I used to play a lot of pick up basketball. I would play in any part of the city. I would play in the bribery park that was donated to Seattle by Paul Allen to try to get us to vote for his development plans.
I would play in Churches, in rented out school gyms, and I would play in parks where you could smell the liquor on the breath of your opponents as they tried to salvage some of their former high school sports glory.
In and around my college years, I would play quite a bit at the intramural sports facility on the University of Washington Campus. It was a nice gym. I would sometimes play with college athletes. Usually, the quality of the play was dictated by the level of cooperation among the players. If you had players who were intent on arguing their way to victory, it really wasn't all that great.
Basketball is a contact sport. It's naked physicality forces opponents to put their bodies on each other, skin to skin. You have to look into your opponent's eyes. You have to try to think what your opponent is thinking.
In the absence of an officiating crew, the rules and the interpretations of the rules are left up to the ten players to hash out. Arguments happen, stand-offs ensue. Sometimes, an odd punch or two is thrown. Usually, the punch is a weak attempt at getting your teammates to grab you and intervene in the fight. That way, it can be known that you want to fight, but everyone else is stopping you.
It's a pretty classic scene on the Hardwood Savanna. Young animals circling and hissing in an attempt express their dominance.
The one time I ever really punched a man, it was at this court. This young guy was just going, and going, and going... He just wouldn't shut up. I actually recall thinking, "If I don't punch this guy, someone else will."
So I punched him. Right on the side of the head. I have always had a painful index finger knuckle on my right hand. It serves as a reminder of how stupid it its to go and punch a guy in the side of the head.
It was a desirable place to play. Many people would wait out in front to get a student to bring them into the gym. A "sponsor" was required to play at the facility if you weren't a student.
On a neighboring court, a regular was being harassed by someone who I hadn't seen before. I would go pretty much every day, so the people tended to be familiar to me. As the argument being to increase in intensity, people became aware of it. But the way that these arguments go is usually pretty tame, even in the worst environment. The players will jaw at each other up and down the court for the entire game, neither one backing down, but neither one really willing to mix it up.
The player who was instigating the trouble was small. He was probably 5'8", and around 160 pounds. His foil, the regular attendee, was roughly 6'2" and 200 pounds. A physically fit 30 something year old who played regularly in the noon pick up games.
In what seemed like no time at all, I looked over to the court to see someone moving towards our court in an attempt to escape the drama on his court. He was holding his hand against his chest in the international, "Dude's got a gun" symbol- a pistol shape with his hand, held against his chest so that we could see his warning, but the little guy running to get his gun wouldn't see it.
It all happened very rapidly. There was no telling that this would be the moment that caused a player to react so irrationally. How were we supposed to know that it was this particular argument that would be the one that led to a gun incident? After all, hadn't we heard the same exact chirping going on in many other games?
Really, it only took a minute. I saw the guy come towards me with the warning that someone was pulling a handgun. I looked and saw the little guy with the handgun. I saw him gripping it like he would shoot.
He moved very quickly as he closed in on his target. As he came closer and closer, he raised his arm, and instead of firing the weapon, he brought it down on the back of the man's head. After this happened, the little man grabbed his bag and fled the scene. He was nowhere to be found, and he would never be seen again on those courts. The incident was never reported.
A 2 inch gash was gushing blood down the back of the regular's neck. It was definitely going to need stitches. What a relief.
When I look back on that, I think about all of the injuries I've seen and sustained on a basketball court. Knee injuries, head gashes, dislocated fingers, mangled ankles... I think about how much different it could have been if the little guy had not made a decision to use his weapon as a blunt object. It was clear that the impulse was to shoot, but the decision had to be made to avoid shooting.
How in the world would we solve that problem in a gym? Even if weapons were available, most of us were not going to be in any position to get them. Most of us put our things in a locker to avoid having them stolen. Even if we had a handgun in a bag somewhere, why would we want to leave a handgun in our gym bag on the side of the court? Weren't we already concerned about our things being taken?
Are we really supposed to accept the idea that metal detectors to stop gun carrying basketball players is the best option? Even if it works perfectly, I don't really care.
A security professional at every doorway is not my idea of a successful society. It is not my idea of a polite society. To me, it just indicates tension. It shows me that we have something wrong with us, the security guards are just treating the symptoms, not the disease.
It's also just not the way I think we should live.
I just thought I'd share my "near fatal" experience. There are so many "what if" moments in life, and this one could have turned out so much differently.