The town I grew up in is around 54% African-American and has an excellent public school system because the remaining 46% of the town paid a shit-ton in property taxes, and heavily diversified public schools with high teacher ratings are an anomaly in New Jersey.
Along with the quality education came quality after-school activities and community sports leagues - an in-town baseball league, a lacrosse league, a soccer league, and a basketball league.
The town was large and split down the middle, economically and racially. Of those four sports leagues, three of them met predominantly on the west side of town and one of them, basketball, met predominantly on the east. I was one of the few upper-middle class white kids who lived in the commercial district in between the two parts of town; my father thought it felt closest to New York.
I played on a basketball team in the league for a year when I was 12.
See, here's the thing. Scattered through the small and tightly run league were a handful of kids like me: short, blind, podgy, ungraceful, white kids. Ever see "White Men Can't Jump"? We couldn't jump. Or dribble, block, defend or shoot. Every team had one of us, and we spent the year entirely immersed in a gaming culture that we did not at all understand, people who Loved the Game. We were learning. That's what we thought, anyway.
In practice, what happened was this. We'd take the court, four massive black guys and me against four other massive black guys and another player so like me as to make the differences academic.
At the whistle, my coach would shout to me, "Hey yo, Jack. Guard the white guy."
It was like an equation in chemistry class. Me and the other white guy would go for each other, meet up, and for all intents and purposes remove ourselves from the game. We knew we wouldn't get the ball. They knew they wouldn't give us the ball. We weren't playing basketball, we were ballroom dancing and, if we were very good, staying out of everybody else's way.
My teammates, leaving school to get ready for the basketball games, used to tell their friends that they had to jet because they were playing some 'four-on-four.'
I was watching the Knicks get destroyed by the Warriors on TV tonight and I flipped over to it just as Sarunas Jasikevicius was at the foul line. He had the most ungainly foul shot I've ever seen, truly ugly. He bricked them both.
My dad tried to teach me how to shoot, played endless games of HORSE. I liked that. And then we played one-on-one, and I hated it. It was fast and brutal and I didn't know the rules, and he never, ever held back. But I liked shooting, shooting was calm, mathematical.
I thought foul shots in a real game were like field goals in football, that they had one guy who took all the foul shots who was brought out when the day needed saving; I wanted to be that guy.
Somewhere along the line I learned that, if you wanted to take a foul shot you needed someone to want to pass you the ball.