Ball Don't Lie - NBA

I've always been a good actor. I think it all started in elementary school with "Heads Up, Seven Up." I'm not sure if you ever played that game, but for a seven-year-old, it was the epitome of awesome. Seven kids got to walk around and touch someone's thumb while they had their head down on their desk and eyes closed. Then those seven went up to the front of the class and the people whose thumbs had been touched had to guess who had done the touching. As one of the seven, if the person whose thumb you touched didn't know it was you, then you got to go again. Brilliant.

I just happened to be ridiculously good at "Heads Up, Seven Up." See, most kids would walk around and touch the thumbs of their friends. Most girls would lightly touch the thumbs of other girls and most boys would slam, hit, or otherwise attempt to injure the thumb of one of their roughhousing buddies. I knew about these tendencies. The first time we played, I went along with the masses. I ran around slamming thumbs like they were gophers in a game at "Chuck E. Cheese." I really dropped the hammer. Thing was, I knew that the year was a long one and that people would begin to predict who did what. With the reputation of a hard-hitting friend-basher, I spent the rest of the year lightly and politely touching the thumbs of kids I didn't like and girls. I was NEVER figured out again. I was hands down the "Heads Up, Seven Up" champion of the world. If you have a young child, you should teach them this strategy. It helped me work on my poker face and my acting abilities and winning helped with self-esteem. Don't let your kid be a cheater, like my current hotel roommate Dave Bell, who said he used to keep his eyes open and look at the shoes of his thumb-toucher.

The reason I bring this up is because I had to employ my acting abilities last week. My team, the Dakota Wizards, is currently in a battle for the division lead. Winning the division would give us home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Last week we had a 1.5 game lead before dropping two games to the Sioux Falls Skyforce. The Skyforce are our rival team and it was terrible to lose to those guys. Both teams know each other so well that we basically spend the whole game talking smack to each other. To quote Kelly Kuppor: "I don't talk trash, I talk smack. They're totally different. Trash talk is all hypothetical like, 'your mom is so fat she could eat the Internet.' But smack talk is happening like, right now. Like, 'you're ugly and I know it for a fact because I got the evidence right there.'"

Smack, trash, call it what you want, the Wizards and Skyforce are knee deep in that nonsense. Since they're our rivals, the fans buy into it too. There is a guy who sits directly across from the bench who is an unrelenting trash-talking machine. He's not a creative as the 12-year-old from Albuquerque, but he just never stops. There are tons of fans in Sioux Falls who never stop. It's fun to shut them up, but it's terrible to give them more reason. All they need is a reason and they will destroy you.

That's where the acting really came in handy last week. I was in the midst of a 28 point, 16 rebound game. I was feeling it. I was picking off passes, driving to the hole, just really playing well. Well, Bobby Jones (the guy who has played for like eight NBA teams in two years), had just stolen the ball from somebody on my team and was pushing the break. I was the man back so I figured I'd try to make a play for the ball early like a soccer goalie would. I anticipated that he was going to pass to someone directly behind me, but right then he looked off to his left. Keeping my eyes on him, I took one quick step to my right (I was backpedaling), and he rocketed the ball. The problem was, my first instinct was correct. The ball came hurling right at me. I actually screamed out loud when I knew where it was headed, but my backpedaling caused me to freeze in place. Boom. The ball smashed me right in the twig-and-berry intersection, damn near sending the entire package up into my stomach. The ball hit me so hard that I felt pain in my chest and I think three of my toes went numb.

The crowd, just waiting for a reason to come at me, started erupting in laughter. They wanted to see me topple over and grab my groin and show them the pain that I was feeling. To be honest, I felt like lying down and taking the rest of the night off after that, but I didn't. In fact, I didn't even flinch. The ball rolled to one of their guys, who got fouled, and we went to the foul line. As I lined up at the free throw line, I stood up straight and didn't even put my hands on my knees. Everyone was looking at me. They were obviously confused.  Could the perceived direct hit have actually been a narrow miss? It would appear so. The game went on. I didn't talk about it, I didn't put my hands on my knees, I even laughed and joked through the pain.

Right after the final buzzer sounded I ran to the locker room and put a bag of ice between my legs. There could have been a Spalding "S" on me. It still hurt that bad. The fans never knew it though. Acting skills baby! I even got a text from someone who was watching the game online. The text said, "They made a huge joke about you getting hit in the stomach. The guy's like, 'good thing it wasn't a little south or he'd be hurting right now.'" Acting skills saved me from immediate, Kelly Kuppor, 'I got the evidence right there' type smack talk. They thought they had the evidence, but I won. We lost, but I won. If they wanna go head-to-head in "Heads Up, Seven Up," I got them there too.

Rod Benson is a Cal grad who plays for the D-League's Dakota Wizards. He also blogs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Ball Don't Lie. Read his archive, pay a visit to and always support the Boom Tho movement.

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