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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 34 page 02


a basketball star's photos, trophies, and jersey on display

The Phenom

by Don McLellan

Rick LeFlore clipped the obit from the morning tabloid, magnetizing it to the fridge door. He left it there, with the unlucky lottery tickets and the recycling schedule, until the weekend of the memorial, a lump swelling in his throat every time he reached for the milk. Decades earlier, in what seemed like someone else’s life, he and the deceased, Tommy Portland, had been teammates on the high school basketball team.

Ken Pierce, another former Browning Buccaneer, was the first to call. Though the players had scattered after graduation, winning the city tournament bonded them throughout their lives, just as the coach had assured them it would. “The crap Tommy put into his body,” sniffed Ken, the owner of a fast food franchise and hence an authority on what people put into their bodies, “I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”

“It was an aneurysm,” Rick said. “He didn’t choke on one of your cheeseburgers.”

At Browning High, both females and males were drawn to Tommy. An in-crowd had sprouted up around him. This greatly displeased those who were excluded. One anonymous jester writing in the yearbook described the varsity athlete as “looking like the dashing but modestly talented lead in a TV soap no one will remember.” The school’s brightest and most ambitious had been particularly dismissive, considering the attention swirling around a mere sportsman misdirected. Others resented his pursuit of Browning’s most beautiful, the ease and volume of his conquests. That a prospect might already have a boyfriend didn’t discourage this Lothario, nor did rejection. But as Rick would learn, even those who didn’t think well of Tommy were unable to forget him.

“What does a guy like him do when he can’t get it up anymore?” Ken wondered.

“Golf?” Rick submitted.

As for Rick himself, though he loved sports, he hadn’t been blessed with the coordination, dexterity, or speed to be anything but an average athlete. In his senior year, with encouragement from Tommy, who was a basketball phenom, Rick decided to try out for the Bucs. They’d met in math class. Besides an appreciation of hoops, the pair shared an inability to comprehend trigonometry and a dislike of Mrs. Honeycutt, who taught it. On such a slim nexus adolescent friendships are forged.

As Buc captain, Tommy discussed the final cuts with Coach Jack Tillman. Rick always believed his selection was Tommy’s doing. After all, several hopefuls had reached an equivalent level of ineptness. “Come to practice, LeFlore,” growled the coach. “I’ll play you when I can.”

On the drive home from work one afternoon he found himself thinking of those years, and of Tommy’s corralling of Mary Slocumb. She was a long-legged beauty who wore high heels and makeup while her peers were still accumulating Girl Guide badges, she was the ‘It Girl’ before there was such a thing. Three months after winning her over, in keeping with the catch-and-release policy he would practise the remainder of his days, Tommy replaced Mary with a college girl. It had been the talk of the school. “Who amongst us wouldn’t have done the same?” asked one of the Bucs, practice over. Two players raised their hands. To them, Mary Slocumb wasn’t a girl. She was a woman. In dreams, she was theirs.