Monday, June 20, 2011

Johnny Tom, Chapter 2

Johnny Tom Chapter 1: Here

Johnny Tom, Chapter 2
“So, what do you think he’s like?” Johnny asked Karl as he made a three-point shot and Karl calmly passed him the ball from under the basket.
“Don’t know,” Karl said with a shrug. He had answered that same question the same way dozens of times in the past few days, and at least five times that morning. Johnny was so excited to meet Speed, he didn't realized he was practically rambling.
“I’ll bet he’s really cool. I watched that ESPN interview of him from last March again last night. You know the one-after they won the state championship?” Of course Karl remembered the interview. Both boys had memorized every question and every answer during the entire 11 minutes interview.
As the boys played and talked, the desert sky slowly lightened; a precursor to the sun’s inevitable arrival. When would Speed show? It could be anytime! He might even wake up before his cousin’s family and come to the court to practice those sweet moves on his own, just like Johnny did hundreds of times before. After all, you don’t get that good by sitting around all day. I’ll bet he practices every second he gets, thought Johnny.
Swoosh! Another shot. Man, thought Johnny...I can’t miss this morning, and the accuracy of his shots supported the claim. Even Karl noticed Johnny’s game had improved this morning. Maybe Johnny might even get to play with Speed. Wouldn’t that be something...Karl smiled at the possibility.
A car would now and then pass by the park. Another twenty minutes passed, and more cars drove by the park. The boys were oblivious to the commuters until a big silver Cadillac Escalade pulled up and parked west of the basketball courts. Johnny and Karl heard the car stereo before the car had even come into view and knew exactly who drove the behemoth. Charlie Walker came to play. This wasn’t unusual--Charlie showed up many times while Johnny and Karl went through their summer morning ritual. This morning, however, Charlie’s car was followed six cars that parked and disgorged their drivers. The pre-teen youths watched as six teenage boys sidled onto the court--each dribbling a brand new $100 basketball. Charlie’s ‘posse’ had arrived.
“Great,” Johnny said completely dejected. “They’re going to hog the whole court. I’ll bet Ricky invited them to play with Speed," Johnny said more to himself than his friend.
The 10-year old who only moments before was making shots like a pro and hustling to find his next launch point now turned and walked over to the bench at the far end of the court. Karl had seen some of these guys before. Charlie was a friend of Ricky’s older brother and most of the kids now shooting the ball (and missing most of their shots). They lived in Manor Estates, a housing project ½ mile west of Shade Glen and they were, most of the time, jerks.
Karl looked at his friend sitting at the far end of the court watching the older boys pretend to be real basketball players and he knew his friend well enough to imagine what Johnny was thinking.
Man, those guys are terrible, thought Johnny. When Speed shows up, they’ll just act all big and tough to impress him and I won’t get a chance to play. Johnny was hoping no one else would show up, but in re-thinking this, he realized there could be dozens--even hundreds who might come out and see the phenom. After all, Speed would soon be playing for thousands and tens of thousands of screaming fans. Why should this morning be any different? Karl retrieved the loose ball and awkwardly dribbled the ball over to where Johnny sat.
“Don’t worry about those clowns,” Karl said in an attempt to comfort his friend. “Speed will see how crappy they are and he’ll want to play with you.” A smile told Karl he’d said the right thing.
“You’re right, Karl. Look, they can’t even hit a lay-up.” Both boys began laughing at the older players, though not too loud to be heard. The last thing a 10-year old kid wanted to do was to be found laughing at a teenager.
Johnny jumped up, ran to the top of the key, and called for the ball. Gladly Karl hurled it in his direction. In one fluid move, Johnny caught the ball as he jumped and before he started coming down released the round globe toward the basket. The ball sailed beautifully, arching as it reached the nylon net. The intoxicating sound of a swoosh echoed in the dry desert air as cowhide and nylon merged, two elements--one natural, one man-made--came together perfectly.
“Sweet shot," someone behind Johnny said. Johnny had heard that voice before; it came from someone he knew, but it wasn't Karl that spoke. A wave of anticipation, excitement, and fear gripped the boy’s stomach and made him freeze in place. He knew who has spoken those words, and when at last he did turn to see, his assumptions were confirmed. Standing behind Johnny stood Billy “Speed” Banks and his cousin Ricky. The two walked to the park, something Johnny had not anticipated. Their entrance surprised everyone.
“Uh, thanks,” was all Johnny could manage to say.
“I’m serious, that was sweet. Bet you $50 you can’t do that again.”
Johnny didn’t know what to think. Karl obediently tossed him the ball and Johnny held it on his hip trying to figure out what to do.
“You serious?” Johnny asked, the confusion shown obvious in his voice.
“Nah, I was just kidding,” Speed said and he and his cousin laughed. “Can’t bet on things if you want to play with the big boys. Those NC-Double-A boys are everywhere.” Speed and Ricky kept laughing as they began walking toward the group of teenagers who also noticed the star athlete had arrived.
Johnny watched the two as they made their way over to the older boys. Without a word Johnny threw the ball at Karl who instinctively knew what to do. As if a ‘replay’ button was pushed on a DVR, Karl threw the exact same pass to Johnny, same speed, same location. Johnny jumped exactly like he did before, caught the pass on the way up and released the ball as he reached his apex. Just like before, the ball found its sweet spot and fell through the net to the court below. The second shot was just as impressive as the first and Speed once again took notice. It was something good ball players knew when they saw something almost no one else could do. Speed knew the kid had talent.

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