Monday, June 06, 2005
The Legend of Bear
I used to play basketball at a small park in Louisville's south end, where I grew up. I was and still am a terrible basketball player; I'm slow of foot and can't jump over the Sunday paper, plus I don't like to make physical contact with sweaty guys. I went the entire grunge era without getting in a single mosh pit.

I only got picked for games when one of my friends had "next", so I spent a lot of time sitting on the grass drinking Cokes with the other lousy players and the occasional girl who'd show up. I loved every minute I spent on or near that court, not for the privilege of hanging with rednecks but for the opportunity to see a genuine playground legend. His name was Bear.

Bear wasn't your typical playground legend. Most PL's could dunk from the free throw line or dribble with their elbows or throw court-length between-the-legs bounce passes. Bear couldn't do any of those things. He possessed less athletic ability than anyone on the court, including me. He was, in fact, a short, rotund, middle-aged man who earned his nickname from his filthy, unkempt beard.

What made Bear so good? Oh, he could consistently hit jump shots from forty feet away from the basket, that's all. He was auto-fucking-matic from anywhere on the court. I'd estimate he made about ninety percent of his shots, all from long range. The man was unguardable. He'd use his protruding stomach to knock the defender back and then...SWISH. He needed a nanosecond to get the shot off and that was it.

It was priceless seeing the reaction of people playing against Bear for the first time. Some of these guys were athletes who played basketball for their high schools, and a forty-year-old tree stump of a man scored on them at will. They would get so angry fights would break out between guys blaming one another whenever Bear put one in their grills. He made EVERYONE his snivelling bitch and never, ever talked shit about it. The only things I ever heard Bear say were "'Sup?" (which is redneck for "What's up?"), "I got next," and when he had enough of turning arrogant kids into self-loathing suicide cases, "Later, y'all." A man of few words.

Oh, did I mention that Bear played stinkin'-taint drunk most of the time? He'd show up already half sloshed and would continue drinking during the game from a flask he kept in his back pocket. I think Bear was Babe Ruth in a former life; like he'd leave the park and commence to hooker bangin'.

I haven't been to that park in twenty years but I like to think Bear never left; that he's still raining jumpers at age 60, staying young by making teenagers feel old.

But he probably died of alcohol poisoning in his sad, empty apartment and lay undiscovered for weeks until neighbors complained of a smell.


Blogger Evil Petting Zoo said...

That was actually pretty cool. I play ball on a regular basis. I play at work on my lunch and every Monday. I've seen a few guys like this. We used to play at this place called Wonderwood Park near my mom's house. In it's heyday there would be upwards of 50 people waiting to play. If you lost you were done for the day because the wait was so long. It was like a badge of honor to win there. We had all kinds of guys come out and play. One guy no one wanted because he was gangly. He was somewhat tall but he had hiking boots. Who plays he in hiking boots? He looked like he just got back from a backpack expedition. He got in the game and started raining threes from everywhere. We called him the Bird Man after Larry Bird. He resembled plus he was slow and couldn't jump.

I miss those days.

Blogger Steve Caratzas said...

As always, an uplifting finish.

This story reminds me of the Cro-Magnonesque frisbee player I once saw kick ass in Washington Square Park. Something about his low center of gravity that, despite a Quasimodo stance, gave him superb agility.

Me, I was reading a book of faggy poetry and sipping mineral water in the shade of an elm tree.

That was a touching story. Reminds me of a staple in my small, Texas town. Lu-lu, the woman of 1,000 wigs, 200 of which can be seen on a bright sunny Sunday since she changes 'em so often. She eats green goose liver and survived a dog attack at one of our garage sales. I haven't seen her play basketball, but I'm sure her swayin' knockers could kill a man and her breath would clear the way.

Blogger Cincysundevil said...

This guys sounds like the John Kruk of the basketball courts. Sorta pudgy but packs a wallop!

Blogger Ruben said...

"yournamehere" you made the guy sound like a liqured up Larry bIrd. lol You have a way with words and decent ability to paint pictures with them.

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