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Battle of the Sexes

January 15, 2004 Columns No Comments


Battle of the Sexes

by Nicholas Lozito

I belong on the basketball court as much as Dick Vitale belongs in a preschool’s napping room.

I’ve stared sheepishly into the eyes of teammates after my man scored eighteen points in a game of 21. I’ve stood flat-footed at the 3-point line as far older, out-of-shape players have driven past me for uncontested lay-ups. I’ve been known to pass up crucial wide-open jump shots in fear of throwing up an air ball.

There’s no denying that my 5-foot-8, 160-pound frame encased in pasty white skin has made me a prime target for humiliation on the hardwood over the past twenty years. But nothing can compare to the embarrassment I felt in a pick-up basketball game over winter break.

I got beat by a girl.

Actually, in all fairness to my opponent, I got massacred. And in all fairness to myself, this wasn’t your average girl. Sarah Craig, a 5-foot-11 sophomore forward, led the Sacramento State women’s basketball team in scoring and steals during her freshman campaign last season.

Little did I know I would face off with her in an epic battle of the sexes — we’re talking Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs — as I stepped into Sac State’s auxiliary gymnasium on a December afternoon. Despite the fact that I hadn’t participated in any athletic activity — let alone basketball — in over a month, my jumper was smooth, my passing was crisp and my patented double-pump reverse lay-up was falling with the greatest of ease. I was in the zone.

Then Craig walked in. Like Jordan taking the court before a Game 7, she sent a cold chill throughout the gymnasium. And as my two male friends (fellow Hoopville columnist Jimmy Spencer and his roommate Bobby Wright) and I chased around air balls and arrant passes on one side of the court, Craig began her pre-game warm-up routine on the other.

Next thing I know, Jimmy is asking her to join us in a friendly game of 2-on-2. My heart sank into my stomach as she nodded her head in agreement.

I had no intentions on challenging a girl this afternoon. Nor will I ever. I’ve been through that humiliation before. The emotional pain and distress I suffered during an eleventh grade wrestling meet will never be rivaled.

My knees shook as I ran through the teammate-created tunnel and onto the wrestling mat. I checked in at the scorer’s table and took my stance at the center of the mat. My opponent on this afternoon had a pony tail and breasts.

I recall one of my high school teammates shouting “Don’t get a boner!” from the bleachers. I sneered back, then gave a sarcastic grin. Shouldn’t there be some sort of law protecting teenage boys from this type of cruelty?

The whistle blew, and I quickly became the recipient of a violent head butt to the left temple which knocked me back a few feet. It took a second to figure out where I was and why this girl was grabbing for my upper thigh.

Then I realized my manhood was on the line.

I snapped. A double-leg trip dropped her to the mat, a swift cross-face to the nose stunned her and a half-nelson pinned her. But in no way, shape or form was I a winner. A chorus of boos and laughter rained upon me as the referee raised my arm to signify my male dominance. I walked solemnly back to my seat in the corner of the gym and began to pray that I would never again encounter another day like this.

For four years I had done a pretty good job of avoiding athletic-related encounters with the opposite sex. Sure, girls have laced some solid hits off of me in slow-pitch softball, intercepted some of my passes in ultimate Frisbee and ran the table on me in pool.

But as I stared into the eyes of Sarah Craig on this winter afternoon, visions of Bill Buckner, Steve Bartman and Shawn Bradley ran through my head. My knees started quivering in that same fashion — like a toddler taking its first steps across the living room rug as the mother readies herself for the fall.

Craig scored basket after basket on me. She crossed me over left and right, nailed shots over my outstretched arms and talked trash that would make Gary Payton cringe. And with every basket Craig sank, women’s basketball fans around the globe laughed a little louder.

Lying on my back in exhaustion after the game, I realized there was never a man more deserving of the humiliation I had just received.

I’ve scoffed at women’s hoops all my life for its overall lack of athleticism, snickering at missed lay-ups and air-balled free throws. I’ve mimicked their awkward shooting styles on the dormitory basketball courts, drawing laughter from freshmen onlookers. And my childish harassment has only been fueled by the futility of Craig’s very own Hornets, who have yet to win a game this season.

But those days of senseless ridicule are now in the past. Sarah Craig taught me two important lessons on the basketball court that afternoon: I suck and she doesn’t.

And even though I left my ankles somewhere near the free-throw line and my soul at the half-court stripe, the experience will always live with me.

     

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