Jeff Pearlman

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Glory and Greatness on a Double Jam Machine

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 12.51.04 PMWas alone for five-straight days with the kids this past week. We were all getting a bit restless. My son was in a bad mood. My daughter kept eating sliced cheese. My head hurt. The wife was off with her side of the family, celebrating a big achievement, and the three of us were cold and ornery. Even the dog seemed a tad agitated.

So we took a trip to the nearby arcade.

I didn’t want to go. I’m not sure they wanted to go. But we went. We entered the arcade. Each kid got a card for $10 in games. We walked around, played Skee ball here, racing there. Every game awards a certain number of points, based on your success. After about 30 minutes, we stumbled upon a pop-a-shot machine. There were three small orange basketballs, and you had 30 seconds to score as many points as possible. The rim was, oh, five feet away. There was a barrier to keep one from jumping in the machine. My daughter went first, and earned a solid 20 tickets. “Whoa,” she said. My son followed—also did well. Then, just for fun, I took a turn.

I’m not a particularly handsome guy. I have a steadily receding hairline, and I walk with a bit of an odd shuffle. I do, however, have long arms. V-E-R-Y long arms. When the buzzer kicked in, I leaned forward as far as possible and started hitting layups—one after another after another. Sixty-three points! The kids perked up. “Can you do that with me, Dad?” the daughter asked.

Um, sure.

She shot jumpers, I hit layups. Eighty points. The son took his turn—92 points. We did it again and again, the challenge to see how many points we could muster. A small crowd gathered, and actually started rooting on our efforts. It was electric. And euphoric. Yeah, I was 41, playing a game for 8-year olds. But I was the Michael Jordan of Double Jam, throwing down layups and finger rolls and mini hooks. A couple of adults asked if I’d help their kids. “Sure,” I said. “Of course.”

Usually, we walk out of the arcade with little plastic nothing craps. Balls, pinwheels. Junk. This time—1,000-plus tickets gained—both kids got legit toys. Was it ethical? Probably not 100 percent. Was it what the Double Jam designers had in mind? Doubtful?

Somehow, though, the littlest of moments (an arcade, a game) changed everything.

We left energized.

And content.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life