My 15 Minutes of Athletic Superstardom

By Clint McElroy

Clint McElroy

Like any good affair, my relationship with sports is a twisted, convoluted thing. You have the typical "love" aspect of it, because I truly, honestly love sports. Watching them, to be specific. I am amazing at watching them. Playing them? That's a whole different animal. More on that later.

I came to my love of sports at a relatively late age.

I was 11 years old when my stepfather cajoled, wheedled and for all intents and purposes forced me to play Little League baseball. I was bad. I was beyond bad.

I would have needed to improve 150 percent just to get to the point where I could see bad. When I played, people checked the bottoms of their shoes to determine what stunk so much.

But great googa mooga, do I love my sports memories:

There have been moments of rapturous joy. Like watching Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench hit a home run to right field (when he hit almost every home run to left) to tie the game against the Pirates in the 1972 National League Championship Series. (They went on to win the game and the series.) And The Ohio State University Buckeyes beating Willis McGahee and the vaunted Hurricanes of Miami to win the National Championship. And sitting in Fairfield Stadium, watching Steve Williams throw a pass to Fuzzy Filliez.

There have been moments of excruciating pain. Spraining both thumbs on consecutive plays from scrimmage when the Huntington Jaycees played a full-pads, full-contact, full-tilt-boogie football game against the Huntington Fraternal Order of Police as a fundraiser. (Cops hit hard, by the way.) Taking an errant ground ball in the delicate man-place while playing for Zoar Missionary Baptist in a church softball league (which had to institute a strict "no swearing policy" after that).

Of course there have been moments of tremendous pride. Watching my son Travis get his very first base hit in the very last at-bat of his two-year Little League career. He may have only gone 1-for-48 lifetime, but he never gave up. Or being a proud Poppa Dad looking out at the Cammack field and seeing all three of my sons suited up for Midget League Football. (Admittedly, one was on his back after getting flattened by a block, one was seeing how far blades of grass blew in the wind and the third was asking his coach when he would get his snow cone.)

But then there are those rare sports moments that combine the agony and the ecstasy simultaneously.

In the late 1970s I was a hotshot news and sports reporter for the top radio station in the Tampa-St. Petersburg market, WWBA. I had my own sports show, covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spring training baseball and much more. I must have been perceived as a bit of an up-and-comer because I was asked to play on a media basketball team in a game against (I kid you not) the Harlem Globetrotters.

It was only a 10-minute contest during half time of the Globetrotters' real game (and I use the term "real" loosely), but I took it very seriously. Sure, the jersey they gave me was a bit small. Sure, I was even worse at basketball than I was at Little League baseball, being blessed with the speed of a glacier, the agility of a cinder block and the hand-eye coordination of a blindfolded man in handcuffs.

They smeared us.

With 15 seconds left in the exhibition, the 'Trotters were shellacking us 24-to-2 and we had only just scored those two. Globetrotter great James "Twiggy" Sanders inbounded the ball, and I was covering him. I did so with such earnestness and determination that Twiggy started to laugh. He stopped, placed the ball on the half-court line and, with a sweep of his hand, gallantly waved to me to take the ball.

I did.

I snatched it up with six seconds left in the game. I know because time literally slowed to me. It was just like you see in the movies.

I drove toward the basket, cheers ringing in my ears, flashbulbs exploding in my eyes. I swear to you. Have you seen Hoosiers? It was just like that.

The only thought running through my head was, "Don't miss this layup! Don't miss this layup!" With one second left on the clock, I left the floor and the ball drifted off my fingertips like a beautiful orange soap bubble. As the buzzer sounded...it swished through the net!

The crowd went wild! I was surrounded by my media teammates.

I was clapped on the shoulders by the Globetrotters themselves (which I thought was very gracious of them, since I had just TAKEN THEM TO SCHOOL!).

The next day in the sports section of the Tampa Tribune was a very large picture of my moment of triumph. It was a photo of me, sailing through the air toward the basket, the ball arcing toward the hoop.

The photo also captured my too-small jersey riding up around my breastbone and my huge, hairy, sweaty gut hanging over the waistband of my shorts like a beached whale with hormone problems. Oh sports, thou art a fickle mistress.

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