The Teardrop, Brother Hubert, Craig Tolbert & My Gym FloorThursday, May 09, 2013
|Craig Tolbert -1960-61|
Perhaps my un-jockiness has something to do with having been in three school systems. In the Argentine one (at an American School) I was subjected to rugby, cricket and football (the soccer variant). In Mexico it was football (the soccer variant) and baseball. I could not hit a softball even if it had been a lobbed softball.
In Austin, Texas I broke my elbow playing touch football. The closest I ever got to a basketball floor, a baseball diamond or a football field was with my alto saxophone in the school band.
This does not mean that I am ignorant in the finer niceties of sport. I admit my failure in trying to explain to my Argentine nephews that in Canada they have this sport called hockey where one man attempts to kill another with a vicious hit on the head with the stick and the officials then reprimand him, “ You have been a bad boy. Take a penalty and sit in that box for four minutes.”
I know good players in most of the sports I have attempted to play. I never quite understood the difference between the double dribble (you could not) and the dribble (you could) in basketball. In basketball as well as in volleyball, after a couple of days of play, I would sprain either the middle or index fingers of either of my hands.
Of football (the soccer kind) the less I write here about my shortcomings the better as I am an embarrassment to my fellow Argentines.
Let’s return to basketball. At St. Ed’s I worked (I saved up to my first good camera) for Brother Hubert Koeppen, CSC. Had he ever been in a concentration camp (he was not) he would have been the guy who could find anything as he collected everything. Brother Hubert was frugal and years later when he died they found a huge quantity of umbrellas in his quarters that he had collected here and there. There are persistent rumours that there was a fully operational Model-T Ford there, too.
|Brother Hubert Koeppen, C.S.C.|
Because St. Edward’s High School was run by Brothers (and a few priests) of Holy Cross, the same that ran and run Notre Dame in Indiana, basketball and football were important. The adjacent small St. Edward’s University had no budget to compete with the University of Texas football team but in basketball it was a different story. There were quite a few (not that the university would have admitted it) basketball players with failing grades who were sent from Notre Dame to improve their grades in Austin. These players could run rings around just about anybody and while St. Ed’s Hilltoppers were not in the same league as UT in friendly scrimmage games UT often lost.
Since this was 1960 basketball was unrecognizable from the sport that it is today. I thought the old shorts were sexy. The baggy ones of now are laughable and only seem to stress the idea that those who play this sport professionally are somehow almost freaks. I would immediately raise the hoop by two feet and that would terminate most attempts at the lack of finesse that the slam dunk is.
I do not mean to offend when I use the word freak as many of these 7 footers have the grace of ballerinas. But you must understand that one of the last players I really admired was Oscar Robertson and he has not played since the 70s. Because he played with many players so much taller than he was, at six five he seemed short.
At our St. Ed’s High School in my 12th grade we had a new student from New Orleans, Craig Tolbert who was not too tall but dazzled in his dribbling (never did double as far as I could tell) and could shoot with an extremely high percentage of shots scored.
I may not have all the details but I do know that we had what looked like a really good season and all we had to do was feed Tolbert and he would dribble around and score from any position. Then he broke his finger. He broke the middle or index finger of his right hand. We were devastated. But not quite as Tolbert did not know he was an ambidextrous shooter and did just as well with his left hand. His dribbling was almost as good.
But in the final game at San Marcos, I was there with the band, we lost against the Texas Military Institute and the ending was not a Hollywood kind of ending. Tolbert shot and shot but it was not enough. He still holds the school record for highest scoring in one year.
In a recent reunion, I met up with Tolbert and he was as lean and soft-spoken as I remembered him. We talked about John Havlicek’s (Boston Celtics) beautiful hook shot.
Basketball came back into my imagination today when on the front page of the NY Times (my hard copy) I read Hop and a Flick: Floating One Over the Big Guys by Scott Cacciola.
I will only write here the first few paragraphs and the last three paragraphs of this beautifully written piece that tells me that finesse, against what I thought, is still in existence in the NBA.
Miami – The slam dunk has captivated the basketball world for a generation with its combination of raw ferocity and balletic grace, but this year a different shot is sweeping the N.B.A. playoffs.
It’s called the teardrop. And it’s the antidunk.
If the slam dunk is all power, the teardrop is all finesse, a dandelion fluff of a shot that is nearly always tossed up by the smallest player on the floor. The teardrop floats over the defenders’ outstretched hands, arcs towards the rafters and then – especially this year – drops through the net with barely a whisper.
George Gervin, a Hall of Fame player who turned the finger-roll layup into an art form in the late 1970s, is regarded as a teardrop visionary. In his modified version, he extended his arm toward the basket and simply let the ball trickle off his hand, almost as an afterthought. If a defender got in the way, Gervin flicked his wrist just so, sending the ball on a high arcing parabola. It was an underhand scoop so delicate and precise that the basketball could have been a Fabergé egg.
Basketball experts will endlessly debate the finer points of a finger roll versus a teardrop: broadly speaking, a finger roll is underhanded, and a teardrop is tossed from a high point. Still, Gervin says he was transfixed by Game 1 of the Warriors-Spurs series, and especially by Curry, who is half innovator and half throwback, as spontaneous as he is prepared.
“He was like Fred Astaire,” Gervin said. “He was dancing and twirling around, gliding across the floor. We ain’t seen that in a while.”
Kudos to Scott Caciolla for his beautiful piece and my congratulations to whatever NY Times editor decided to put it on the front cover. This is the kind of journalism which does not make me question in the least that I pay $1500 for my daily delivered NY Times.