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The Zak Zone

February 24, 2012

I used to be Kobe Bryant in my driveway. And Michael Jordan. And Shaquille O'Neal, who I really didn't like all that much.

Whether it was because I lived out in the country, or that I just didn't have enough real friends, I used to play one-on-one basketball in my driveway... against myself... with two-man teams.

I liked Kobe and MJ back then, so the "team" I always wanted to win consisted of those two players.

The rules were simple.

Since I was the only player, and I was lazy, I never had to take the ball back to the three-point line.

Kobe's team always started with the ball. I was Kobe.

If Kobe bounced the ball off his foot, and it started rolling down the driveway, which it often did, I could chase after it and pick it up. Kobe had lost his dribble, though. Hence the need for MJ.

Kobe could then pass it to MJ, which meant me tossing the ball about two feet in the air and catching it. Then I was MJ, and I could dribble again. You see where this is going.

Of course, the next obstacle was making a basket.

I would dribble through a wall of imaginary defenders, pause to allow them to shoot past me and fade away for a jumper, much like MJ or Kobe would do.

Unlike Kobe or MJ, I usually air-balled it.

But when I didn't, and it actually caught rim but still missed, I had two bounces to get to it before it was a turnover, and Team Shaq (which consisted of O'Neal and another player I didn't like at the time) was in control.

Then, I was Shaq. I hated being Shaq.

The rules were the same for both teams, but because I didn't like O'Neal, his shots were usually wild, flailing-armed shots that had little to no chance of actually going in.

When they missed, I rarely hustled after the ball to reach it within the necessary two bounces, turning the ball back over to Team Kobe.

On the rare occasion either team made a shot, that team was awarded their points.

Sometimes, when Team Kobe missed, there would be a late whistle, and Kobe or MJ would get two free throws on a questionable foul call.

Shaq usually argued these calls and was issued a technical foul.

Sometimes, he fouled out, and his teammate was left to play one against two.

The point of all this nonsense, which I'm sure you haven't guessed yet, is that in my driveway, I was the superstar.

Nobody made more shots than I did — unless my brother was playing, because he could actually play and made more baskets than I.

It was my home turf, and I felt as if I was the king of the world when I would hit the buzzer-beating, fadeaway jumper — or the one free throw I needed to seal the win, even if it took me three tries because Shaq was called for a lane violation twice in a row. Silly big man.

I have spent the majority of my working hours this week at elementary basketball games, from the Punxsy fifth-grade tournament last weekend to the boys' elementary tourney each week night.

And it's amazing how often I find myself thinking back to those driveway days.

While I was the king of my driveway, I was more like a peon at the elementary basketball tournament.

Back then, we split up our teams by elementary school, so I played for Parkview.

My team usually consisted of four or five kids who could play, sometimes combining our squad with Banks Canoe, and me.

The likes of Mike Carlson and Luke Edwards were the Kobes and MJs on our team. They could do it all.

Jeremy Byerly could shoot lights out. He was the Robert Horry of our team, and I was our Spike Lee, doing my most helpful work while sitting on the sidelines.

But the beauty of the elementary tournament is it makes everyone feel like a superstar.

Our coaches, who we looked up to because they were much taller than us and because they knew and loved the game, were heroes in our eyes.

Hanging out with our friends made it all worth getting up early on a Saturday morning for practice.

And hitting a shot and hearing the crowd "go wild" without having to imagine it as I did in my driveway made me feel like a true superstar.

After all these years, I can tell none of that has changed.

These kids still look up to their coaches, young men well worth looking up to.

They still enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship from Saturday mornings to this week's games.

And by their beaming faces, you can tell they still feel like superstars, if only for a moment, when they see their shot fall through the net and hear the crowd go crazy...for them.

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