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Mistaken Identity

Summer, 1977.

Up early each morning, I am at work on the municipal watering crew by 6am. All done eight hours later. On my bike, home as quick as possible to scarf down some food, then up to the University of Victoria’s McKinnon Gym. The Men’s Varsity basketball scrimmages begin daily at 4pm sharp.

Competition promises to be intense. Roster spots for the upcoming collegiate season are at stake. Though technically a returnee, I know I have a real battle on my hands for a place in the Vikes’ playing rotation.

Happily, dedication and determination pay off. As the season gets underway in October, I find myself, at long odds, in the starting lineup.

My father is absolutely thrilled. In his own way extremely competitive, but ever patient and supportive, the previous year he attends every game. An hour’s drive to and from the city, knowing in advance I am almost certain to be another “DNP-CD.”

Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision.

This time round, I am regular on court. The team takes time to settle, but then moves smoothly through the gears. Rockets to the top of the Canada West conference. A ten-game league win streak, as the calendar rolls over to 1978, sees UVIC feature in the weekly national rankings. I play solidly, even if rarely figuring prominently in the box scores. Yet, by performing the basics well, I contribute enough to the group’s success.

Saturday, January 21. The University of British Columbia (UBC) comes to town, a raucous, capacity crowd guaranteed. More importantly, the contest against our mainland rivals has added meaning for me, with my mother set to attend.

She comes to games only occasionally, for, as a wonder woman who doubles as a full-time mother and a full-time emergency room nurse, free time is a precious commodity. Nonetheless, even if not always following the action particularly closely or really understanding the rules and nuances of the various sports her children play, she is a positive force behind the scenes. Always smiling and laughing, quick to praise, to say well done, regardless of the circumstances. Wins and losses are of no particular consequence. For her, what counts most is that we enjoy ourselves.

The game gets underway. For me at least, it begins in disastrous fashion. Assigned to cover the visitor’s leading scorer, I pick up a foul on the first possession. Annoyed, thirty seconds later I transgress again, this time an ill-advised and undisciplined reach.

Less than a minute gone, but I know what comes next. I wheel towards our coach, beseech him to let me stay on the floor. But, long on pragmatism, short on sentiment, he is unmoved. Receiving two fouls in the first half of a game ensures a substitution. There will be no exception to this cast iron rule.

I slink to the end of the bench, disgusted with myself. So disappointed that my parents, on one of the rare occasions both are in attendance, will not get to watch me play.

Not that my absence matters one iota. In what finishes a comprehensive 96-62 victory, we quickly pull away, taking a twenty-point lead into intermission.

The main architect of this success is Billy Loos, a chiseled 6’4” forward, by way of Connecticut. Direct, strong, combative, he is an outstanding shooter and explosive leaper. He absolutely shreds the Thunderbird defence from the outset, thanks to an array of long-distance bombs, driving layups, post ups and putbacks. He registers 25 points by halftime, en route to a spectacular, season high 47.

Finally, the game ends. Showering and changing quickly, along with my teammates I emerge from the dressing room. Parents and friends await upstairs in the gymnasium foyer. I catch sight of my father. He tries not to show it, but I sense his frustration and exasperation. A highly successful coach himself, he knows and understands roles within a team and, in basketball at least, the consequences of early foul trouble. Still, my careless start, and then solitary basket in a short and entirely forgettable second half stint, rankles.

My mother however is glowing. Delighted, proud of you, she tells me. All those baskets. Just wonderful, she concludes.

I look on, nonplussed. Yet, as Billy pops by to say hello, the penny drops. I realize that, while ostensibly watching the game, my mother has managed to confuse the two of us.

Certainly, given his blond, close cropped hair, from a distance Billy and I look something alike. Could pass for brothers. Even if, in regard to our basketball skills and general athleticism, any and all similarities end there.

I should say something, but I do not. Just manage a wry smile. I decide that, in this instance, a case of mistaken identity is no bad thing.


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