Warning: this post is way off-topic, will only make sense if you played H-O-R-S-E as a kid, and, yes, I am making fun of myself. Last Sunday, my father, Elena and I took a drive around the Limassol and Pissouri area. After losing about 11 gallons of water from walking around in the sun, we stop in at the vacation home of a family friend to rehydrate before going home. This was a classic nice Cypriot second home â€“ the small vineyard, the vegetable garden, the swimming pool and the olive-trees and hills in the background.
And also a basketball hoop. And a basketball.
I am 33 years old, I am out of shape, I apparently have patellar tendinitis and am expressly banned from basketball right now, it is 175 degrees outside in the shade, and I am supposed to chit-chat with the adults. So of course, 10 minutes later I am challenging the grandson, Leonidas, to a game of H-O-R-S-E. What can I say?
Leo is 16 and plays in the German First Division. I have no idea what that means, but the kid was automatic at mid-range â€“ I donâ€™t think I saw him miss all day from 12 feet or less â€“ and pretty damn good everywhere else. His friend and sister also want to play.
So, to recap, I am about to play H-O-R-S-E against two 16 year old boys and a 12 year old girl.
Game 1 is won by Leo, though there is a bit of confusion about the rules which leads to me and Leo shooting the same bank shot about 15 times in row until I missed it. Game 2, I am stuck behind Leo in the rotation which means I am wiped out of the game before he even has a letter.
My father has wandered off to car because he is ready to leave. B-ball friends of mine already know what comes next: â€œhey, Leo, how about one more gameâ€.
This time I avoid Leo in the rotation so he quickly clears out his friend and sister and it is down to Leo and me, both with no letters. We trade â€œHâ€s after a few minutes, but I am in trouble. If we stick to mid-range jumpers, Leo is going to crush me. I am shooting my brains out and just holding even.
So I start encouraging Leo to do funkier stuff under the theory that I am at least as good at the funky stuff as he will be.
Over the next 5 minutes I rack up an â€œOâ€, â€œRâ€ and â€œSâ€ as Leo throws down a â€˜leftyâ€™ jumper, a Kareem free-throw line hook shot and a 3 feet behind the backboard all net.
My last chance for redemption is not going well at all. it is H-O-R-S vs. H, I am one miss from elimination and Leo is channeling Steve Alford. I consider trashtalking but given the cheering section of his grandmother, his father, his mother and his baby sister, that seems out of bounds. So I gamble that I can lure him out of his range where my 60 extra pounds, some of which could be muscle, might help.
What follows is 30 minutes of some of the finest H-O-R-S-E Pissouri has seen this summer.
I am en fuego which I need to be to hold the line on the edge of survival against the Cypriot-German shooting robot. At one point, he makes me hit 3 in a row from the top of the key to stay alive. I claw back with instant vacation home classics - 18 footer baseline jumper angled behind the backboard on the side of the swimming pool, 16 footer on your toes with your heels hanging over the edge of the pool, 23 footer across the corner of pool.
Eventually we are tied at H-O-R-S, I am drenched with sweat, my father is tired of waiting and is clipping grapes from the vineyard and Leo hits a â€œtoss the ball ahead of you and pick it up into a MJ fadeaway jumper.â€
This is a problem. This shot involves actual jumping and the last time I did that in June my knee exploded in pain. So when faced with setting back my recovery 6 weeks or conceding H-O-R-S-E to a 16 year-old, I clearly make the smart choice. I toss the ball, jump and fade away, fall off-balance, crush and break the lightpost on the driveway and look up to see the shot go in. As I apologize to his grandmother, it crosses my mind that I ought to be past the phase in my life where I break peoples' property during sports.
But my knee feels good and I still havenâ€™t lost and so the high-stakes shooting goes on.
Finally, I hit the 24 foot off center jumper from outside the court on the stone walkway that I had been trying and missing all day. Leo rims it out and thatâ€™s it. (In fairness, that he nails that exact shot seconds later.)
So I thank Leo for the most fun hour of sports I've had in a while and for being totally unflappable and gracious. And his grandmother for not making me feel badly about breaking her house and for giving me ice cream. And his father for giving me a dry shirt to wear afterward.
And there is no way I am playing Leo when he is 17 and has another 2 feet of range because he will destroy me.