Sunday, February 21, 2010

Russell vs. Chamberlain: It must be Sunday and the snow must be falling -- and all I've got is 74 channels of nuthin'!

It is Sunday afternoon in late February and it is snowing outside this window. We have had snow on the ground since Christmas Eve.

Suddenly, in the depths of despair and boredom, I am transported back nearly fifty years. It is Sunday afternoon in my tiny boyhood home and it is snowing hard outside the front window.

I have made a bowl of popcorn on the stove in a heavy steel pot which I shook back and forth over the flame on the burner. It is, of course, loaded with butter. Well... oleo. And nicely salted. I have a mug of root beer at my elbow, or, maybe peppery Vess Cola. The big old television sits on top of the wooden sewing table across the room in front of the window, both the window and the television bordered by lace curtains.

The television receives only three channels through the rabbit ears on top and we never think to wish for more. Right now I am perfectly happy with what I will have. Happy as I can be in winter, anyway. The only thing that could spoil this sweet moment would be a disruption of the picture by a failing tube or a glitch at the broadcast tower.

Or my mother with a job that needs to be done.

On the screen I have two giants in battle. Russell and Chamberlain. It is Sunday afternoon in February so it must be the Celtics and the Warriors or the Sixers, and if it is the Celtics and it is Sunday then it is big Bill Russell vs. even bigger Wilt "the Stilt" Chamberlain.

And it will be war. It will always be war.

It will be Russell's snaky left arm darting out of nowhere to snare a rebound or block a shot and it will be The Big Dipper fading lightly across the lane like an impossible ballerina to sky hook the ball -- so tiny in his palm -- into the nets. Never mind Cousy and Havlicek, Cunningham and the magnificent K. C. Jones. The war will be fought in the paint. Brute strength and delicate acrobatics, sweat and teeth rattling growls.

The crazy thing about childhood is you don't realize these moments are perishable. You don't think to take a good mental picture of them because they won't be around forever. You never imagine you will out-live them.

I've got 74 channels on my television this afternoon but absolutely nothing anywhere like Russell and Chamberlain inside the paint.


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