The Game : A Rhyme Shared Before the Showing of “The Other Dream Team,” a Basketball Documentary

by on June 20, 2013 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, From the Soul, Sports

By Ernie McCray

Me Doing My ThingI don’t know where
the Regular Joe is with games
but I have lived to play all the games.
Hey, what can I say,
starting when I was but a babe,
I spent the greatest part of my childhood age
catching something
or knocking somebody down
or vice-versa,
copping a Heisman Trophy pose
and sidestepping some clown
who’s trying to run you down
so he can knock you down…
Somebody’s going down.
Didn’t give a care
what the game was;
it could be smacking a baseball
or some facsimile thereof,
a tennis ball,
a golf ball,
a rock in a sock ball,
a newspaper-balled-up-in-a-rubber-band-ball,
a rubber-band-balled-up-in-a-newspaper ball;
didn’t bother us,
me and my buds;
it was all about
hearing the crack of the bat against a whatever-the-hell-it-it-was-ball
and then hauling off,
having a ball,
at a Jackie Robinson pace…
got to beat that throw to first base,
even if you have to slide on your face.
Shoot, Jack,
ain’t nothing to that,
just spit the dirt out
and get back in the race.
We were among the “Testosteroned”
of the Human Race.
Must have been something to behold
from outer space.

But If I had to play only one game
it would go by the name:
As far as I’m concerned
it is The Game.
I’ve loved it ever since I first heard
the “bimp bimp bimp bimp” sound
of a basketball against the ground,
a sound that rose above and dimmed
all the other sounds
on the playground.
I can hear those sounds now:

“You didn’t say Mother May I”;
seven year olds in a world of “Let’s play like…”
transforming themselves into somebody else,
Cowboys and Indians,
Kings and Queens,
God Himself, One to fear indeed…;
a fifth grade playa
with eyes
that could strip barnacles from a whale
“Whoo, it must be jelly
cuz jam don’t shake like dat!”
as fine as fine can be, Ethel B, walks by
and everybody is mumbling “My, my, my!”

Oh, we were the epitome
of objectifying,
no lie.
A “Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah” here,
a You can’t catch me” there,
a “Wait till I catch you (mumble mumble)” everywhere.
In the background
the powers-that-be
and most of the people in town
listened to The Grand Ole Opry
and looked at us
with Amos and Andy on their mind
and everyday, in some way,
made us cry.

But the sounds coming from the asphalt courts
at All-Black Dunbar Elementary/Junior High
were so liberating:
The squeaking and slipping of PF Flyers
or Converse All-Stars
on the playing deck
or the “swish” or whip sounding popping
of the ball going through the net
could make you forget
that hamburger with lots of onions you weren’t privileged to buy,
the pool in which you could never practice the butterfly,
the days you couldn’t skate at the rink.
But how we were really feeling
deep down inside had to come out in some way,
and it would sometimes come out of nowhere
right in the middle of our play,
with one of us saying something like:

“You can’t even spell Horse
let alone, play it. H-O-R-Z-E!
Aw, man, come on!”
“Yeah, but I’ll tell you this,
I can spell Yo Mama!
So you can git yo ass home!’

And everybody would go:
“Oh! Oh!”
And then four
little black angry hands
would commence to going upside
two little black angry heads,
driven by an anger
they’ve taken to bed
and risen with every day.

Oh, but somehow, in spite of the frays
that marred our days,
I found tranquility.
The courts beckoned me
like the gentle seductive whispers of sirens
sending sailors crashing against the rocks
in ancient mythologies.
I submitted to The Game wholeheartedly.
It’s world was eye opening.

I saw older guys leave our rugged courts
and go on to become “stars” at Tucson High,
walking down the street
wearing the mighty Badger’s big red “T”
and people would call out their names
and shout “Great game, Man!”
and grab their hands as though they were politicians
in the middle of a campaign.
I couldn’t wait to copy parts of their game
that seemed to fit me:

Johnny Burton’s glide, minus the hand jive;
George Nicholson playing defense
like a tic looking to burrow in somebody’s hide,
popping the ball away from them with a snippy tip
then off and running with a little shoulder dip
and a quick step
leaving his man heaving a sigh;
Sonny “The Ghost” Douglas’ jump shot that seemed
to fall from the sky;
Sylvester Taylor and Nap Wilson
grabbing rebounds from whichever side
the ball bounced –
unable to not hustle if they tried.

And, I worked tirelessly
to mix their skills with mine,
at no time,
even thinking
that someday their names and mine,
without their names being used in vain,
would be intertwined.
I was just toiling to
get my game down,
make it sound,
smooth my moves,
get into some manner of groove
that might behoove
the coach to call my name
when it came time to play The Game.
And somewhere in there,
unbeknownst to me, I got to where I could really play.
And I don’t recall
when this ability
came forth and took its place
in the light of the day
but I do remember how
little hints began to come my way
as I walked down the THS hall to:
“Good game!”
“You the man!”
And I remember there were a series of games
when I was snatching rebounds
by the pound
even against superstars
like Darnell Haney
and Albert Nealey.
And I found myself asking questions like
“Wow, I got 25 points? Really?”
I was confused as confused can be.
“Me? Player of the week?
Do you know of what you speak?
The whole week?
All week?”
Then all of a sudden the coach started saying
to me, regularly,
“Hey, big guy, take it to them!”
week, after week.
And then I’m
All-City and All-State
and All-Star and life is All-Great.
And all I wanted to do
was just participate.

Hey, that’s The Game.
But it took a lot of work,
a ton of focus,
as there’s no
hocus pocus
and no okey docus
or much time to clown
in getting a sport down.
It requires some nesses,
keen senses of comprehensiveness,
and some ings,
gut checking,
constant reflecting,
you run;
you jump;
you screen and preen
and careen
and pump
and bump;
you stroke;
you poke
and heave perceive conceive
receive achieve believe
deceive relieve and weave;
you twist and twirl
and steal and ram
and jam
and fake and whirl;
you pick,
you roll
and you scowl
“whadda ya mean
I fouled?!?!
all the livelong day
just about every day
as competitive folks
commit their bodies and souls
to “always wanting to get better” kinds of goals
with unflinching fortitude
and determined attitudes,
always ready to scheme
and plot, we jocks,
how our opponent
might be had
and got
and/or stopped,
primed to take
advantage of a weakness
at the drop
of a hat –
lived for that
while having a good time
at the same time.
And, then I took my game
to college
with the college paying all my fees
and years after earning two degrees
my name ended up

in the Tucson High
and Pima County

and University of Arizona Athletic Halls of Fame

bringing me more acclaim
than I could have ever,
in my wildest dreams, entertained.

So many visuals in my mind:
A ball caroms off the rim perfectly
to me in mid-air
and I whip it to Paul laser-ly
who flings it, like it’s on fire to Ray
who beautifully no-looks it to Hassey
who dishes it to Ira Lee
for a bucket that seemed to come
so effortlessly…

I get the ball at the top of the key,
bounce it to Jon as he cuts by me –
another two points,
another victory…

Marv Dutt finds me underneath
for an easy two
as my man looks for his jock strap
with a look on his face that says

“What? How? Who?”…
Then he finds me from one corner
to another
and I let one fly
for what today would be three
and I hear from the fans:
“Ernie! Ernie! He’s our man…”

The Game.
Hot Dang!
They talk about a night
I scored 46 points
over 50 years ago
at the U of A
as if it happened
just yesterday.
I can still hear the sounds of
that particular game,
the “Oooos!”
and the “Ahhhhs!”
and the stomping
and the stamping,
and the band bip bap bamping
while the pretty girls
stepped and kicked
and jumped and landed in splits
to the rhythm
of Bear Down, Arizona Wildcat cheers in the midst
of the happy frenzy.
Whoa! Was that me?

Loved it.
The Game,
in a world
that expected me
to take kindly,
in anonymity,
to second class citizenry,
allowed me, instead, an avenue
to pursue
being a human being
with dignity.
Oh, can you hear me?
The Game overflowed
with opportunities for me to
learn some stuff I needed to know.
There wasn’t a game or practice
where I didn’t gain a little insight into when
to pull back or when to be bold,
into how to contribute to a whole,
into how to stand tall in the face of adversity,
into how to act responsibly,
into how to respect both myself
and my adversaries,
into how to think on my feet,
hold my head up in defeat,
how to lead,
how to stay happy and fit,
how to face a problem
and take care of it…

All I’ve ever wanted out of life
is to love and be loved
and The Game
was down with that.
I loved it
and it loved me back.
And the reward for me
from all of that
is somewhere in that
I rose above
the mores and ways
of my early days,
the innocent era
of my history,
and grew up to be a man
who cares about
the world he sees.

And from all I’ve seen
if everybody had something
in their lives
that resonates with them
like The Game
that resides inside me.
Man what a wonderful
world that would be.

Remember you heard that from me.

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