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Basketball or something.., p.1
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       Basketball (or Something Like It), p.1

           Nora Raleigh Baskin
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Basketball (or Something Like It)


  (Or Something Like It)


  Table of Contents




















  Other books by Nora Raleigh Baskin


  About the Publisher


  It fit into his hand. His fingers bent and gripped the leather. Leather, these balls were real leather. He started to dribble without thinking, and everything started to feel better. The sound of the ball bouncing. The rhythm and the bounce. Against the floor and into his hands. Between his legs, back and forth. Behind the back. Dribble. Head up. Ball low.

  For my boys, with all my love:

  Sam, who inspired this story and

  continues to inspire me every day.

  Ben, who read every word—commented,

  corrected, but mostly supported me as he always has.

  And Steve, my husband, who came home

  with an idea, then challenged me to write it.

  And once again to my invaluable young readers,

  Erin and Brigit Anderson (and their mom),

  Daniel and Greg Berger (and their mom, too),

  Alexander Pachman, and Hank Kaufman.

  Thank you.

  And to my editor, Maria Modugno, and my agent,

  Nancy Gallt. Thank you both. So much.




  THE NORTH BRIDGE PANTHERS have surprised all the basketball pundits by making it to the semifinals of the state high school tournament in the Class S division. State top seed Colby High and the sixteenth-seeded Panthers battled it out in a classic game on Monday night. Even though the Panthers were the decided underdogs in the quarterfinals, the players felt confident that they would prevail. North Bridge narrowly defeated Colby High 67–65 on Monday evening in a game played in the Roton, Connecticut, field house.

  “Games are won or lost at the foul line,” winning coach Pat Trimboli stated after the victory. “Tonight we made our shots, and we’ll just have to see what happens Friday night. The kids are confident.”

  According to Trimboli, scouts from the University of Connecticut and even Virginia and Tennessee will be coming to the semifinal game. It’s no secret which one of the Panthers they are going to be watching.

  The winner of tonight’s semifinals will play for the state crown next Tuesday. If North Bridge wins, then they will play for their first ever state championship. However, according to the team captain, these kids have been working toward this moment since long before they ever got to high school.

  “MOST OF US GIRLS PLAYED ON the middle-school travel teams,” Anabel Morrisey said on the bus ride up to Colby High. “We’ve been working hard toward this night, some of us since sixth or seventh grade.”

  The big game was only a couple of hours away, but senior captain Morrisey seemed calm and collected. When asked what she thought about the scouts from UNC and UConn who would be at the game to watch her, she shrugged.

  “It’s just a game,” she answered. “I mean, it’s fun and it’s real exciting sometimes. I love being part of a team. But I learned a long time ago where basketball, or any sport for that matter, should fit into your life.”

  As the bus got closer to Colby High, the girls got quieter. There was a tension building, an anticipation. No one knew what the outcome of the game would be, but it was clear these girls deserved to make it this far. It was obvious that Anabel Morrisey had won, even before the first whistle was blown.




  Hank heard everything while he was brushing his teeth, getting ready for bed. His parents were downstairs talking about him, again. And basketball. Again.

  “Don’t think they don’t do it on purpose,” Hank’s dad was saying.

  Clanking and clinking.

  “That’s ridiculous.” His mother’s reply.

  Hank could hear their voices moving around the kitchen and into the living room and back. His mother was cleaning up from dinner, which explained the clanking and clinking.

  “Why else would they schedule this basketball clinic at the same time as soccer? And don’t think they didn’t know about the soccer playoffs. Because they do.”

  Turning the tap water on didn’t drown out their voices. Hank stared at himself in the mirror, his mouth foamy with toothpaste.

  “So call somebody and complain….” This was his mother’s brilliant suggestion.

  “Somebody! Like who? Like Joel Bischoff? If Hank misses all the clinics and screws up at the tryout, who do you think is going to look better?”


  “Who? Are you kidding? His own son, that’s who.”

  Upstairs, Hank spit toothpaste into the sink. It couldn’t have been better timing. He felt like spitting. He imagined his parents could see him, only it wasn’t the sink, it was the floor. Right in front of their faces. He imagined they would stop, stop talking about him all the time. Stop talking about basketball or baseball or whatever season and whatever sport they felt Hank should be getting more playing time in playing a better position.

  “You mean Tyler Bischoff?” Hank’s mother asked, and answered her own question. “Hank is five times better than Tyler Bischoff. Ten times.”

  His father was silent. Hank figured he was making that face. That face that says, “Isn’t it obvious?”

  As in, isn’t it obvious that Joel Bischoff would want Hank Adler to miss all the pre-tryout clinics and screw up completely and be cut from the travel basketball team so that his kid would have a better chance? And that that is obviously why he scheduled the clinics for Wednesday nights. Soccer night.

  Hank’s parents had the conspiracy theory down to an art.

  “Well, somebody should say something,” Hank’s mother said again, but a little more quietly. Then he heard his mother’s determined footsteps leave the room.

  Oh God, Hank thought. He felt a headache coming on. No, he definitely had a headache already. He knew just what his mother was going to do. And Hank knew, even if his mother didn’t, that that was exactly what his father wanted. She was going to call “somebody.” Probably not Tyler Bischoff’s dad, who was on the basketball board, but somebody. Somebody’s mom maybe, and get them all worked up. Maybe two or three other select moms from the soccer team. And then she’d go in for the kill.

  He wasn’t sure how it worked exactly, because she did all her heavy phone calling during school hours. She even had one of those headsets that strapped around her head and plugged into her ear, like she worked for the Secret Service.

  Only one thing was for certain; Hank knew she’d make a big stink, and they either would or would not change the dates for the clinic, or change the time of the soccer playoffs for the entire county. New flyers would go out, or more angry phone calls would ensue, and some people would think it was great while just as many would get pissed as hell. But most surely, Hank would be going to every one of those basketball clinics.

  And he’d have to wonder the whole time if his parents had totally ruined his chance of making the basketball team at all.

  Nathan knew better than to ask his dad. He had said no last season, and Nathan had spent the whole year having to hear from the travel basketball kids at school about all the games and other towns, the fights with the referees, the fights with kids on the other teams, the fights with the parents of kids on the other teams. And everybody always asking Nathan why he wasn’t playing.

  They just assumed. They just asked him why he wasn’t playing, as if had he tried out, of course, he would have made the team. Of course, because he was black. Nathan was the only black kid in the whole North Bridge sixth grade. No, that wasn’t exactly true. There had been one other. A girl. But she and her family moved to North Carolina in the middle of October.

  So how come you’re not on the team, Nathan?

  They just assumed.

  Nathan felt the same way except that he knew the answer. His father wouldn’t let him. So this year he decided not to ask.

  Nathan stared at the ceiling. He needed a plan. He rolled over and faced his clock radio. It was 11:34. He readjusted his blanket. He even sat up and tried to touch his toes, which poked up like two woolen, miniature mountains. He lay back down with a thud. It was 11:35.

  No plan yet.


  “I think you should do this, Jeremy,” his grandmother said. She was going through Jeremy’s backpack. It had been a long time since she had done anything like this. In fact, when her kids were little she never did anything like this. She didn’t remember all these papers coming home from school. And all the different colors. All these announcements.

  But now she was taking the time. She read them all. She wanted to make sure she didn’t miss anything. This time she would do it right.

  “I don’t want to do anything,” Jeremy answered. He was sitting at the kitchen table eating a snack. He needed a haircut, his grandmother thought, but she didn’t say anything. It might have been a long time since she had little kids to take care of, but some things never change. One thing at a time, she thought. I’ll start with this first. I’ll mention the hair later tonight.

  “It’s basketball, Jeremy,” she said. She was certain she remembered Jeremy playing basketball when he lived with his father in Central City. In a big building right in the middle of the city, some kind of center. A church-sponsored center with two big doors and nowhere to park her car. It was run-down, she remembered. The bathroom was down these long stairs, and there was rude graffiti all over the walls inside the stall. It must have been summer, because it was brutally hot inside the gym, but Jeremy played there. And he was good. She thought she remembered that, too. Yes, he was good.

  “I don’t care,” Jeremy answered. “I’m fine, Grandma.”

  He always said that: “I don’t care.” When she asked him about school he always had the same answer for that, too. “Fine.” She didn’t push. His father’s girlfriend had dropped him off only two months ago. Two days before school here in North Bridge started.

  “I can’t take care of him anymore,” Lannie had said. Jeremy was standing right next to her when she said it. She never even came inside.

  “What do you mean, Lannie? Where’s his father? Where’s Ron?” Jeremy’s grandmother asked, although, looking back, she wished she hadn’t said anything. Every night she rolled over restlessly in her bed. She wished she could go back and do it all over again. She wished she had just smiled and said, “Oh that’s wonderful. Now Jeremy can live with me! I’m so happy.”

  Because she was happy. It was so wonderful to have her son’s only son living in her house. He looked so much like his father. It was so wonderful to have a second chance.

  “I don’t know. I just know I can’t take care of Jeremy no more,” Lannie said it again. And then she left. No word from Jeremy’s father. Nothing else. And now Jeremy was here.

  It was wonderful and it was so hard.

  “I remember you were really good. You made lots of points,” his grandmother tried again. “I’ll tell you what. You don’t have to join the team, but why don’t you go to these three basketball clinics and just see how you like it. You might like it.”

  “No thanks,” Jeremy said. He was always polite. He had finished his apples and peanut butter, and his grandmother knew she was going to lose her opportunity.

  “I’ll pay you,” she blurted out.

  Jeremy looked up.


  But the next morning Jeremy was sure he didn’t want to play basketball.

  He didn’t know why. Even if it had been about the commitment, Jeremy wouldn’t know it. He didn’t have the words, but sometimes his skin felt too tight on his body. It was almost as if he couldn’t bear the feeling one more second. Sometimes he’d notice that his fists were balled up for no reason. When he shook out his fingers, his hand hurt. He’d wake up in the morning and his jaw would ache from clenching his teeth all night.

  “Are you awake, Jeremy?” his grandmother was calling from downstairs. She worked at the post office, and she had to leave before the middle-school bus came.

  Her voice sent the memory of whatever Jeremy had been dreaming about right out of his head. He lay under the covers for a while. Nothing was familiar yet. Not the ceiling, the light, the window. The smell of this room. Nothing felt right.

  “Time to get up,” his grandmother tried again.

  Just a couple of months ago, back home, Lannie wouldn’t have bothered calling for him. She would have still been sleeping when Jeremy had to get up for school. The noise from the street would have wakened him. Or a siren outside. Or a dog barking. Or someone in the apartment above slamming a door. Usually Jeremy just woke up on his own, startled by the hope that his father had come home sometime during the night.

  But of course, he hadn’t.

  Now Jeremy could hear his grandmother coming up the stairs, slowly. She was kind of old, and it was probably hard for her. Old people are always saying they hate stairs.

  Just as she got to the door, Jeremy called out, “I’m up. I’m getting up.”

  She must hate having to do this all over again. Have some dumb kid in her house, even if it was her only grandchild. She didn’t want him here in the first place. You could just tell by the way she had asked Lannie where Jeremy’s father was. That was the first thing out of her mouth.

  “Okay.” His grandmother’s voice moved back down the stairs. “I’ll be home early. Your lunch is on the counter.”

  Jeremy waited until he heard her footsteps start down the stairs again.

  He shouted, “Thanks!” She wasn’t really so bad. She was trying pretty hard. She was a real good cook. She made really good sandwiches. But still Jeremy knew he couldn’t stay.

  Not here.

  Jeremy wondered if she would be upset when he left. Probably; grandmothers are like that. And now, well, he’d have to stay at least until after those stupid basketball clinics because he had promised. Jeremy looked over at the brand-new clock radio his grandmother had just bought for him and felt guilty. He hadn’t just promised. He had gotten paid to promise.

  Maybe he’d even stay and try out for the basketball team, but then, after that, he’d leave.

  He’d have to do it soon. Before they got too used to each other.


  Maybe it was her name, Anabel. What an awful name. A perfect name to ensure that you are never taken seriously, although Anabel doubted it would have made much of a difference. What made a difference, at least to her father, was Michael. Michael playing basketball and being good at basketball, and Anabel hated basketball.

  It wasn’t exactly the game she hated, or even the ball or the dusty, echoey gyms she had been dragged to since her earliest memory. Actually, basketball was fun if you took out the parents, the arguments, the tension, the expectations. No, it wasn’t basketball she hated. It was the importance of it.

  The sheer magnitude.

  Basketball came before everything. If her brother had a practice, or camp, or a clinic, or (God forbid) a G
ame, everything else could (and would) wait. Except eating, since you had to eat to play well. And shopping, as long as you were shopping for the right sneakers, compression shorts, or quick-drying sports socks.

  For Michael.

  Maybe it had gotten worse when their mother stopped coming to the games, but surely it had started long before then. Anabel could remember her father screaming from the bleachers at basketball games as early as second grade, and before basketball became Michael’s sole focus, it had been soccer. Before that it was baseball. But first it had been T-ball.

  Back then, they both played. Michael and Anabel. Except when Michael turned six (Anabel was still five), T-ball became unacceptable. Unacceptable for Michael. Their dad called the league president.

  “I’ve been pitching to my son from the mound since he was three years old, for Christ’s sake,” Mr. Morrisey insisted. “So for Michael T-ball would just be a complete waste of time.”

  Wasting time was a dreadful sin. Missed chances. Precious skill-building opportunities were not to be taken lightly. Opportunity being the operative word here.

  In reality, Michael was only eleven months older than Anabel. But they ended up in the same grade, Anabel being one of the youngest and Michael the oldest. Being the oldest didn’t hurt when it came to athletics, but it did mean Michael missed the August fifteenth cutoff date to turn seven and play official Little League.

  The president of the North Bridge Baseball Association wouldn’t budge, and Michael was condemned to another year of organized T-ball. Only shortly thereafter, Michael Morrisey and his photocopied, semilegible birth certificate turned up at Little League sign-ups in the next town over.

  “Yes, of course he’s seven years old,” Mr. Morrisey told the guys at the sign-up table. He said it with a clear-conscience, straight face that Anabel would never forget.

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