Sunday, March 27, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Losing Season, excerpt five)

from My Losing Season by Pat Conroy:

As I think back to the great luck that brought me to Camp Wahoo, gratitude washes over me in a sweet aura of memory. I know of no one connected with Wahoo who does not grow sappy and nostalgic when describing the experience. For two straight summers, I luxuriated in my passion for basketball, lived in the center of the game through the sunburned clinics where I assisted famous coaches and players teaching the fundamentals to young boys as eager as beagle puppies. As much as the enraptured boys who flocked around the coaches and players like moons orbiting Saturn, I listened to men like the incomparable Jerry West explain the rudiments of ball handling and shooting and defense. My face lit up with the same transformational pleasure as any boy in that camp when Jerry West shook my hand. When I fouled him in a counselors game, I went to bed that night with a voice ringing in my head, “I fouled Jerry West. I fouled Jerry West. I fouled Jerry West.” He carried himself with a kingly, benign dignity and treated the boys around him with gentleness and good humor. Jerry West is the reason I would like to take a baseball bat to the swollen heads of the ex-major-league ballplayers who charge money for their signatures at baseball-card shows, refusing even to acknowledge the child who approaches them in the tenderest posture of hero worship. Every boy who approached Jerry West was met with a gentlemanly kindess, a genuine engagement, and unfeigned courtesy. Even meeting my literary heroes—Gore Vidal, James Dickey, William Styron, Eudora Welty, Reynolds Price, Joyce Carol Oates, and others—pales in comparison to that day at Camp Wahoo when I met Jerry West, one of the ten greatest basketball players of all time, and fouled him during a counselors game. If you are one of those who think that great athletes shouldn’t have to be role models for the young boys and girls, I offer you this: I have tried to treat everyone I meet as Jerry West treated those bedazzled boys who approached him as he walked the grounds of Miller School. He taught me much about basketball, but he taught me much more about class and the responsibilities of fame.

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