Thursday 15 November 2018

Shoot, Big O! (2018)

The incomparable John McPhee has a new book out (HERE). It includes an album quilt of very short pieces that have a jewel like quality. Below a piece on a basketball player:

Oscar Robertson, of basketball’s Cincinnati Royals, entered the hall and was immediately surrounded by at least 2,000 people, more than half of them adults. To get near him, they climbed over booths, broke down barricades, and temporarily paralyzed most of the exhibits in the show. National Shoes had engaged Robertson to make an appearance and sign autographs. Soon, Robertson was standing in a small “basketball court”—ten feet wide by twenty feet long—between a pair of backboards made of thin composition board and equipped with attached hoops of the sort that are sold in dime stores. The crowd seemed to surge like a throng in Saint Peter’s Square. A little boy, perhaps ten years old, stood beside Robertson, and Robertson handed him a basketball. The boy took a shot, and missed. Robertson retrieved the ball and handed it to him again. The boy shot again, and missed. Robertson leaned down and talked to the boy. Not just a word or two. He spoke into the boy’s ear for half a minute. The boy shot again. Swish. Robertson himself seemed reluctant to try a shot. The baskets were terrible, and—even if they had not been—a basketball player makes only about half his shots anyway. A few misses, and this crowd really would not have understood.

Moreover, Robertson was wearing an ordinary business suit, so his movements would be restricted. He signed a few autographs. “Shoot, Big O!” someone called out. Others took up the cry. “Shoot, Big O!” Robertson turned aside, and signed another autograph. “Shoot, Big O!” Robertson studied one of the baskets. This might have been a mistake, because there was no retreating now. Once a basketball player, with a ball in his hand, looks up at a basket, almost nothing can make him resist the temptation to take a shot. Robertson stepped back to a point about 17 feet from the basket and lifted the ball high, and a long set shot rolled off his fingers and began to arc toward the basket with a slow backspin. The crowd was suddenly quiet. Everybody watched the ball except Robertson, whose eyes never left the basket until the ball had dropped in. He shot again. Swish. Again. Swish. Five, six, seven in a row. There was no one else in the Coliseum now. Robertson—making set shots, jump shots, even long, graceful hook shots—had retreated from the crowd into the refuge of his talent.