Monday, April 23, 2007

Blocking Out:

Many years ago I played lunchtime basketball at work. Some of the guys operated a forklift at work, and they made a basketball basket with a backboard, that they could attach to the forklift and raise to the appropriate height. And by the way, that meant there was no pole right under the basket, fewer foot and ankle injuries.

Everyone acknowledged that one player I'll call John was a high scorer. John was picked early when choosing sides. He was six feet tall and fast, but he was teased mercilessly for his miserable outside shooting. After a few weeks I realized why John was a good scorer, and next time I played against him, I begged to be allowed to guard him. It was a hard sell. He was a little taller than I, and much faster, I was overweight and slow. But I got my wish. He scored two points that day, not his usual fourteen or twenty. Somehow, no one asked what I was doing. I wouldn't have told them, because I expected to be on John's team about half the time. I guarded him five or six times that season.

John absolutely hated having me guard him, but he was a good sport about it. He did not change his game for me, and that meant we won when I guarded him. Here's what I had figured out: when John got the ball outside, he usually threw it up within a few seconds. His outside shots almost always missed, but guess who got the rebounds? John was incredibly good at grabbing his own missed shots and following with a sure layup.

I made no attempt to block his shots, or to keep him from getting the ball when he was outside. All I tried to do was block him out after his shot. (And I'll confess, some of those were moving blocks.) I never delayed John more than a second, he used his speed to run around me. But a second was more than enough, he never got his own rebounds.

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