Web Exclusives: From the P-Nut Gallery
a column by Nate Sellwyn nsellyn@princeton.edu

April 21, 2004:

Going out on top
One last shot at intramural glory

Here’s the rotten thing about firsts: You don’t always know when they’re happening. Sure, when I eventually step onto the ice for my first game as starting goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, I’ll know it’s a big day. But, say, for example, the first time I met my best friend at Princeton. I didn’t know who he was, or where he was from, or what was going to happen to the two of us during the four years that have followed. I just knew his stuff was in the hall, and my stuff needed to get by his stuff so my Dad could hurry up and drive back to Montreal already. The rotten thing about firsts, most of the time, is you don’t have a chance to make them memorable.

Lasts, though, are just as bad. Sure, for the most part, you know they’re coming. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you walk in on your significant other and the guy with the geeky haircut going at it in the broom closet. Sometimes you blow out a leg and all of a sudden you have to do your farewell tour on crutches. But, generally, you know when something is winding up, and you can prepare for it. Problem is, things don’t always go as planned, and that can be worst of all.

An example: I played four years of varsity basketball in high school, mostly due to my poor institution’s dearth of real, gentile athletes. So, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, with varying degrees of honesty, for four years I trooped it out on the hardcourt. I wasn’t good, but I wasn’t horrible, and I played with every bit of the little I had. For one, mercifully brief season, I even wore protective goggles.

My last, magnificent game came – surprise! – at the conclusion of my senior year, in one tiny corner of the Men’s Provincial Championship Consolation Bracket. It was an exciting match, and the victor would hold the envious position of an 11th place finish in the province. The loser would drop, screaming, to the black depths of 12th. You can imagine the pride on the line.

Despite my low point production, I was then captain of the team. I can remember the night before, sleeping in my uniform, dreaming of how I would eclipse my previous career high in points (21, in the opening round of the Collingwood Invitational, mostly on free throws) and carrying my Southridge Storm to victory.

We won, but not thanks to me. I remember well one specific moment near the end of the game. Due to my defensive intensity / fortuitous positioning, I stole the ball at half court and had an easy, undefended path to the looming basket. At that point I had about four points, so I put my head down and dribbled like a baby on his bib towards the hoop.

In addition to the usual crowd of six or so onlookers, all the relevant figures of my adolescence were in attendance. My then-girlfriend. My school principal. The guy who ran my comic book store. Everyone important.

I missed. Open lay-up, and I put if off the backboard at about the speed of a car colliding with a raccoon. And it looked just as bad. In fact, I think there was a collective groan from all in attendance, although the bang of the ball whipping off the backboard nearly drowned it out.

So, the problem with lasts is that, although you know you’ll remember them, you certainly can’t script the memories.

Last week, though, in what will likely be my last game of organized basketball, I won. Well, my team did. In double-overtime of the Men’s C League Intramural Championships. After the other team hit a three at the buzzer to equalize in regulation, and both teams missed the front end of one-and-ones to keep things tied after the first overtime. Although I didn’t hit the winning basket – or any, I think – I was certainly on the floor the whole time, due to that “defensive intensity” I was only sort of lying about earlier. I had the winning steal, or at least the tap of the ball that knocked it away from them and into the hands of our leading scorer.

And he scored, no problem. Dribble drives, pull-up jumpers, step back threes. He won us the game, and that was just how I wanted it. To end on a great note, and conclude my pathetic athletic tradition here at Princeton victoriously, if not gloriously.

You can reach Nate at nsellyn@princeton.edu