It was midway through the second half of Chris Paul’s celebrity basketball game, just after the Clippers star crossed me over as if I were a flip-flops-wearing frat boy on a St. Paddy’s Day bender, when I knew I had no business playing in a celebrity basketball game.
Yeah, OK, I knew I had no business working this hardwood a few weeks ago, when Jordan Brand first extended an invite to play in the game that would promote Paul’s new kicks, the CP3.VI. I was told I’d be playing alongside two other media members with a bunch of famous people who ball pretty damn well.
Well, I’m most famous for peeing on my pediatrician’s face as an infant -- a story my parents enjoy sharing with complete strangers and all females. And my hoops career peaked in Pleasanton, Calif., where I tore it up as the starting shooting guard at Harvest Park, which is a lot like a top-tier high school, except with middle schoolers. Also: we stunk.
Still, as our coach/English teacher used to say: When your number is called, you answer.
Plus, girls dig famous people.
Leading the two squads at an arena near Dodgers Stadium this past Sunday were Paul’s hand-picked captains-coaches: Common, the rap legend and actor, and my boss, The Game, the famed rhyme-spitter who’s much nicer than the tattoo on his face would suggest.
Why did The Game, whose reputation as a formidable baller in LA’s famed Drew League precedes him, snag me for his squad?
“Honestly,” The Game said just before tip-off, “I don’t know why we have on the same uniform or how you got here, but good luck doing whatever it is you think you’re going to do today.”
Here’s a rundown of CP3’s game from the perspective of a far below Average Joe, and check out the video above for more:
• Player intros: The crowd of several hundred Angelinos erupts when names like Jalen Rose (NBA star turned ESPN analyst), Pooch Hall (star of sitcom “The Game”), Jessie Williams (from “Cabin in the Woods”) and Willie McGinest (three-time Super Bowl champ with the Patriots) are announced.
Then: “From ESPN ... Sam Alipour!”
Literally nobody claps.
• Pregame stretches: Mostly because I see them do it on TV. My teammate McGinest, a former Pro Bowl linebacker, wants to draw up a play. “You have to run a rub-screen,” the big fella says. “Bring him to me. I’ll set the wall and take him out.” Got it!
Googling: “What’s a screen?”
• Layup lines: A lot of these guys are dunking, so I think I’ll try ... dunno, feeling risqué ... a reverse layup. Bucket! Offers a supportive Jalen Rose: “Buddy, you’re in trouble.”
• Moments before tip-off: Coach Game informs me that I’ll be coming off the bench. “We’re going to start with the big guys and work our way down,” he says to this 5-9 reporter who often claims he’s 5-9 and 1/2 just because it sounds better.
• Bench time: I’m riding the pine with Anthony Anderson of “Law & Order” and “Transformers” fame. Anderson is big and slow. I’m small and somewhat speedy. It dawns on me: If someone like God were to meld Anderson and I into one super-celebrity player ... we’d still be pretty terrible. “Well,” Anthony says, “half of us would be good. I’ll let the audience after the game explain which half.”
• Midway through the first of two 15-minute halves: The Game shouts my name: “Sam, get in here!” Oh, s%$!. But within seconds, I’m leading a fast break when I see an opening, keep the rock and slice to the bucket for an uncontested lay-up. Woohoo!
I fight every urge in my body to celebrate with the “discount double-check” and, instead, do something incredibly awkward. (Check out the video or, better yet: please don’t.)
• Minutes later: I’m leading another fast break when I decide that it’d be best to dish a no-look pass to the guy on my right, which I execute to perfection.
Side note: the guy on my right is wearing the other team’s jersey.
• Halftime: We’re up by six at the half, and the props come pouring in. Says Rose: “You’re finger-rolling like George Gervin!” Thank you, thank you. Offers Anderson: “I gotta give it up to you, man.” Don’t talk to me, scrub.
It’s official: the other team is game-planning for me. “Yeah, we talked about it,” Common says. “And then we talked about how much of a non-factor you are.” Hey, that totally counts.
As halftime winds down, a shocker: Chris Paul, who sat out the first half, suits up to play for the other team. Why? “Well,” says the five-time All-Star, “after I’d seen the finger roll you did in the first half, I felt the other team needed my presence.”
Fighting the “discount double-check” again.
• Second half: Here’s the thing about my coach -- The Game has game, as evidenced by the scholarship offers he received from big-time schools. But The Game’s coaching strategy is only one-pronged: Never, ever pull The Game from the game. Also: shouting -- lots of shouting. When he’s not forcing shots and, on a few occasions, jacking up airballs. But again, really nice guy (who, again, asked another human being to decorate his face with permanent ink, so I’ll stop writing now.)
• Four minutes left: Common calls for several substitutions. Coach Game’s number of second-half substitutions: one. Dude really wants a win. But my fellow scrubs stage a mutiny: we’ll call our own numbers, crawl to the scorer’s table and check ourselves into the game. I choose to replace 12-year-old street-artist Skylar Grey because, well, he’s 12. He looks crushed. Sorry, kid.
I brick a jumper. And I’m pretty sure I hear the kid laughing.
• Moments later: Paul pounds the ball up the court and I’m panicking because I’m the guy standing between the NBA’s best point guard and the basket. Just as I was taught, I’m watching CP3’s hips -- not the ball -- while thinking: “No way am I letting this chump cross me over.” Good news: Paul doesn’t cross me over.
Bad news: he fires a laser past my ear to an open man.
• A few possessions later: I’m gifted a do-over: Once again, CP3 drives the ball at me but this time I elect to watch the ball.
CP3 crosses me over.
Basketball is hard.
We lose in overtime because of a Chris Paul buzzer-beater, but mostly because Chris Paul is a filthy, rotten cheater.
My final stat line: 1-2 from the field, one steal, two rebounds, two turnovers and one sad 12-year-old. Also: I’m short and slow.
“Well, obviously you’re vertically challenged, like myself, so you need to play with a little more speed,” Paul tells me. “Your finger roll was nice -- I didn’t expect that to go in. You just need a little bit more pace.”
“Well, CP3, I blame your made-of-concrete shoes!” said nobody, ever.
We head toward the locker room -- and Eureka! Three cutie-pies rush over to me. “We’re big fans,” says one. Of course you are, sweetie ...
“Think you can help me get some free shoes for my boyfriend?”