Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Hoops and Streaks

Growing up in North Carolina right along “Tobacco Road” (as they called it), basketball was my first favorite sport. We always had a hoop up in the driveway, I played on teams all of the way through my teens and then again later in graduate school. In fact, when I think back I realize several of my favorite memories from childhood are basketball-related, either playing or watching.

Having that hoop in the driveway, I probably spent just about every day from ages six through sixteen shooting hundreds of shots. Like poker players who after playing tens of thousands of hands necessarily absorb fundamentals that become second nature thereafter, so, too, did I develop a decent shooting eye through all of those many hours practicing.

In fact I remember often shooting 100 free throws each day, always trying to beat my previous high. I know I managed 90 a few times, and occasionally would run up streaks hitting 20 or more in a row. I feel like my best was 30-something, but I can’t remember for sure.

One of my favorite books as a kid was the Guinness Book of World Records, and among the records I memorized was Ted St. Martin’s for “Most Accurate Shooting.” In June 1977 he hit 2,036 free throws in a row, a number I filed along with other ones like .367, 17-0, 50.4, 56, 61, 755, and 2,130.

(Incidentally, I remember finding out some time ago that St. Martin had broken his own record during the 1990s, hitting 5,221 free throws in a row over a seven-and-a-half-hour stretch. No shinola!)

On the next page began the NBA records, and a couple of pages after that was listed the entry for “Most Games Won, Consecutive.” The 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers had that one, having won 33 in a row over the course of a couple of months early that season. That team, led by Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West, would set another record by going 69-13 that year (and winning the title). Since then the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls eclipsed the latter record by going 72-10.

All of those records have now moved back to the foreground for basketball fans following the incredible run of the Golden State Warriors who have come off their title last year to start this season 23-0. Having won their last four regular season games last year, that puts the overall streak at 27, putting them just a half-dozen away from the Lakers’ mark.

Like all hoops fans, I’m enthralled by how good the Warriors are, and feel a little bit of an extra connection with Stephen Curry who also grew up in North Carolina shooting hundreds of shots every day. I remember following the career of his dad, Dell, who was also a tremendous shooter, but Stephen has developed into something out of this world. Ted St. Martin-esque, you might say.

We were living in Davidson when Stephen was starring for the Wildcats. But while he was great fun to watch then, it didn’t seem possible the six-foot-three guard could be more than a very good player at the next level, let alone transcend the entire league as he has.

I’m rooting for the W’s to keep it going, eyeing that Christmas game versus last year’s runner-ups, the Cleveland Cavaliers. If they avoid losing before then, they’ll be going for a 33rd straight win that afternoon, which’ll make the game a nice present for basketball fans like me. And perhaps a fun memory for younger basketball players to look back on down the road, too.

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