What some guy thought

While a student at Chico State University, Patrick Vaughan wrote a wide-ranging opinion column, “What Some Guy Thinks” in the Orion, the campus student newspaper. The column below, penned on Nov. 7, 1987, was one of several nostalgic looks back at his childhood:

Although a young boy’s family social status may never exceed serfdom, he is always the undisputed king of his court.

I credit my dad with the ingenious creation of this concrete babysitter bordered on one side by a small mulberry tree and on the other by Mr. Donoman’s yard.

When I was nine I would practice my reign over lay-ups and free throws not only to escape deplorable household tasks, but to fictitiously avenge my older brother’s most recent humiliation at the hands of those cretins from East High. I would shoot all day, imagining every bucket to be the final nail in North High’s dramatic double overtime upset over East in their dark and hostile gym.

Basketball is the only team sport that may be more fun to play by yourself. Imagination is your only limit to stardom.

At 10 years of age I couldn’t make the 5th grade team, but I could beat the Phoenix Suns anytime I pleased. I would improvise in my best Chick Hearn imitation: “It’s nervous time at the Forum. With 10 seconds left on the game clock, Vaughan yo-yo’s up court left to right across your radio dial, smothered by both Van Arsdales. He drives right, he pumps, he shoots, looks good, IS GOOD! Lakers win again!”

I rarely lost because even if the shot missed, Elmore Smith was always there to tip it in.

Occasionally I saw Mr. Donoman looking over the fence wondering if the neighbor kid was the unfortunate recipient of a preteen disciplinary lobotomy.

As I grew older I shunned the use of gyms, feeling these never seemed as friendly as my court. My own practicing just kept me even with the other guys in my school as I was a physical null set. If Bernard Goetz and Shelly Duvall did the cruel injustice of conceiving a child, I no doubt would have resembled the result. I didn’t so much run as just kind of unfold.

Despite these handicaps, I soon passed my brother to become the all-time leading scorer on my court.

One day as I was on my way out to shoot baskets to relieve frustrations after UCLA lost to Louisville in the NCAA title game, my dad told me we were moving. I had to come to terms with the fact that my beloved court would have to change hands.

It wasn’t long before a family from Arvin came out to look at our house, and my court. I watched bitterly from afar as their punky kid investigated my, his new, backyard. My bitterness turned to horror as I saw him pull out a soccer ball and carelessly toss it at my hoop. I pointed suggestively to the basketball on the ground, and asked him what he thought he was doing. He showed little respect by ignoring my inquiry, which confused me further. Mantle respected DiMaggio. The Beatles respected Elvis. Who did this kid think he was? I was the all-time leading scorer who deserved respect. If I was king he would never amount to more than a jester.

I eventually moved to Santa Rosa where my dad tried his best to recreate an identical hoop. I shot around once in a while, but it wasn’t the same. I seemed to carry the heavy conscience of a man having an affair with his wife’s twin sister. They looked alike but they were intrinsically different. Morally it just seemed wrong.

My new team in Santa Rosa achieved moderate successes, but they were against strange teams with unfamiliar names. I never got to score 33 points against East High and my brother’s embarrassing defeats remained unavenged.

Last summer while visiting my former next-door-neighbor in Oildale, I carefully climbed over the fence into my former backyard. The netless basket looked sad and weatherbeaten as it was being overrun by the mulberry tree. I looked around for a basketball but the only spherical object in sight was a crummy tetherball. I grabbed it and boldly stepped to the line. All of a sudden it was nervous time at the Forum. I took a deep breath, set and fired. East High had finally fallen. I waved at an aging but still curious Mr. Donoman and walked away knowing it was all worth it.