It should have been me.
This National Signing Day announcement at the Ames High gym after a record-breaking career for the Little Cyclones (undefeated, two state titles, etc.) was supposed to have been the first dramatic step toward my storied NBA career.
Well, this and dunking ferociously over Bryant “Big Country” Reeves who for whatever reason played for Dowling High.
Not only had the NBA career most emphatically not happened (check out this BLOG!), but I had scrubbed the entirety of all my ambition from my mind in the twenty years since it had seemed inevitable.
Not only did I not play basketball anymore, but I sort of held a weird grudge against it.
In the two decades since I had spent obscene amounts of time shaping my raw talent on Nerf, Laundry Shoot, a cockeyed driveway hoop, and, most awkwardly, the very same Ames High gym floor where Harrison Barnes was declaring for North Carolina, I had forgotten that this (EXACT) thing was totally going to happen for me.
I would have declared for Iowa State, naturally, but the rest of this thing was true enough to my dreams that I left my corporeal self for the world of the uncanny as I watched the spectacle unfold. There was a dreamer in my dreams! This kid had crawled from my buried subconscious to enact a suppressed desire on TV.
It was fucked up.
Though I guess of all the suppressed desires to see acted out on TV, this one was the least likely to land someone in prison, but the squiggle of awe and terror shooting through me as Barnes strode across the gym floor was nearly the same as if someone were there on ESPN doing a rather nasty procedure on a box of Ecto-Cooler (for example). My private dream of being a most public person had, as I got older, become deeply private, almost shameful—here we can think of John Updike saying all men in America are just failed boys—but there it was erupting into the public once more.
I’ll say it again: fucked up.
Of course, my dream retreated inward in no small part because I was too dreamy.
When Chico Caldwell cut me from the AHS freshman basketball team I, unlike Michael Jordan, didn’t get down to brass tacks. I didn’t even work on my Mark Price free throws. I just got bitter and spent the rest of my time fucking around intramurally and doing impressions of our track coach singing Led Zeppelin songs (“Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh. You don’t have to go”) while coming in third place in the JV 800 meters. On a good day.
I didn’t rise to the occasion but rather took my talents elsewhere besides the Centro Iowa Metro League conference.
To the dark room where I made sad mixed tapes for soon-to-be-bewildered ladies and wrote furiously and vengefully in my “journal.” That’s where. If I could have somehow channeled that energy into the offensive glass, who knows, maybe I could have played for DMACC.
We’ll never know.