I didn’t wake up yesterday morning wanting to destroy an NBA player with a dodgeball. I knew that Deron Williams was hosting a celebrity dodgeball tournament in conjunction with his Point of Hope Foundation and Red Bull. I knew that some celebrities would be there, and probably some Nets players.
I did not think that, two hours after showing up at the red carpet, there’d be nothing but the sight of blood in my eyes as I stared down an NBA player, one-on-one, clawing for absurd respect.
Like I said, it didn’t start out that way. I showed up at the red carpet to do my due diligence, chat with Deron Williams and whoever else would show up. While on the carpet, one of the PR guys mentioned offhand that there were a few spots open on one of the dodgeball teams, and that if I wanted to play, I could.
I originally declined. I wasn’t in athletic gear, I wasn’t prepared to play dodgeball, I didn’t come to play. But the more I thought about it, the less I could avoid the voice in the back of my head. For one, dodgeball is a hilariously fun game. It’s the only sport where the entire point is to throw things at people with harmful intent. If you hit a batter with a pitch, he gets a reward. If you hit a dodgeball opponent with a ball, you win. If you guys play catch, you lose. It’s barbaric in the best way.
Also, and more importantly, I knew the Nets in attendance were playing. By that point Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce, Mason Plumlee, Tyshawn Taylor, and Alan Anderson had shown up. Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd were maybes. Even Billy King was mulling around with his family. There aren’t many chances in a lifetime where you get to prove your athletic worth against an oversized professional athlete. If you’re lucky, you get one shot. This was my shot.
Basketball City is one of those venues that can accommodate virtually any major conference or trade show, but it’s best for things like the Dodge Barrage. You walk in, and the lines are clearly demarcated: left side was an open bar (of course) and a lavish array of gifts, auction items, corporate sponsors milling about, waiters and waitresses with hors d’oeuvres and other free food; right side was for “the game,” court after court with players already flinging soft multicolored balls at one another.
The first thing they did was give me a t-shirt. That made a huge difference, not just because I like t-shirts. I was wearing a dress shirt that was sure to soak through. Not good for athletic competition. I got changed into my new Team Wingz red tee, moseyed over to Court 3 as instructed, and stared the opposing team down, looking for an NBA player.
Sure enough, third from the right in the field of ten was none other than Nets point guard Shaun Livingston. When we spoke with him before the game, he was quiet, respectful, excited for his opportunity in Brooklyn. “I’m excited to get in there,” he said of his new roster. “I’m ready.” Sure, it wasn’t Pierce, or Garnett (who never showed), or Williams (who wasn’t playing). But all I could think was Shaun Livingston, you are mine.
Shaun was already involved in a game, so I began studying. If I want to beat the best, I have to think like one, and preparation is the father of dodgeball ass-kicking.
Livingston’s game on the basketball court translated to dodgeball. In his profession, he pokes and prods with intelligent hesitance, preferring to use screens and misdirection. Less than 10% of Livingston’s shots with the Cleveland Cavaliers (where he spent the majority of last season) came in isolation, well below Brooklyn’s team average in 2012-13. In our game, some of his teammates attacked the front lines with reckless abandon, but Shaun hung back, biding his time, waiting for balls to roll out of bounds on the baseline so he could pick them up safely and pick his moment. Sometimes, perhaps unconsciously, his teammates would form a half-circle in front of him, throwing themselves in the line of fire to protect their most valuable player.
And when Livingston unfurled a pass, well… you could tell he was a point guard. His attempts were few but fierce, with a unique zing, whizzing into and past opponents with a force unlike other throws. Still, I was unfazed. I knew beating a professional athlete would be a challenge, and I wasn’t going to let a few quick tosses throw me off.
Before I could do any more studying, the game was suddenly over. After some dizzying confusion about what teams were up next, we lined up: Team Wingz on one side, team Irrelevants plus Shaun Livingston (I don’t know their real team name, so let’s call them that) on the other.