Topic: "To the Hoop (2)"
Frodo, unsurprisingly, has very small hands. Great athletes have big hands and very long fingers, making them better able to palm the baskeball, or to make the baseball twist and turn, or even to grasp and hold on to an errant football pass. Frodo had to run faster, hit harder, practice more, just to keep up with the competition.
In the City of Orleans Frodo played on a basketball team comprised mostly of players from Gondor. Hobbits were rarely even participative in these leagues, but all of the players, including Frodo, worked for the same employer. Frodo made the team and played a great deal simply because he could play defense so well. The other players on the team could score a lot of points, but it was Frodo's job to shut down the big scorer on the opposing team. This task did not require big hands.
Frodo's team worked well together. So well, in fact, that they over-achieved and made the City Tournament. Frodo can still see Mike, the shooting guard, and St. Clair, the point guard, leading the charge down the court, so that Freddie and Jim could work off of Frodo's positioning to shoot at the basket. Several victories into the Tournament, and the formula continued to work amazingly well.
In the Semi-Final match-up, Frodo and his friends were clearly over-matched by a physically superior team. Trailing the entire game, it took the frantic and exceptional shooting skill of Mike and St. Clair to pull the score to even with just seconds to play. The opponents had the ball and were clearly playing for the final shot. Sensing an opportunity, one of the opponents took a shot from beyond the foul line with St. Clair at his waist. Frodo cut in front of the opponent to keep him from rebounding a potential miss. Frodo guessed correctly, and the ball bounced high off the rim. Frodo was perfectly positioned and jumped with all of his might to grab the ball in mid-air. Through the corner of his eye he saw St. Clair break away and head toward the far end of the court for a desperation pass. Frodo grabbed the ball and came down with it in his possession. He immediately leaped back into the air in order to clear himself of the taller opponents and to throw a long unobstructed pass to his teammate. Frodo, with his small hands, could not get a firm grip on the ball and he came down with the ball still in his fingertips. That was a violation, and the clock expired with the score still tied.
Frodo was as distraught as he could have ever been. Had he merely been able to maintain control, he could have gotten the ball to the best shooter on the team for the winning goal. His teammates were wonderful, they reminded Frodo that it just meant they would have to work longer, and harder, together, and if it was meant to be, then it would be so.
The score was still even in the overtime period, and there were, once again, merely seconds to play. The opponents took an ill-advised shot and the ball rebounded to the tallest of Frodo's teammates, and Frodo broke instinctively along the sideline toward the goal on the other side of the court. The ball was passed to Mike, the best ballhandler and all-around player, who advanced the ball along the opposite sideline. Mike saw Frodo, and Frodo caught the glint in his eye. Every defender was drawn to Mike, leaving Frodo running full-speed in the clear.
Mike faked to his right then lofted a leading pass to Frodo. The defenders, suddenly realizing their mistake, came after Frodo at a breakneck clip. The pass came down right in front of Frodo and bounced oh so gently into his hands as he approached the backboard. The ball rolled gently off his fingertips as he glided through the air, bounced off the backboard as time expired, and fell through the basket. Frodo's team had won, and before he knew it, Frodo was being held aloft on the shoulders of his friends. His only points of the game, and they were the margin of victory.
In the Final game, Frodo's friends had already used all their magic dust, and the inevitable finally happened. They were sad, but proud, and Frodo of the little hands would have the memory that makes a thousand dropped passes all worthwile.
All of those young men lived in an area called New Orleans East. Hurricane Katrina and the collapse of the levees brought flooding and destruction right into their homes and those of their neighbors. Only Frodo had ever left. Frodo thinks often of those young men, and he continues to worry about both their safety and their future.
Frodo learned in the City of Orleans that hard work and good friends are occasionally supplemented by a helping hand, small though it may be. As another hurricane season arrives, Frodo is looking for the mailing address of the Salvation Army, and all the others who do more than make empty promises.