Distance Traveled by Michael Chin

We watched Brent Barry at face value. Asking who was this white kid who dunked form the foul line to win the Slam Dunk Contest. We were abstractly aware of his pedigree. That his daddy was an NBA legend, his older brother a respected two-guard, but put that aside in favor what Brent represented. That the way he cruised to the basket, he looked like he could have started from farther back than the free throw line. I said the first guy to dunk from the three-point line would win the Dunk Contest for sure, and Vinnie nodded along, because we didn’t yet have a sense of the limitations of anatomy. We believed in three-point dunking not as wild speculation and fantasy, but as real possibility, maybe even an inevitability of our lifetimes.

And Vinnie, he took Brent Barry’s dunk and applied it to taunts from the boys at school who called him short and called him pudgy. The boys who laughed when he couldn’t catch net when we all ran and leapt, seeing how high we could reach on a basketball hoop.

“I’m going to dunk,” Vinnie said.

I didn’t believe him. No one did. The difference was I wanted it to be true, and thought maybe he could pull it off. We’d grown up on Hulk Hogan body slamming Andre the Giant, Daniel Larusso crane kicking Johnny into next week, Luke Skywalker bullseyeing womprats in his T-16. We learned to believe in the power of hard work and the reality of chosen ones.

In the years to follow, I sat on the steps outside Vinnie’s house while he did calf raises. Calf raises while we debated the finer points of who was the hottest girl in our junior high. Calf raises while I read chapters of To Kill A Mockingbird aloud so we could both know what happened, calf raises while we sipped not Mountain Dew, but Diet Mountain Dew.

Body squats while we watched NBA Inside Stuff and The Knicks play the The Lakers.

Then he stopped.

Vinnie introduced a new philosophy over a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips. “It’s the ability to do something that matters,” he said. He referenced the scientific system he’d set up on his bedroom wall alongside the plastic basketball hoop. A strip of masking tape he’d applied at his highest jump before he started working toward dunking, a foot from the ceiling. Another from the week later, an inch higher. “If I keep going, I’d be dunking by summer. Easy. I just don’t want to.”

There was an impeccable quality to the argument, or perhaps just to the confidence with which he made it, and yet infuriatingly imperfect about the logic. The logic he’d apply to not trying out for the JV, let alone varsity squads in high school. To the colleges he didn’t apply to and the women he didn’t ask for digits from at our college bar.

We didn’t re-watch video of Brent Barry for long, after it was clear he wouldn’t become a superstar, least of all after Vince Carter went three-sixty into a windmill jam, went between his legs, started from behind the backboard. Not sheer distance traveled, but acts of athletic ingenuity. Imagination.

The truth is, Vinnie stopped watching basketball much a couple years later. Got stuck in time on his basketball knowledge, and when we caught a Warriors game one Christmas, was quicker to recognize Steve Kerr, one time point guard, now one the sidelines as coach, rather than Steph Curry, top-five player of his day, budding superstar, world champ and world beater.

We didn’t talk about Brent Barry, but he brought up Vince Carter, frozen in his rookie year, all potential and power. “He may have been the best dunker of all time.”

 

 

 

Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and his hybrid chapbook, The Leo Burke Finish, is available now from Gimmick Press. He won Bayou Magazine’s Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North and Hobart. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.

I Believed in Magic by Michael Chin

When Earvin Johnson announced he was HIV positive, it sounded like a death sentence.

That is, unless you believed in magic.

For though he wore neither the purple nor gold of the Lakers, but rather a plain black suit and tie, white shirt, like he was ready for embalmment, and though he announced a retirement effective immediately, he was still Magic. Still a champion, an MVP, an all-star. Still Showtime.

I believed.

Same story, different year, different world when Claudia told me she’d been seeing another man. That she wasn’t seeking forgiveness. She didn’t knead a dish towel like she had when she told me she couldn’t have kids, didn’t eye the spaces between wood panels on the walls like when she scraped the side of my Civic.

Looked me dead on. Hands holding mine. Nothing up her sleeve. Told me we were done.

I believed.

Believed in the Magic who came out of retirement for one outing, 1992, Orlando. The All-Star Game. One more round with the rest of the best and walked out the king of kings. Twenty-five points, the last three when he drained a buzzer beater from behind the arc. Most Valuable Player one last time.

Claudia told me I could keep the apartment. She’d find another place.

We’d moved to Crescent City out of compromise. After coming out west on her command, after the Bay Area proved too expensive. Crescent City kept us in driving distance for weekend trips, and let us breathe that Redwood air. A place to call home until one of us got a break, until things got better.

Magic played for the Olympic team, too. The original Dream Team with Michael and Larry and Charles. Won again. Another trick.

Claudia Left. Took the pots and pans. All the furniture we’d bought since college. Left me the futon from my senior year apartment with the busted frame, so it only folded out to two-thirds length. A closet full of old basketball jerseys, categorized in alphabetical order, from when I dropped money on such things, ranging from Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s Nuggets one to Jason Williams from the Kings. In varying degrees of collecting dust. Of decay. Age old orange crust on the collar of Anfernee Hardaway’s Orlando jersey. Number one.

The Orlando Magic.

I believed.

So I cashed in my vacation time and hit the road solo, east bound for Springfield, Massachusetts. A city I’d never seen, but the place where they say Dr. James Naismith first nailed peach baskets over a gymnasium floor. Where the magic started with teenage boys bouncing soccer balls, a gym class activity that became something.

Presto change.

Magic Johnson played point guard most of his career. But his rookie season, last game of the Finals, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the DL, Magic started at center. Caught the ball and faked a shot, only to drive as far as the foul line and soared, his best imitation of Jabbar’s sky hook, hitting nothing but net.

Now it’s my turn to drive.

To believe again.

 

 

 

Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and his hybrid chapbook, The Leo Burke Finish, is available now from Gimmick Press. He won Bayou Magazine‘s Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North and Hobart. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.