Lessons in Family and Basketball

Topeka Capital-Journal
March 17, 1993

For weeks, our two sons, Steve in Maryland and Kurt in California, have taken turns calling me to make sure I know the game plan. I have it down pat. I am to pick them up at the New Orleans airport today. It is Saint Patrick’s Day, but that has no bearing, since the Snider family is about as Irish as Paddy’s bratwurst.

It was decided weeks ago it was time for another reunion, and the two of them, without consulting me, chose New Orleans as the meeting place. They explained it was “convenient” for all three of us.

That’s easy for them to say. They fly a few hours nonstop to get there and back, while I drive a few days to get there and back. That’s their idea of a square deal, and it gets even worse. In the four days we’ll be together, I will provide the transportation and who knows what else.

The plan calls for us to explore New Orleans, visit Natchez, Miss., the Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg, play a little golf along the way, and seek out food and spirits sufficient to maintain our stamina and morale. My stomach churns at the thought.

As this is written, I am en route to New Orleans and wondering why. But as I motor along in my sleek Edsel II there are reminders that the road to New Orleans leads to the Final Four, which will be played there a week after we depart. Thank God.

But, as a public service, it is a good time for me to explain once again the basics of basketball for the benefit of those who know little about the game. Here is all you need to know.

There are five players on a team and the tallest one is called the center. It helps if he can jump because at the start of each quarter, after every score, and after every altercation there is a jump ball in the center circle. In the Expocentre, it’s the centre circle.

An altercation occurs when Player A altercates his elbow into the chin of Player B, who responds the next time he catches Player A with both feet off the ground by altercating him into the 10th row of fans.

Incidentally, the center often is called the “jump center” just as the man behind the plate on cow pasture diamonds around Britton, Okla., was called the “hind catcher.” Sports are full of descriptive words.

Also, as early as the 1930s fans were getting so sick of jump balls there was talk of changing the rules to eliminate some of them, but it never was done as far as I know. Basketball always has been ruled by pompous stick-in-the-muds.

Another important player is called the point guard. When his team gets the ball, he takes it and points out which end of the court his team should head for, thus avoiding a lot of confusion.

It often is said a team doesn’t have a “true” point guard. This matter of fidelity and loyalty probably is overblown, because you seldom see a point guard point the wrong way. Even a Big Eight coach would spot that and remove this fickle fellow from the game.

The other guard is called the “off guard” because he is always getting altercated in the chin. However, some teams have changed game plans and call him the “on guard” because he does unto others before others can do unto him.

Incidentally, if the other team starts it, it’s an altercation. If your team starts it, it’s good defense.

The other two players on the team are called the big forward and the small forward, because it is next to impossible to find a matched set, or two players exactly alike. Some players are too small to play big forward, or too big to play small forward. Some coaches still haven’t discovered that a player too big to play small forward might be big enough to play big forward.

The coach of each team is a former player who tried working for a living and couldn’t make it. Top coaches have a nice wardrobe with colorful ties, and a special histrionic sideline act such as throwing chairs.

Officials qualify for their stripes and whistles by permitting themselves to be picked up by the heels and swung back against a brick wall several times.

The game itself usually is decided by free throws in the final 20 seconds, which takes a minimum of 35 minutes to play. A free throw is so called because it is an unhindered shot, if you can call teammates wrapping sweaty arms around you, thousands of fans screaming at you, and your coach doing his sideline praying act, no hindrance.

The only thing basketball contributes to society is shoe contracts, which make most coaches, and a few players, wealthy. And I still think the game would be vastly improved if they would eliminate the center jumps.

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