I Miss My Brother: A Sports Memoir

ESPN is the world’s best worst psychic. Always looking ahead to the next story, inventing news before it doesn’t happen. Masters of straw-man stories, written in tortured prose. Convenient virtual foils to what transpires in reality. They build their own surprises and punchlines. Sometimes garbage, other times a stretch, and occasionally — and this is why I read them — too fun to not play along with. Thoroughly amusing.

A few weeks ago they speculated on very speculative speculations that Lebron James might be headed to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014. Never thought of that one. Then there’s this piece by Adam Schefter, salivating over the prospects of a Broncos vs. Giants, Manning vs. Manning, Super Bowl game in their hometown of New Orleans. This story sent me to a different, familiar, and better place.

Andy — he goes by Andres now, his legal name — is my younger brother. My big younger brother. Two and a half inches taller and a physical frame that I dreamed of while playing football and rugby. “If I had your build, I would’ve been a unstoppable.”

While I loved the brutish violence of contacts sports, Andy took to the finesse and skill of basketball. Andy’s basketball prowess was timely in this respect; it made for fairly even matches even while he was four years my junior. After I left for college and he grew into an All-State basketball player, the scales became so lopsided, I would help myself to nasty cheap-shots and rely almost solely upon my best basketball skill: absurd, obnoxious humor. A fraternal form of trash talking.

Andy’s a remarkable, beautiful soul who’s always suffered from finding me funny. Even when I’m not. Even when he doesn’t want to. “(Laughing) You’re so stupid!” When he was younger, he’d cry and storm off the court. A softie.

He’s always had wicked outside shot but I couldn’t guard him too tightly on the perimeter because of his ball handling skills. He loved to use his Harlem Globetrotter, AND1 mixed-tape tricks on me. My defense was to talk constantly — no surprises there! — and weave the narrative into a mantra with a punchline that would surface whenever he was just about to shoot. Miss. Get in his head. When I was on my trash talking game, it usually worked. I won a lot in those days.

While I was in undergrad my family lived in a small, wooden house adjacent to the parking lot of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, in Abilene Texas. At night there were two or three lights in the distance that provided just enough shine to play as late as we wanted, when I was home. Andy was just starting high school, but he could already shoot and understood how to run a pick and roll. We were a team then.

We’d play each other until a duo from the neighborhood would show up to challenge us. Or they’d knock on our door if we weren’t out there already. We were pretty good together, during those years. A basketball duo dynasty.

There’s a certain, fleeting pleasure of winning with your brother. Neither of us were that good, relatively speaking, but we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and worked together and won most of the time. I honestly don’t remember losing a single game during those years.

It was serious business. We’d get pissed at each other. Especially if the other wasn’t playing defense. I was usually the most extroverted one about competition, but Andy was competitive too. He has this loose, laid-back sort of pride that preferred to smirk and laugh in your face, not yell or intimidate.

We always shared a room growing up. In one house, our beds were parallel to each other, like the letter ‘H’, with about two and a half feet of separation in the middle. A lamp on a stand stood in the space between our heads. We’d lay on our backs and throw a rubber ball back and forth with arbitrary rules — “one hand this time;” “only left-handed throws” — getting the ball to spin with the right amount of English and arc over the lamp. Hours went bye. The lamp fell. Game over.

When I visit, my arm is usually sore a day or two after arrival. We can throw a football to each other for hours. New rules get made and sometimes we’ll even go to the park to see what’s left of the good old days. He plays a lot more basketball than I do now, even though he plays less than he used to, and I’d die before admitting that I’m too fat, unskilled, and out of shape. I borrow a pair of tennis shoes and cotton socks, bend my knees, move my feet, and focus on his waistline — don’t look at the ball.

I’ll even try to recall some of the better lines I had. Like the one about a squirrel that would run up and down the fat lady’s dress at church. “Squirrel!” — He made it anyway, smiling. I’m down eight nothing and he’s only taken four shots. He’ll cool down. Then I’ll give him elbows to ribs and kidneys. But Andy’s stronger than me now, too, albeit still not as aggressive or crazy. Guarding him in the low post feels like pushing a car up a hill. I’ll try to trip him when he spins.

Basket. Game. “Let’s go home, Sam. That’s three in a row; it’s almost time for dinner.” “No, no! I scored that game. I’ll kick your fat ass next one, best out of seven. C’mon. You only win because of those cheap long shots.”

I don’t think I’ve won a game in ten years. We haven’t played much of anything in the last few years.

We wear identical tattoos on our left shoulder. ‘HERMANOS’ in ornate, Mexican-looking font. His font is much bigger than mine, like his shoulder. Mine is slightly faded from swimming before the ink set, but it’s there and it reminds me of him, like the article I read today on ESPN.

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