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A March Madness tribute to a hoopster who played in obscurity

March Madness caters to adult men who squander vast amounts of precious time carping about the performances of high-profile athletes and coaches. But playing, not watching, is the essence of sport.

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Hey, can we pause a moment in our March Madness bracket obsessions (even you, President Obama!) to honor my friend Jerry, a streaky outside shooter whose career ended recently with knee replacement surgery at the age of 62?

Jerry never played for Duke or Syracuse. He never competed for the NCAA Division 1 basketball championship or won any trophies that I know of. What he did was more impressive. He managed to keep playing avidly, intensely, a full 45 years after getting cut from his high school team. Now that fact deserves a standing O! 

To grasp this concept requires some reorientation concerning the meaning of sports in America.

First, a snapshot of Jerry’s game. He had a decent array of skills for a shooting guard. Unfortunately for him, he was broad-shouldered and fully 6 ft. 3in., a height that may not stand out in competitive collegiate leagues but at the playground level creates intense peer pressure to hunker close to the hoop and not stray too far.

But Jerry liked to stray.

The happiest I ever saw him on the court was when he found himself with teammates who were as tall or taller. Then, like a cross-dresser suddenly freed to wear a skirt in public, his true identity as a perimeter-hugging three-point artist was liberated.

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