Friday, November 18, 2005

Popularity on life's grandest scale: an NBA arena

Things basically started when Jason asked me if I wanted to shoot a free throw during a time out in the second quarter. The catch was that I would be blind-folded. When he asked me, my immediate response was positive. Of course I want the chance to make a shot in front of a stadium full of people. But then I thought about it and realized that I didn't want to miss a shot in front of a stadium full of people. Given my basketball history and skill level, the second option seemed far more likely. But, as tends to happen, I decided the opportunity was worth the risk. He told me that we'd be meeting his friend Paul at gate A12 with nine minutes to go in the second quarter. With that, I sat down to relax and watch the game.

Except of course I couldn't relax. My nerves were wreaking all sorts of havoc on my body, making me quite uncomfortable, until the Blazers started playing really well. And then my stomach didn't hurt so much. Things went like that for a while. I sat there enjoying the game, every once in a while visualizing Michael Jordan making a free throw in Portland with his eyes closed or imagining all of those times in goal that I had to make big saves. Then we started off to rendezvous with Paul. The nerves came back.

We met Paul and he led us into the bowels of the Rose Garden. As we walked he explained to me exactly what would happen. I would get out to the line, I would get a chance to look at the hoop, I would put some black ski goggles over my eyes, and then I would have thirty seconds to put a basketball in the hoop. Event staff would be placing the balls in my hands, and they would be helping me by telling me if I needed to shoot weaker or stronger, to the left or to the right. As Paul told me all of this I realized that I would have a very small chance unless I made the first one, because the first one would be the only one that was purely based on my senses. As we walked I told Paul and Jason what I thought, and they had no response. When we got to the floor Todd, Paul's boss, explained everything to me again. The only difference was that Todd told me not to leave if I didn't make it during the thirty seconds. They would give me one last chance with my eyes open. At that my nerves really kicked in, because I couldn't imagine much more pressure than missing a bunch of free throws without seeing, and then getting one shot while seeing. The only way I could enjoy the minutes until my chance was to watch the game. Which I did. From the corner of the court.

As I watched Rasheed Wallace and Zach Randolph bang bodies not more than 20 yards from me, my nerves settled into a steady burn. The whistle for the third timeout was blown and Todd told me to get out on the court with him. Goggles in hand I followed him onto the floor.

We got to the line and Todd introduced me to the crowd. "With us tonight is Josh, all the way from Roseburg," rang through the stadium and brought my nerves back to the prominent place of my throat. Then Todd mentioned the time that Michael Jordan made his free throw with his eyes shut, and that to commemorate that, if I made one free throw in thirty seconds without being able to see, I would get a brand new pair of Jordan brand shoes.

All of this wasn't helping to calm me down, but then a strange thing happened. Todd told me to take one last look at the hoop, so I did. The funny thing about NBA arenas is that the hoops aren't right in front of a wall. In fact, there's a lot of space between the backboard and the nearest background. This serves to make it look a lot closer than a normal hoop, or at least it did for me. Which in turn served to ease my nerves. All of the sudden I was confident of my ability to get the ball to the hoop. My only concerns were putting it up straight and putting it up with enough touch that a bad shot had a better chance of going in. With that, I pantomimed one shot, and put on the goggles.

Todd handed me a ball, asked if I could see anything--which I couldn't--and asked if I was ready. I said I was, and he did the old "ready, GO!" thing. I had decided to do my normal free throw routine, something that any who've seen me shoot might not have advised since I don't make too many, and proceeded to spin the ball and dribble twice. Then I put up my shot. It felt good, but immediately I put my hands out for the next ball. After what seemed like a long time, I heard an explosion of noise as the crowd let me know that my first shot had gone in. Apparently they gave me a new ball at the same time, but I didn't remember that until I saw the pictures later. I was so dumbstruck by the idea that I had made the shot that I just stood there. When Todd proclaimed that I'd made it I ripped off the goggles. I have never felt quite like I felt with the whole Rose Garden cheering for me.

As we left the court I was congratulated by the front row ticket holders and VIPs. They gave me my certificate for my Jordans, and Jason and I walked back up to our section at the top. On the way every person who saw me gawked and congratulated me, complimenting my tremendous basketball skills. Our group screamed when I got back, as some hadn't even known where I was going when I left. As I sat down I tried to recreate what had just happened, but I couldn't. I decided a while ago that I would stop referring to new experiences as surreal, but that's what it was. It seemed like it never even happened. My stomach didn't calm down until the next morning.

The moral of the story: I rock when put in front of big crowds.
Therefore: we're getting the band back together and doing arena rock.