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Basketball Mon Jul 06 2009

Taste of Chicago: The NBA and Humility, Pres. by Kia Motors

The Taste of Chicago is an odd place to spy a jointly run NBA/Kia Motors "NBA FunLand" loaded with hardwood-themed booths like: "Test Your Wing Span Against Yao Ming's" and "How Do You Measure Up With Chris Paul?"; while Chicago Luv-a-Bulls shower the throngs of sweaty youths with NBA tchotchkes, like T-Mobile sponsored sweat bands and Kia Motors (of course!) tote bags; next to the Luv-a-Bulls are interactive video displays allowing you to see how Kobe drains his impossible fade-aways; and next to that is a display of star NBAer's shoes to see you measure up -- Me: size 12, LeBron James: size 16.

Along with all of this bluster and hoopla, an emcee reigns over all with his swaggering voice: "Man, this jersey is a double XL, you gonna where it as a set of pajamas or what? You don't even look like a Lakers fan." (The crowd boos at the mere mention of the purple and gold of the Lakers.) As misplaced as it may have seemed with the sickly, blended odor of garbage and Indian food, tucked behind stacks of discarded produce boxes, and amidst the fried funnel cakes of Harry Caray's booth and the gator-on-a-stick of Blue Bayou, there sat the NBA's testament to corporate synergy.

And at the heart of that overdone spectacle was the NBA's Skill Set Challenge, Presented by Kia Motors (natch!) The Skill Set Challenge (here on out: SSC) was a friendly and free competition that all TOC attendees over the age of 21 could participate in, for the chance to win a Kia (Ah-ha! I'm onto you Mr. Kia.) Being a former undersized, uncoordinated and oh-so-scrappy benchwarmer in grade school and junior high, before, ahem, "blossoming" into a slightly larger, still uncoordinated and oh-so-scrappy high school intramural and college rec league-er, I was immediately fascinated by the SSC and had to sign up much to the slight chagrin of my lady friend who gamely offered to video me running the hoops gauntlet right after she grabbed another beer.

What exactly is the NBA's SSC, you ask. The SSC is a pedestrian version of the NBA All-Star Game Weekend's Skills Challenge which pits some of the league's best guards against each other --last year Derrick Rose won in Phoenix over dudes like San Antonio's Tony Parker and New Jersey's Devin Harris. All I had to do was: make a layup; dribble thru three obstacles; complete a bounce pass into a waiting net target; nail a free throw; complete a chest pass; dribble thru three more obstacles and nail another layup. Those few tasks and I would be in the running for a new Kia, presented by the NBA!

Of course, with the SSC you're on the clock and the leading time up to that point was 18.8 seconds. And one of the great benefits of the SSC, like any old-fashioned carnival game: ring toss, shooting ducks, etc; is that you can see your competition while you wait your turn. So imagine my horror, while waiting in line, when I witnessed a hyper-athletic, freak of nature from one of Chicago's legendary high school bball factories, blaze through in an astonishing 18.5 seconds. Upon witnessing that combination of skill, speed and agility the slightly larger, still uncoordinated and not-so-scrappy-feeling benchwarmer realized the Kia was, sadly, no longer an attainable goal.

Instead I had to find a new goal, something I could really hang my hat on. In line ahead of me was a 12 year-old girl named Courtney who was talking up a huge amount of game, here at this moment, dear reader, is when my dreams curdled into nightmare. Surely a 28 year-old male with a degree of athletic aptitude could take out a mite-sized 12 year-old girl, right? Wrong. Courtney must have been related to the monstrously capable "leopard in human's clothes" who'd recently reset the best time to 18.5 and Courtney closed out her SSC session in 29.5.

"Okay, my turn, just gotta beat 29.5," says my brain to my various limbs and organs. "Go." Layup, made. Obstacles, cleared. Bounce pass, not once, not twice, okay, done. Free throws --SCENE DELETED. Bounce pass, made. Obstacles and layup, done. I glanced over at the timer: 33.5 seconds. The goddamm free throws hamstrung my entire effort as I'd wasted precious seconds trying to futilely nail a shot from the charity stripe. Naturally, the scamp Courtney drilled her free throw on her first attempt and to my dying day, that will be the difference between me and her.

Kia Motors and the NBA took my picture and presented me a web address to steer to if I wanted to see my pics online. "Great," I thought, "but I don't really need more humiliation over not being able to make a free throw." Afterwards, my lady friend and I walked back into the crowds of the Taste and I asked what she thought, "You sucked," she said as she gave me a peck on the cheek. Thanks, Courtney.

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