In Search of a Nemesis

vector4dzCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2008

      "I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion."

        Jack Kerouac

     I don't have a nemesis right now.  I think to have a fully satisfying life one needs a good nemesis.  Now, I'm not talking about an enemy.  I probably have a few of those.  A nemesis is something altogether different and more important, more akin to a rival, something like a love/hate relationship.  A person who's life parallels your own but surpasses it in subtle yet infuriating ways.  It's even better if this person is very nice and in no way deserves the bitterness and enmity you feel towards them, the guilty pleasure you take in their failures.  This is such a common and necessary part of life that Germans have a word for it, "schadenfreude" which translates as "taking pleasure in the misfortune of others."  That's how it translates but it is an inadequate description.

    The reverse is also true with a nemesis, and probably more important.  I think it was Oscar Wilde who said "Every time a friend succeeds I die a little."  Or maybe it was Woody Allen.  Regardless, inner conflict and guilt make life worth living.

    I had a nemesis in high school, a couple actually. One was for sports and girls. another for school.  This made things kind of awkward because while each individual nemesis would surpass me in their specific category I could always rationalize that I could dominate them in the area outside their specialty.  It weakened their hold over me.

    College was different.  I lacked a nemesis because I was going through a distinctly non-competitive phase of my life.  This was due in large part to chemicals, reggae and the fact that I was in California.  It's hard to have the energy for a nemesis when it's 78 degrees every day and you're burning incense and listening to Bob Marley.

    But aahhhh med school!  That was nemesis heaven.  You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a nemesis there.  It was like they were breeding them.  We studied together while secretly hoping for the other guy to tank so we could bump up a notch in class rank.  Constantly tried to upgrade girlfriends. Pretended like we didn't have to work to maintain our grades.  Good Times!

    Things have been lean since then, what with adulthood and all.  But a new guy moved in down the block about six months ago and I've had my eye on him.  I think he's perfect.  Friendly, accomplished.  His house and yard are better than mine.  He has pets and children.  He's a doctor too but he's a CARDIOLOGIST.  He has charity events at his house.  His wife is WAY better looking than anything that wanders through my place.  The cops never go to HIS place because the neighbors hear weird sounds. He is always jogging or biking around.  In fact, he may be TOO GOOD to be my nemesis.  I may just have to run up to him, push him to the ground and run away.

    We need a good nemesis for Arkansas basketball.  Kentucky will do for a team but I'm talking about a player, someone that we know and love/hate, someone like Penny Hardaway.

    I have to say a few things first.  The 1993 basketball team is my favorite all-time team.  Even more so than the '78 team or the national title team.  After '92 I was convinced our run was over.  I thought Day, Mayberry and Miller were a once in a dozen years miracle and we wouldn't see that sort of talent again.  Before '93 I loved Nolan.  After '93 I worshipped him.

    It actually happened in late '92, the first game of the year, I think, but I'm not sure.  We opened with Memphis State, the same Memphis State team that had bounced our great MayDay team in the second round of the NCAAs about 8 months before.

    Memphis State was our nemesis as a team and Penny Hardaway was our nemesis as a player and man was he beautiful to watch.  If you don't remember that time we were in a horrible spot.  Memphis had a top ten team, virtually everybody back from an Elite Eight squad.  Penny was a junior (I think) and they had a 6'10" kid named David Vaughn who was a sophomore who had KILLED us in the tourney as a freshman and looked like he was going to be a big time pro.

    On the flip side we had lost just about everything.  We had Darrel Hawkins back, but he had never been anything but a role player.  Robert Shephard was back but he had been a disappointment the year before.  One of the missing elements that nobody talks about in the 2 seasons that followed the '89 final four trip was that we never found a replacement for Arlyn Bowers.  Nolan's schemes demanded a smaller, dogged defender that could occasionally stick a three.  That freed up Mayberry so he didn't have to guard the other teams point.  It was hoped that Shephard could  play that role as a juco transfer but he struggled.
    Clint McDaniel was looked to as someone that could make a leap but had never played a lot.  Corey Beck and Dwight Stewart were both juco transfers and we weren't sure what we were getting.  They were both from Memphis.  And Corliss was of course the major hope of that team as an incoming freshman but he had broken his foot in the preseason and nobody knew if he would be ready for the opener.

    So not only was our cupboard bare but Memphis State had beaten us twice in a row and they were now beating us for the best Memphis kids, Penny being the best example.  Because that was the thing, Penny should have been OURS.  We wanted him.  We followed him in high school.  At the time Memphis kids like Huery and Day were coming to US.  And Penny was the next guard in that evolution.  He was just that much better.  He should have been OURS.  It would have been SO PERFECT.

    But that is how you make a good nemesis.  And Penny was a great one.  He dominated the first half, along with Vaughn.  The hogs were tentative and confused and couldn't score to save their lives.  If Penny wanted a jumper he just rose up and shot.  On the break his vision was perfect and his passing deft.  He could finish way above the rim.

    Looking at the floor I just couldn't see where we were going to get points.  A kid named Roger Crawford came in and looked like he had a little heart and Corliss was doing okay.  But Dwight Stewart, who had been discussed as a possible replacement for Miller, came in and looked like a scared twelve year old with a hormone problem.  I thought at the time that he would NEVER be a player.

    At the half we were down something like 14 and it seemed like more.  I went outside to smoke with a friend at halftime and we were bitterly depressed.  We talked about how it was over, about how it was going to be a long season.  We also talked about Penny.

    I loved everything about Penny.  I even loved his name.  Anfernee Hardaway.  His first name was like some sort of phonetic spelling of an Ebonic mispronounciation.  EXCELLENT!  That is the stuff legends are made of.

    To this day Penny is the greatest basketball player I have ever seen in person and it's not really close.  And I have seen a lot of great ones.  I saw Bird but I was too young and too far away.  But he was better than the Triplets or Mayberry and Day.  Better than Olajuwan or Drexler or Shaq as college players.  Better than Ricky Pierce or Vinny Johnson or Terry Teagle.  Better than Alvin Robertson or Darrell Walker.  I'm not talking about what any of them became.  I'm talking about what they were in college.
    My father says that Sprewell was close to Penny but I wasn't there for that Bama game.  All I can tell you is what I saw.  Nolan compared him to Magic, Bird and Jordan.  At that age there really was nothing else to compare him to.  He was actually a combination of those three.  He nearly had the size of Magic and Bird.  He was about 6'7".  His passing was just a step below those two.  His athleticism and penetration was way above either of them and just below Jordan.  His shot was soft and natural and not as good as Bird but way better than Magic and a little better than Jordan.  He could do EVERYTHING and he was unselfish and he saw the floor and he could bury the three.  He wasn't a great defender but if had played for Nolan he would have been.

    In the end a million variables determine how good a player will become.  How hard they work and whether their bodies hold up being two big factors.  I have no idea how hard Penny worked.  But his incredible body betrayed him just a couple years into the pros and it is truly sad.  He was something to see.  He was what you want from a nemesis.

    I decided to use what might at first appear to be my weaknesses in my battle against the cardiologist.  I am a sad, lonely, pathetic bachelor.  And what are sad, lonely, pathetic bachelors good at?  Exactly.  Stalking via the internet.  While he was helping the poor and homeless or showing his wife and children how much he loved them, I would be digging through the binary minutiae of his life.  We would see who was the better man.

    First I checked the registered sex offenders  list for his name.  No luck.  It didn't prove anything as he could be breaking the law and not registering but even I have limits to how many state databases I'm willing to go through out of mere spite (4 it turns out).  I turned my attention to published papers and court cases which of course led to his med school divorce and child custody dispute.  A quick look at his phone number led me to his previous addresses and current occupants of those addresses and I found his ex-wife and a daughter.  Life is so simple some times.

    Date the ex-wife - as long as she isn't too much of a chubster.

    The second half was a different story.  I'm not sure what Nolan said to those guys but as far as I'm concerned he saved the program in that locker room.  Well, the fact that David Vaughn blew out his knee in the second half and ruined his career to the extent that I don't think he ever started another game helped a little.  Corliss looked great, if out of shape, in the second half.  But at some point he re-injured his foot.

    Somewhere around the 10 minute mark we became the team we would be for the next 2 years.  Scotty Thurman, an unheralded recruit, hit a big shot or two.  Roger Crawford buried a huge three.  Robert Shephard was an ANIMAL as he would be the rest of the season.  He was a steal MACHINE.  Nobody slapped the ball and hands like Corey Beck, Robert Shephard and Clint McDaniel.  At one point Memphis State just folded and quit.  (Yes the great Penny had a touch of quit in him.  That's why he should have come to play for US.  He would've become a winner.)

    The National Title team was born that day.  The one moment in the second half that stands out the most came early.  I still didn't know what to think of Beck.  He seemed kind of slow and maybe a little fat to me.  He didn't shoot it and I wasn't sure what he brought to the table.  Memphis always had one, sometimes two guys that were 6'5" muscled jumping jacks that could dunk but nothing else.  They could rebound a little but were horrible shooters and mediocre defenders.  They played more on their potential than anything else.  Two or three times a game this guy would get an offensive rebound and throw it off the backboard so hard it wouldn't even draw iron.  Think Larry Marks.  Corey Beck was guarding that guy in the second half and they were talking smack back and forth.  I figured it was the usual Memphis stuff.  But the Hogs were way down and had just got stuffed again and the dude was talking and talking.  So there was a break in the action for a second and the guy wasn't paying attention and Corey just walked up coolly and racked him.  Punched him hard right in the 'nads.  The guy bent over and Corey bent over with him and whispered something in his ear.  The refs missed it.  Everybody missed it.  The guy never fought back and was quiet the rest of the game.  He folded just like his team.  It was a Godfather moment.  I've loved Corey Beck ever since.

     I always saw him as the manhood of Arkansas Basketball.  The manhood we lost when Todd Day took that weak swing at Larry Johnson.  And that game was the manhood of Arkansas Basketball.  When we crushed our nemesis.

    My nemesis was out cutting his grass.  His two little boys were playing in battery powered jeeps.  A beautiful 3 or 4 year old girl was playing on a swing set fancy enough to be in a park.  The beautiful wife was trimming hedges.  She was wearing shorts and had the body of a tennis pro.

    I had checked out the ex-wife and found out she currently lived with a husky companion named Becca who wore cologne so my chances didn't look good.  I was jogging by the cardiologist's house and my white and nearly hairless legs were blinding oncoming traffic.  I was being taunted by guys in trucks as they drove by and my wind was so short I thought I would throw up at any moment.  It was a beautiful Arkansas spring day.  It smelled of honeysuckle and insecticide, fresh cut grass and dead squirrel.

    I spied the happy cardiologist out of the corner of my blurring vision.  I thought of Corey Beck.  Somewhere I found a burst of energy and sprinted towards the heart man.  He looked at me with bulging eyes as I gently pushed him.  He tottered like a weeble then fell to the ground as I scurried back to my home.

    I might need to find a new nemesis.  I think this one is going to file charges.



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