Elliot Park

Bill  Benson,  Dorothy  Hoffman and I were living on Bloomington Avenue in the summer of 1973.  Bill and I  had spent the previous summer in Idaho. I came back to Minneapolis in the fall and he’d stayed in Idaho, working in the mines through the winter. Dorothy and I had driven out to pick him up and we drove back from the Olympic Peninsula in a 1956 Studebaker Hawk with no reverse. I think I was between jobs and Bill was guiding high school students in  the wilderness of the Arrowhead.  Bill was always fit and I was in the best shape of my life having spent the previous summer working in the Forest Service. These are all their own stories, and this is the story of what happened one day when Bill was back in town from one of his trips.

One morning as we sat around the kitchen table wondering what to do with all this time and energy. We decided, as we often did, to go shoot some hoops. Elliot Park is on the corner of Franklin and Elliot and it was the closest court to our house. The court is on the Northwest corner where most of the traffic was. We drove over in the Studebaker Hawk.

We may have stretched a little before we started the ritual. I shoot until I miss, you shoot until you miss. An unspoken rule of shooting. I’ve actually never heard it spoken, but the convention is there. Sometimes if you miss a clever banker on the backside or such, you can take another crack at it just to see if you can get it to drop, without exceeding the bounds of the polite. Bill had injured his achilles tendon on his last trip, and unknown to me, had told Dorothy it was going to rupture.

We hadn’t been there long enough for a one on one game to break out when two Indian gentlemen showed up and asked if they could shoot with us. Well of course, it’s a public court isn’t it. One of them was older, probably in his thirties (how are perspectives change) and the other a teenager. The kid was about my size and the other guy was slightly bigger than Bill. Yes, we were sizing them up and they us.

It didn’t take long before the inevitable, “Wanna play some two on two?”

“Half court make-it take-it to eleven?”

“Let’s play to fifteen.”

“Sure.” Introductions were made and we signaled them to take it out first. Now bill and I had played a lot of 2 on 2 together the previous summer and we were looking forward to testing our game on the big city courts. And I think these guys wanted to show us what the Indian brand of big city basketball was like. It soon became apparent that Bill and I had these guys on several levels, I think they might have been a little taken aback by how hard we came at them. They started to foul and play very rough, even by our standards. Fouls on every play. Hard ones. Now, I have what’s referred to as the Keller temper and I’m sure Bill saw that I was getting a little excited.

Our ball. Bill called me to the top of the key and whispered, “Let’s show these guys we can kick their asses anyway.” Bill was, inch for inch, the best basketball player I’ve ever played with, all 5’6″ of him, and those were the days when there were games that I got every defensive rebound. We put on an “and one” clinic, and our opponents weren’t backing down an inch. It was some of the most fun that I’ve ever had on a basketball court.

Then Bill got me the ball in the high post and started breaking to the left, outside of where the three point line would be if there had been such a thing. I’d seen him make thirty in a row off the glass from that position and he had enough space to get a shot up. I immediately returned the ball to him. As he went into triple threat position I got the kid on my hip and spun down the lane, in case he decided to pass up the shot. He collapsed to the ground. I guess it was the traffic noise that kept me from hearing the pop. The three of us were crouching over him, the way it always happens. He knew immediately his achilles had rolled up his leg. The building anomosity from the game was gone. It was as if it was never there. “What can we do to help?” Help me carry him to the car. “I’m really sorry man.”

“You didn’t do anything.”

We loaded him in the Studebaker Hawk, exchanged our goodbyes like we’d known each other for years, accepted there wishes of good luck and I drove Bill the emergency room. I made a lot of trips to the emergency room in the seventies.

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