friends” at the park goodbye, I hightailed it out of there. When Andy and I were almost to our cars, Andy realized that he had left his water bottle on the court. I could tell that he wanted me to walk back with him, but I convinced him that it would be quicker if he just drove back on his own to get it. As we got to our respective cars, Andy invited me to play again the following Sunday. Apparently, he didn’t realize how traumatized I was by the day’s events. I didn’t want to insult him, but I also didn’t know how to politely tell him that I prefer schooling middle-aged white men at the country club. Instead, I told him that I would be traveling for the next few weekends. I figured this would buy me some time and save me a trip to the dentist!