We're knee-deep in the sleepy summer days of the NBA offseason. Outside of the Sixers coaching search (Wait, we don't have a coach? You're telling me we don't have a coach? Oh my god, we don't have a coach! Hand me the paper bag. I'm feeling claustro - it's very hot in here all of a sudden. Why is it so hot in here!? Someone just call - I'm gonna do it. I swear. I'm gonna do it. Don't make - I'll do it. I'll do it. I'm gonna call up Randy Ayers) ... outside of the Sixers coaching search, all's quiet here in Sixersland.
This time of the year allows a little carte blanche here in regards to content. So I decided to dust off a post I wrote for my blog a few years ago - a story infamously known as, "The Day Howard Shocked the World."
My brother and I played a lot of Nerf basketball growing up. I rarely won because he was five years older than me, and I, blessed with great court vision but a middling jumper, was really just a pass-first point guard at this stage of my career. That skill set unfortunately didn't translate well in one-on-one. For the sake of competitiveness, I implemented the "no blocking three pointers" rule. It changed the landscape of the game, like the three seconds in the lane call or Vatican II.
Our rim was bent forward from excessive dunking. In a great example of modern day engineering, we wedged a cardboard pizza coupon from Trevose Pizza underneath the rim to prop it up. This little trick lasted eleven years. Over winter break in college, my friends and I had scrounged up nine coupons and needed one more for a free medium pie.
I turned to the Nerf net still hanging from the basement door. This cardboard coupon had made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of sport; now it was time for it to return to its true calling.
Unfortunately, this particular coupon had expired 10 ½ years ago.
The ‘no blocking threes' rule was the great neutralizer. While my brother did his work on the low block, courageously posting up a defenseless seven-year old, I floated around the three-point line like a prepubescent Dorell Wright. My career record was forgettable, but my few wins were memorable.
There was the three-pointer by the rotary phone with the shot clock winding down. And the fade away in the living room with my mom's elephant figurines in my face. Or the controversial moving pick by my father - trying to take out the trash - which led to a fifteen foot floater ala Lou Williams. I still remember Zumoff's call.
"The younger Rueter get a screen up top ... Dribbles left ... he puts up a floater ... for the win ... YESSSSSSSSSSSS!"
In one of our more ridiculous ideas, we decided to play out every NCAA Tournament game. We would play as our favorite/best player, using the NCAA Tournament Preview provided by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Well, I did anyway.
"Look! This guy on Coastal Carolina shoots 41% from three-point land. I'll be him."
We took a blank bracket and wrote in each winner. The 1992 NCAA Nerf Tournament is when all hell broke loose.
I hated being a top seed. I didn't want to lose (which happened quite often), and be stuck with a Georgia Southern/Mount Saint Mary's championship. I strived for realism in my Nerf Tournaments. I ran my tournaments with a Bill Packeresque major conference slant. I wanted big TV ratings. The casual fan wanted UNLV/Duke, not two mid-majors battling it out in my parents' living room. That's why I always took the lower seed in the early rounds. Give the fans what they want. There was just one exception.
Kansas: My guilty Midwestern pleasure. With apologies to Randolph Childress, my favorite non-Notre Dame player was a talented point guard named, Jacque Vaughn. Before him? A certain former Sixer, named Rex.
I was confident. Playing as a sharp-shooting, Rex Walters, I planned on holding serve as the #1 seed in the Midwest Bracket. Who cares if my brother was taller, stronger, and five years older? He was Howard, a pathetic #16 seed.
Well, Kansas had an off day.
Was it the early start time (8:15 A.M.)? Was it overconfidence? Lack of preparation? A bad shooting night? Lack of interior defense? That's all up for debate. I do know that Kansas lost handedly to an upstart Howard team - a talented squad who played much better than the #16 next to their name. While my mom played Tetris on Gameboy, I addressed the media after the loss.
They did some things today that we didn't see in the game film.
Howard was very long on defense. Got their hands in a lot of passing lanes.
Despite today's outcome, I'm still proud of my guys. We had a great season. We overcame a lot.
Rex has a mild sprain. He's with the trainers now.
Sure, the loss hurts. All losses do. But I told the guys in the locker room that they have nothing to ashamed of. I told them to keep their heads up.
Then my brother spoke.
"What a win! What an upset by the Bison of Howard! The #16 seed has shocked the world! The fans can't believe it! The Jayhawks are stunned!"
He sprinted in circles around the kitchen, basking in his victory. I was furious. I'm not sure I can properly express my feelings from that day without putting my hand through this Word document. It was like Joe Jurevicius waltzed into my college dorm room and wrote the score of the 2002 NFC Championship Game on my forehead. Win with a touch of grace, Joe. I didn't want to address the media anymore. I wanted to strangle my brother. I wanted to kick him in the shins. Drill him with a double axe handle. How could he play the upset card?
"You're twelve," I fired back. "You were supposed to beat me!"
"A huge win for the Bison! Without question, the biggest upset in tournament history! A proud day for all the Howard Alum! Nobody thought they could do it! Nobody believed in Howard! A thirty-four point underdog!" Even more obnoxious since we only played to thirty.
I ended the post-game interview prematurely. I looked to my mother.
Do something. Make him stop! Can't you hear him?
"One second. I just got to Level 9."
I resorted to my only defense, an old standby that got me through the darkest of Nerf basketball days. I morphed into Bald Bull, obviously. I charged my older brother. I swung wildly. I kicked and screamed and threw sloppy haymakers. I somehow managed to cry, convulse, and foam at the mouth simultaneously, like a victim of a Papa Shango spell.
It wasn't an upset! You were supposed to win! Howard was fabored! Howard was fabored!
Yeah, ‘fabored.' My mother finally intervened. Not so much because of the fighting or the discrepancy over the Vegas line (Howard was -17.5 for the record), but because we were dangerously close to the spice rack. I don't remember how far Howard advanced, or who eventually won that tournament. Rex Walters didn't care to watch. It hurt too much.
That was Kansas' year.
(Please post your favorite Nerf/driveway hoops stories below).