Jeff Pearlman

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The Can’t Win Kid

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 9.52.35 PM

Emmett, No. 27, collapses on defense as his new teammate seeks and destroys.

My son, Emmett Pearlman, is the Can’t Win Kid.

I mean this as literally as one can. Tonight, his Lakers youth basketball team fell to the Heat by a 28-point margin, dropping their record to 0-8 on the season and my child’s lifetime hoops record to 0-37.

Oh.

And.

Thirty.

Seven.

That’s probably not an all-time record, but only because the planet has spun for thousands of years and the world has seen plenty of awful basketball. But … here’s the wacky thing: It could be a record. It is theoretically possibly no other child has dropped 37-straight games over four seasons of rec-league hoops.

Anyhow, we’ve seen close games and we’ve seen blowouts. We’ve seen awful coaches and great coaches. We’ve seen technical fouls and ball hog galore and all sorts of wild, wacky, fucked-up shit on the basketball court.

But tonight … well, tonight was something new.

The Lakers were playing the 4-3 Heat, and six players showed up. Now, the roster is, ahem, really bad, and can explained thusly: Our most talented player is actually our point guard, who is also the youngest (a sixth grader in a league that—inexplicably—allows kids from sixth grade thru 10th grade). The problem is, well, he’s small. Really small. So it’s hard for a small sixth grader to make much of a dent against people that much older. Our next two most skilled players are these brothers who, well … eh … um … never fucking pass the ball to anyone but one another. It’s maddening and infuriating and v-e-r-y hard to watch. They bark at the refs, they bark at each other. Their dad sits in the stands and barks at them. Off the court, they’re actually quite lovely. But, as Andy Van Slyke once said of Barry Bonds, “You’d rather lose without him than win with him.”

The Laker bench

The Laker bench

Emmett, my son, is all about perimeter defense. He plays it very well, but doesn’t rebound or block shots, and he’ll give you zero, one or two baskets per game. But—and this is a big butt—he never, ever, ever complains, gripes, whines, berates. Never. I’m biased, because I’m his dad. But even the coach tells me how well-mannered and decent he is. Which warms my heart far more than 30 ppg ever would.

The other kids on the team are fine. Nice, sorta basketball lite. But fine. Friendly lads.

Anyhow, the game against the Heat was set to begin. And then—something unexpected took place. At the very last minute, the league decided to give us another player. Some kid who was unfamiliar and enormous. By enormous, I mean probably around 5-foot-11 and maybe 170 pounds (by comparison, Emmett is 5-feet tall and maybe 105 pounds). So the coach played Mt. Rushmore, and it was soooooooooooooo … something. I’m not sure what. It’d not be an exaggeration to suggest he brought the ball up 90 percent of the time, passed two percent of the time, bricked on 75 percent of his attempts. It was one bad possession after another after another. And the kid was … well, not cool. He talked trash. He slammed into people. He ignored the coach’s instructions. As he played, members of the Lakers who came every week sat on the bench, sorta bewildered. I felt as if, in a way, this giant of a boy intimidated the league into letting him play and the coach into keeping him in.

Anyhow, I was irate. Just irate. Not by the losing, but by the whole scene. The giant. The parents. The scoreboard.

And when the game ended Emmett approached.

“What’d you think of that?” I asked. I was expecting negativity. I was expecting a reflection of my angst. I was expecting …

“That was really fun,” he said. “I’m hungry.”

We’ve done something right.

  • tenn tom

    Back in the 60’s, my CYO team went 3 consecutive seasons 0 and 14. For our 4th season we went 11 and 3. It took 3 years of getting our asses kicked, but when we finally matured we kicked ass. Keep the faith.

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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