Friday, July 24, 2009

Five Stupid Sports Tricks

Posted By on Fri, Jul 24, 2009 at 11:19 AM

Pete Maravich could spin a basketball on his finger, keep it spinning while he walked around the block, and then bounce it off his head into the basket. Tiger Woods, everyone knows, can bounce a golf ball on a sand wedge then swat it down the fairway with a baseball swing.

A stupid sports trick is incredibly hard but looks easy. It is genius at work.

There are useful tricks and useless tricks. A perfect triple lutz gets you some style points. A 360 dunk gets you two points. Playing the "Orange Blossom Special" on the fiddle in half a minute or the "Minute Waltz" on the piano gets you a scholarship or at least a nice round of applause.

A useless stupid sports trick gets you the admiration of anyone who sees it. But there is value, too. It takes discipline and hours of practice — the same things that are required to get better at any sport. If practicing the trick helps you improve your game and your focus, then it's not just for show.

Here are five more, four of which I saw with my own eyes.

Mike Cahill was a professional tennis player and teaching pro at the University Club in Memphis for a while. He could catch a ball hit at normal speed on his racquet, like a lacrosse player, without letting it bounce. He did it so casually that everyone on the court just looked at each other and said, hey, did you see that?

Any decent tennis player can smash an overhead over the back fence of an enclosed court. Billie Jean King is the only tennis player, male or female, I have ever seen spike a backhand overhead over the fence. I saw her do it at a tournament in Centennial Park in Nashville in 1975 when she was in her prime.

Football coach Pepper Rodgers says the single hardest thing in sports is catching a punt. You have to deal with wind, sun, lights, fear, onrushing bad guys, a diving football, and 85,000 screaming fans. Johnny Morris was a football player for the Chicago Bears in the 1960s. In the summer of 1968, he was working out at his alma mater, the University of California-Santa Barbara. "Punt me one," he said. I did, and he caught it behind his back after I thought it had sailed over his head. He said he did it once in a game.

Another football player, the third-string quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, was working out at the same field that summer. Standing 60 yards from the endzone, he punted ball after ball through the uprights, usually perfect spirals. His name: Steve Spurrier.

The four-corner squash butterfly is a youtube cult classic. The player's name is Sebastian Weenink.

Believing that everyone should master some difficult thing, I am determined to learn this last one. After many hours and weeks of practice on the squash court, I can do it two or three times, once in a while, which I am confident is the state record, there being no competing claims.

A sports trick is a powerful thing. When I was ten years old, my father and grandfather wanted me to take cornet lessons. I wanted to learn to spin a basketball on my finger, be like Chip Hilton, and have sex with Jayne Mansfield. Fifty years later, I can still spin a ball on my finger. I cannot play a musical instrument. Chip Hilton was fiction. Jayne was fantastic.


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