First Words — 04 January 2014
My Fantasy camp: one-on-one with Miami Heat

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

My first thought, hearing that I was going to play Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier and Ray Allen in basketball at AmericanAirlines Arena was, of course, I have nothing to wear! What does one wear on a play date with three of the best basketball players on the planet?

My shorts and singlet from running? Too tattered.

My warmup pants and T-shirt from college? Too Midwestern.

My bicycle bib tights? Too likely to be laughed off the court.

“What is this?” I imagined the jeering. “A Tour de Pants?’’

I wondered if the Spurs and the Knicks went through similar clothing dilemmas when they came to play the defending World Champion Miami Heat. (I decided they did not.)

My second thought was, It doesn’t matter that I have nothing to wear! I could pull on a basketball jersey fitted with afterburners. I could be accompanied by flights of Valkyries. I still couldn’t play Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier and Ray Allen in basketball. There’d still be a smoking hole in the hardwood floor at the Triple A where my sorry, tattered, Midwestern, bicycle-bibbed self would have been.

I found this reassuring.

I settled on black sweats, blue singlet and Kansas Jayhawk T-shirt. These were all in various stages of disintegration, but I confirmed that at least my underwear did not have any holes. Important in the event that I would have to go to the hospital. Which was inevitable.

“Tough case in Ward B, doctor,’’ I imagined. “Patient tried playing the Heat without afterburners or Valkyries.”

“I see,” the doctor says. “At least the underwear is in good shape.’’

I caught another break at the end of the press conference preceding the basketball clinic, hosted by luxury Swiss watchmaker Hublot. Full disclosure, Hublot makes the excellent timepieces Wade gave his championship-winning teammates in 2012. Full disclosure, I wondered if I also would receive one if I survived my basketball game with the Heat. Full disclosure, I confirmed at the press conference, I would not.

“If there are no further questions for Dwyane,’’ the Hublot representative said, “we’re going to let him go home and get some rest.”

What? Dwyane Wade’s out of the starting lineup? Yesssss!

That would leave just Ray Allen and Shane Battier down on the court, and I quickly formulated a revised strategy, which previously consisted of “surviving.” Maybe I could distract Battier (who went to Duke University) with my (archrival) Jayhawk T-shirt for a moment … before he left a smoking hole in the hardwood floor where I’d been. Maybe I could distract Allen with a compliment about his game-tying three-pointer in Game 6 against the Spurs last season … before he left a smoking hole in the hardwood floor where I’d been.

No plan ever survives actual combat, of course; and, sure enough, my plan fell apart when I arrived on court to find that I would be playing not only Battier and Allen but also retired Heat greats Juwan Howard and Alonzo Mourning. When I say retired, incidentally, I do not mean in any way disintegrating. Mourning alone, who retired in 2009, still appears to be over 230 feet tall.

The plan, fortunately, called for me not to actually play the Heat but to play with them. (Obviously, I had missed that part at the press conference). I quickly formulated a revised strategy, which now consisted of (1) surviving, (2) possibly not going to the hospital, after all; and (3) wondering if they’d mind if I asked about the watch again.

I spent five minutes with each encouraging, patient athlete, learning amazing facts about basketball that I did not previously know. From Alonzo Mourning, I learned you’re supposed to look at your opponent’s gut – his center of gravity – when defending. From Juwan Howard, I learned you’re supposed to take a step forward when you pass the ball. From Shane Battier, I learned, when you shoot a layup, you should pretend like your shooting hand is tied marionette-style to the knee.

These are all excellent tips, and I urge you to try them in any post-holiday shape-up routine. Or, follow the lead of the dancers from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (pg. 51 of the January issue). Or fit your jersey with afterburners. Or just give up now and go eat with one of our Tastemakers (pg. 89 of January issue).

“When you shoot a free throw,” Ray Allen explained, “Just relax, find a rhythm with it.”

Good advice for a New Year, I thought. Anytime, really, anywhere.

I stepped to the line, relaxed, found a rhythm (later identified, inexplicably, as the theme from Misty), and swished my first shot.

“That was a really nice shot,’’ Allen said, possibly astonished.

With no further questions, and way ahead, I went home to get some rest.

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