My own basketball coaching career ended many years ago, when my 13-and-under Billy Mitchell Boys Club squad lost to the Guy Thunderbirds in a one-sided blowout. My guys had laughed their foolish heads off all the way from Little Rock to Guy, a little country town in Arkansas’ Faulkner County.
What were they going to play with, cow pies?
As an inveterate reader of the sports pages, I knew something they didn’t. Guy-Perkins won the Class B high school championship most years. It’s a basketball town. My guys were strictly Boys Club all-stars. We played for fun. Which was a good thing, because the coach was useless.
The most memorable thing happened before the game. The Thunderbirds had a kid about 6-foot-4 whose cousin had been a big star for an Arkansas Razorback team that went to the Final Four.
So, team comedian Boo Scott (I never heard anybody call him “Robert,” his given name) swaggered up, all 5-foot-8 of him, during warmups. He looked up and asked, “You Marvin Delph’s cousin?”
The taller boy folded his arms and nodded.
Boo goes, “Michael Jordan my brother.”
A couple of my guys were laughing so hard they fell down. Albert Barton needed help getting back to his feet. I’ve never seen such hilarity at a sporting event. Never mind that the final score was something like 92-45. We always visited McDonald’s on the ride home. Burgers and fries, on the coach.
I still see Boo around town now and then. He lives in the old neighborhood and works in restaurant kitchens. And wherever Boo goes, people are laughing. He’s a natural-born comic. His little brother Richard, an 11-year-old ringer on our team, grew to be 6-foot-8 and played for four years at Kansas, and for most of a decade for Barcelona in the Spanish League. He’s back in the old neighborhood too, an imposing figure in his State Police uniform.
Richard was born rebounding. I taught him nothing.
So anyway, that’s what basketball is for: running, jumping, shooting and falling down on the floor laughing.
Not for guns or homicide investigations. So no, I don’t think Alabama’s star forward, the world-class three-point shooter and rebounder Brandon Miller, has any business playing in the NCAA college basketball tournament. And I don’t necessarily think it should be up to coach Nate Oats to make the decision. Doesn’t the University of Alabama have a dean of students or a president to say that a student implicated in a murder probe has no business representing the school?
No, Miller didn’t shoot anybody. The friend to whom he delivered a handgun at a Tuscaloosa bar after 1 a.m. on a Saturday in January did that. The handgun belonged to his teammate Darius Miles, who handed the weapon to the shooter, who used it to kill 23-year-old Jamea Harris, leaving her 5-year-old son motherless.
The child, whose name is Kaine, has been told that his mother is an angel in heaven. Sooner or later, his bereaved grandma told Washington Post reporter Kent Babb, the child is going to figure things out. She hopes it doesn’t leave him permanently embittered and vengeful.
Charged with capital murder, Miles is off the basketball team.
But Miller, an all-world talent likely to be a first-round NBA draft pick (although there are surely teams that won’t touch him), remains on the Alabama roster. His lawyer has explained that Miller “never touched the gun, was not involved in its exchange to Mr. Davis in any way, and never knew that illegal activity involving the gun would occur.”
Of course he didn’t. After all, who could possibly imagine that a pistol urgently needed at a bar after midnight might be used to shoot somebody? My cat Martin might figure it out, but not Miller or his coach. Asked by sportswriters, ordinarily not the sternest of moralists, Miller “respectfully” declined to comment. Of course. What could he possibly say?
Even in Alabama, Coach Oats took some heat for observing that his star player was merely “in the wrong spot at the wrong time.” Pressed about why Miller’s involvement in a homicide wasn’t disclosed until a detective testified in open court, the coach observed, “Everybody was comfortable, and, I mean, based on the information we had, Brandon didn’t break any school policy or team policy. So, I was comfortable with the decision that was made.”
Notice the artful use of the passive voice. If Alabama ever runs out of football coaches to send to Congress, Oats could have a future in politics. Something else he denied knowing about was the sickening pregame ritual in which Miller was frisked by a second-stringer at half court, supposedly making him “cleared for takeoff.”
Now that Oats, a brilliant coach and a certifiable moral idiot, has quit denying he’d ever noticed the stunt, we have his promise that it won’t happen anymore.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.