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Monday, July 30, 2007




Dribbling basketballs through math


Commentary by Jim Banholzer













Being a wise-fool through school bounced me down some interesting paths. As a kid aged in single digits, I enjoyed math, constantly solving problems in my head while dribbling a basketball between my legs. Once, while visiting my Aunt Jane, I told her that I would count up to a million by next return. Months later as we drove up to her house, I bounced a ball outside the car window, wildly exclaiming, "999,998—999,999—One Million!"

Suddenly, I was a sophomore, more fascinated in the geometric possibilities of what a trick B-Ball shot could do for a globetrotter, rather than what any algebraic formula might bring in the way of splitting up weights for future newspaper bundles. The guys sitting symmetrically around our rhombus-shaped table were all feverish fans of the Washington Bullets professional team. Mornings after a win we would chant in whispers the names of our various stars. "Chenier! Unseld! Big E!" Our algebra teacher, Mr. Kluge, was a tall man of almost 2 meters and we wondered about what shots he had erased and prime numbers placed on the basketball scoreboard before switching over to a math chalkboard.

Once, in the middle of a lesson, Kluge turned his back for an eraser. I took it upon myself to hurrah in a cockneyed voice "Porter!" honoring point guard extraordinaire Kevin Porter, who had just contributed to a playoff-clinching win with a 17-assists effort. Mishearing my cried praise, Kluge spun about, querying, "Who's the genius that said 'Ordered pairs?' We haven't even reached that chapter yet!" My fellow fanatics pointed to my quadrant while Kluge lasered me a look with a new angle of light.

A couple years later I saw Mr. Kluge taking his son Andy out fishing on a rowboat. I imagined what type of conversations my math teacher—who I had only known in the illumination of the classroom—might have with his son on a tranquil Saturday? Did they talk about depth-sounding graphs and how radar works for fish finders? Or did Kluge point out geometrically congruent fences, which joined together at the fisherman-access gate? Maybe they pondered the mathematical improbabilities of catching genius bottom-feeders if they did not let out enough line, or the physics involved when Burke Lake froze over.

Actually, whatever they postulated over made little difference. It was refreshing enough for me to see that Mr. Kluge was a well-balanced man not suffering from "nature deficit disorder" while passing along his wonderful fishing knowledge to his son.

Back in the '70s, Kluge warned us that within a few years the metric system was going to be imbedded in our culture so much that the word "pound" would be eliminated from our language. He claimed that sayings like "A penny saved is a pound earned" would have to be changed. However, through some critical thinking—which Kluge had likely prompted us for—we figured out that these particular pounds he spoke of were actually a British term for a monetary denomination. Further confounding interest, the pound has essentially replaced the penny in England since the time of my final math examination—a test I passed largely due to obtuse questions about pounds not weighing heavily over my desk like so many medicine balls.

Kluge's mindbenders were sometimes more difficult than trying to figure out how to try to steal a basketball from Kevin Porter. With some of his timed tests you were only given 10 seconds to rebound Kluge-puzzlers out of the back court of the brain, before digging deep and giving it the best shot with what you had.

Gus Johnson, who had played at the University of Idaho, became a legendary Bullet who could pluck a $20 dollar bill off the top of the basketball backboard then quickly calculate the U.S. equivalent of a pound and leave it for change. We in the class had been concerned about re-determining in metric terms the feats of his vertical jumping ability. How impressive would "Gus leaped up a century of centimeters to stuff the ball, conducting a precision face transplant on Dave Debusschere" have sounded? Thus not having to attend basketball games with a slide rule sticking out of our back pockets allowed us to feel more footloose (meter-loose?) and fancy free.

Before my finite years intersect that final exam in the sky, I would hope to run into Mr. Kluge again. Very late in this game I would come unglued from a maple park bench, still traveling with basketballs. I might find him tuning multi-indexed fish scales with his "metric crescent wrench". There I would freely throw him two pounds of advice: "Don't portage up your ordered pairs of fish onto the abacus before they're fried." Then, from my opposite hand, I would divulge to him my secret childhood corollary, employed as a shortcut in counting up to a million, while aggressively advancing dribbles, back in Aunt Jane's driveway.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that the basket you're pictured dunking on was a seven footer!!!

jbanholzer said...

Nar, you've got chur sevens and elevens topsy-turvy anonymous.

I actually dunked off of Flip Atkinson's back for this photo, which enabled me to propel to the eleven-foot level at Laurel Ridge Elementary.

Lucky thing you didn't see the follow up dunk with the basketball from my other hand, cause you wood-half been blinded.

Stayed tuned to a post about "Horse" coming soonly to a globetrotting blog near you!

Anonymous said...

Your feigned (or real?!) facial expression of achievement in the picture reveals a serious character flaw to the upmost, Greenfakeholzer!

jbanholzer said...

Also not revealed in the photograph is Mose Malone laying response on the ground, weeping tears, while crying, "Whenever will thou cease to dunk upon my headt -future Greenvanholzer?"

Anonymous said...

He (GVHLZR) actually looks as if he thinks he's dunking on a REAL basket!

Anonymous said...

Probably dunkin' on Peevle!

Mose Malone said...

The only 'upheavel' here is that this was the winning shot in a game of horse. Right before Greenvanholzer dunked on my head, he had whipped out a cell phone from the future (remember they hadn't been invented yet) - called a girl -while dribbing through my legs -set a time for a date that evening with her, directly before conducting his precision face-tranplant on my head.
I only wish that Greenvanholzer & I could have played together on the Warshington Bullets. We would have won many champ-pean-ships with nary an *.

jbanholzer said...

"At one time, YOU were the most promising left-handed dunker in Northern Virginia. If YOU would have practiced your dunks instead of trying to break pogo-stick records and measuring YOUR standing broad jump, YOU'D be showing pictures of YOU dunking 10-foot rims--in official games!--instead of on 7-footers. YOU . . . YOU . . . YOU fucked up!!!"

jbanholzer said...

I'll syill get my chance -psydo-doppelganger-greenvanholzer -without the hyperlink,

I believe that there is a strong future in tying helium balloons to lawn chairs and taking off into uncharted territories.

I've already got the chair, the balloons and the helium. All I need now is a little hemp rope and a b-b gun for safe descent!

Gus Johnson in Heaven said...

We up here above the piney wood smoke noticed that greenvanholzer keeps mistyping words. We attribute this to the original vibration from the slam dunk over Moses,which still resounds in greenvanholzer's hands today.

Anonymous said...

"He hid he heed on da seve foo reem!"

Expert Pundint said...

Noperdoodle & Narsayer,
Yoose bee tinkin' of Big Al, when you sez dat.

Shirly, you 'member duh sayin':
"Al's a pal who'all shalw you'all halw to go'al doalwtown to plaly some balsketball."

Hermes the messenger said...

A D I D A S

All Day I Dream About Slamming

Phantomshot said...

There was a day at Oak View that greenvanholzer slam dunked the ball so hard that it rebounded and shot up on the roof of the school. It was a good thing that there was a tall tree on the corner of the school that provided an easy jump to the roof.

Jim thinking who the hell is this.....

Phantomshot said...

There was one time that you and I were in your parents basement looking at old stuff and books. We had what I think was vodka and orange juice that was good. I can not remember for obvious reasons if it was that time or anther I was given a old blue backpack on a frame and a book. The old basketball book was no doubt yours, from the Robinson library when you were enrolled there. Years later ( when I went to Robinson ) I found the book cleaning my disastrous room. The next day I returned the book to school and in a stealth move I set the book atop a stack of others when the librarians back was turned. As I watched from afar she opened to the rear of the book and removed the card ( that had remained with in the book for all those years ) and stamped it and set the book a side in anther stack of books and went on to the next book. As if the information had not registered in her brain right away she quickly retrieved the card and re-examined its markings. The strongest elements or most sophisticated tools of the time could not keep her eyes from blowing out of head. The look on her face was priceless! She then gathered the book and went to the office to tell her assistant " look at the date on this card "...........