Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson: The day they called me Dominique

When I was a kid, my dad put a basketball goal in the backyard so that I could fulfill my dream of becoming the next Dominique Wilkins. Granted, I would need some things to go along with the basketball goal in order to accomplish that dream -- such as a basketball, good shoes and perhaps some basketball skills to do that -- but it all had to start with a goal.

Unfortunately, my goal was installed a little higher than the regulation height of 10 feet, screwed into a plywood backboard. My next-door-neighbor was a high school basketball star who swore it was 10 and a half feet, I thought it was about 11 feet, and my dad insisted that it was exactly 10 feet. So we all compromised and agreed it was exactly 10 feet.

The next step was to learn the most important basketball skill of all -- dunking. At age 13, I was about 5-foot-4 and very white, so my first dunks required the use of a trampoline, which unfortunately were outlawed by the NBA in 1974.

There was another reason I had a little trouble dunking on my backyard rim besides my shortness, whiteness and lack of height -- my court was dirt. No matter how nice my Traxx sneakers were, I just couldn't get the traction I needed to take off and do a 360-degree, between-the-legs, reverse jam.

Granted, most kids in my neighborhood also played on dirt courts in their backyards, but their rims were set at heights from 7 feet to 9 feet. These weren't the kind you find at the sporting goods store now that you can adjust with ease by grabbing a handle; they were mostly nailed to plywood and wooden posts like mine. But at least their parents had the decency to put them at some random height that allowed their kids to dunk from a dirt surface without the aid of a trampoline.

Either my dad was subtly trying to teach me a lesson about setting high goals or he was getting tired of using the hole-diggers. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was the former. And by the time I'd grown to about 5-10 and gotten a pair of Nikes, I could finally touch the rim on that goal. Before long, I could dunk a tennis ball. Then a mini-basketball. Then a chihuahua. I'm kidding, I'm kidding. They didn't make mini-basketballs back then.

Then it happened. I was goofing around in the high school gym when they had several pickup games going on. All four practice goals had been lowered. One goal wasn't being used, so I picked up one of the many loose basketballs and tried to dunk. It was easy. Amid the cacophony of dribbling, yelling and squeaking sneakers, there I was dunking ball after ball after ball. Then I noticed it had gotten quiet.

I looked around, and every game had stopped. Everyone was looking at me. Well, gawking is more like it. Finally, one of the boys who actually knew how to play ball, came up to me and asked, "Chris, can you dunk?" as if he needed to me to verbally verify what they all thought they'd hallucinated at once.

I nodded and was immediately drafted onto a team. Two double-dribbles, four traveling violations and eight missed jumpers ended my basketball career within the next 10 minutes. But for one shining moment, I was the Dominique -- or at least the Spud Webb -- of my high school, just before going back to the dork I truly was, albeit a dork with an impressive vertical.

Today, nearly 20 years later, I've got a good pair of Nikes, stand 5-foot-11 (and falling) and have an adjustable basketball goal on a concrete driveway.

Unfortunately, I've apparently gotten much whiter and my vertical is practically horizontal. The only dunking I do now is with french fries and ketchup, which might explain my 12-inch vertical leap.

Connect with Chris Johnson at Facebook.com/KudzuKidWriting or on Twitter @kudzukid88.

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