Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hoop Dreams

"Old man, I see your bald head in my dreams."

Those words, or ones very like them, are spoken by the character in the movie Seven Samurai played by Toshiro Mifune. He is addressing a wise Samurai leader who is putting together a group of warriors to defend a village against bandits. Mifune's character is a fake Samurai who wants to join the team, but has neither the credentials or the skills. Mifune is begging to be allowed on the team.

How like my dreams that scene is. Old athletes often dream of trying to get back on the team, and for years my dreams involved college football, which I dropped in my junior year. For years, the dreams came back, insisting that I try out for the team as a senior. But my attempts to do so were often frustrated by missing equipment, confused timetables, blind alleys--the stuff of nightmares.

As I worked on A Coach's Life, my dreams switched to high school basketball under Les Hipple. I was back in Marion seeking a position on the team. Hipple was as remote and iron-willed as ever. He did not welcome me back. Sometimes I couldn't get suited up. When he put me in I usually played awkwardly. I had trouble dribbling. I was slow getting to the ball.

But a few times I excelled. I discovered if I crouched very low before jumping, I could rise slowly above the rim, far above the defenders' hands, and drop the ball through the basket as I floated back to the court.

As I began to awaken from those dreams, I remembered I was writing a book about Les Hipple. Instead of trying to play for him, I thought, half awake, I should be interviewing him. Then I remembered that he had died long ago, and I was on my own.

-- Dan Kellams

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