The Physical Shinn (Prior)

The John Shinnick Website

Last update: July 1, 2022

Hoops at Huber Park

I’m in a lunch group that meets every Wednesday. We used to do this at various restaurants in the area, but during the worst of the pandemic, that option wasn’t open to us, so we met by Zoom. Recently, restaurants have been opening up again, but with some of us still a bit wary of crowds, it’s been about a 50-50 split. Two other options have also been used: we’ve eaten at the houses of a couple of our members, and most recently, we had a picnic in a park.


I was the one who had discovered Huber Park in nearby El Cerrito. I had met a friend there for lunch several months earlier and found it pleasant, uncrowded, and most important, it had four full-sized picnic tables. Further, it was free, though I did have to pay a refundable deposit on the bathroom key, picked up at a nearby office.


The weather was perfect, and the outing was marred only by one of us getting a flat tire. Sadly, he’s had to customize his van to accommodate his powered wheel chair, and hadn’t dealt with a flat before. None of us could figure it out. As we all put forth our best efforts, I noticed that Alan had made his way onto a basketball court at the base of the park. He took a few shots from the free-throw line, and amazed us by actually sinking one. Way to go!


As we were breaking up for the afternoon, I couldn’t resist trying my skill. I was never a particularly good basketball player. Not bad, but not good either. I never even thought of playing for my floor’s dormitory team unless they were short-handed. I simply never could shoot the ball very well. Still, I felt I should be able to sink one or two. The others who hadn’t left were keeping Larry of the Flat Tire company while he awaited the arrival of AAA, so I picked up the ball, stood behind the free-throw line and let fly.


I’ve seen professionals throw air-balls on many occasions. For the non-fan, these are balls that miss the rim, the backboard, everything. But my first attempt took the concept of air-ball to a wholly different level. It was not only about five feet short of the basket, it was literally about the same distance to the left. Undaunted, I retrieved the ball and tried again. Mi line, though hardly satisfactory, was somewhat better, but I was still short. Way short. I took another shot from the line. My hard-won progress seemed to vanish with a shot much like the first.


I tried to remember the last time I had tried to shoot a basketball. Had I ever done so in retirement? I couldn’t remember that I had, and that was 2006, sixteen years ago. But this was nuts. I made two or three more attempts, but found that I was nowhere near even touching the rim or even the backboard. Crazy. I decided to leave lest someone actually see my athletic futility, but I vowed I’d be back.


That Sunday, I returned.

Like the Wednesday before, the weather was ideal. Two kids, high-school age I’m guessing, were also preparing to use the court, but that was okay. There were two baskets and they had their own ball. I politely ceded the better basket (the netting wasn’t quite as torn as the other) to them, found the ball provided by the park, and took my first shots, three lay-ups. For the unindoctrinated, a lay-up is

The fruits of my labors. Ouch!

the easiest shot that someone who isn’t tall enough or can’t jump high enough to slam dunk a ball can shoot. You’re just far enough from the basket, maybe a foot or so, so that the basket itself doesn’t obstruct your shot. I missed my first two, not a real surprise given my inactivity, but then made my third. A triumph. I moved back to about five or six feet, and was close for a few tries, then again, the ball went in.


Back to the free-throw line. Again, futility. Indeed, I was again way short, and then way left, but after a few more shots, I actually hit the rim. I took perhaps fifteen or so shots, a few looking like they had a chance. Patience, grasshopper! Then one of my shots rimmed out and I had to chase it down before it got to where the other two guys were playing. I lost my balance and down I went, on the hard, unforgiving concrete.


People decry the manners of our nation’s youth, but these two were both genuinely concerned. “Are you okay?” they asked. I took a quick inventory. My right knee and elbow had taken the brunt of the fall, and my left hand which had hit first was sore. But there was nothing broken and I saw no blood. “Yeah, I’m fine.” I replied. “What happened?” I slowly got up, and couldn’t help but say “I got old.” I then added, “Just lost my balance. I’m good.” I walked slowly to where my ball had come to rest, picked it up and decided I’d had enough for the day. 


Arriving at home I saw that both me knee and elbow were indeed scraped, but not enough blood had been shed to stain my clothes. My left hand was sore, but not enough to hamper my guitar playing. The biggest bruises were to my ego.


So, will I ever sink another free throw? I really don’t know. 

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