Dr. James is finally getting his DAP.
The inventor of basketball did not invent the game in Canada but he did grow up in the Ottawa Valley. In Almonte.
The wee town of Almonte is just a pit stop.
Like a lot of towns in The Valley they have adopted their own version of that lovely Valley patois. “Oi’m frem de valley eh?”
“How’s she doin’ and where in fock ya’ goin’ bud?”
I grew up in the smoke, smack dab in the middle of Nepean. We didn’t talk anything like the people in Smiths Falls, Almonte, Perth, Carleton Place, Vankleek Hill, Hawkesbury and Cornwall. But we loved to mock that delicious and infernal accent. I spent a lot of time in all of those towns because I put myself through University reffing basketball – and working at Brewers Retail. I did about 15 to 20 games a week, reffing high school, men’s league and college ball.
I loved going to Almonte, because they were the smallest of the Valley schools and they played in a bandbox with three centre lines. See, the flor was so small that the actual centre of the gym was too damn constricting to run an offence with 10 big bodies.
So, once the ball crossed centre the back over line – or frontcourt – reverted to another line about 20 feet away from the real centre line.
Confusing? Just picture a gym that was lined out like a hockey rink with a red line and two blue lines. You got ten seconds to cross the red line but once you’re over the new centre line is the far blue line.
I always thought it almost improbably ironic that the town responsible for fathering the founder of the game of basketball would own a gym like that. Some of these kraft cheese-box venues are cute. Not this one. It was a war zone. Most of that due to Almonte High’s penchant for promoting 5’10” 250 pound farm boys and pseudo klutzes – wearing black sox and Chuck Taylor shoes – to the starting centre position.
An Almonte coach once explained it to me thus: “Gav look at that kid. Dumb as a bag of hammers, can’t walk and chew tobacco, but put him on this miniature court and he’s like Bill Russell.”
“Coach I couldn’t agree more,” I’d say, slapping him on the back.
“If Bill Russell was a slow, uncoordinated, can’t jump, no account, brush-cutted white farm boy with some serious anger issues, I think you’ve cracked it. Otherwise? Jeezuz coach you’re out of your hay-baling mind.”
The last part of course was said to my officiating partner on the way home.
They loved me in Almonte. In that I would try to let them play. They had two guards that could play carom passes off the wall to a streaking teammate. The ball would go off the wall and around a pressing defender just like Gretzky used to feed Kurri on the wing off the boards.
Trouble was? The wall is out of bounds in basketball.
When I’d whistle one of these comely gems down?
Raining abuse would fall like Katrina from the upper deck in the Almonte gym. The seats were up in the balcony on one side of the gym.
“Gavan you stink buddy. Eh?”
And I’d just smile. As the insults rained down from on high. Because you gotta admit. When the fans go to the trouble of learning your name? That’s dedication to cause baby. In my 10 or so years reffing in the valley, I grew on the fans and they grew on me.
We had this love-hate thingy going.
I remember that I was reffing the red and white Canadian National team game at Carleton University and my girlfriend – now ex-wife – came back with this story from the stands.
Apparently she was seated right in front of the Almonte senior boys team. And as I was introduced to the crowd in the packed Raven’s Nest she heard the following.
“Look, that’s Gavan fer chrissakes. Bastard. What’s he doin’ here?”
And then she said she heard the following. And she looked back and noticed that when this kid spoke the seven guys all turned to listen.
“He’s here because he’s the best ref in the valley. I’m graduating this year, and you guys treat him with respect when he’s back next year. He knows the game and he’s honest and that’s why he’s here.”
Maureen looked back to see seven or eight heads nodding in unison. I’ve had compliments on my reffing from some pretty hefty sources in my day. But that one is still my favorite. Because I know the kid who said it. Self-effacing, smart, heady and not the best ballplayer you’ll ever see. But honest to a fault. He’s a successful lawyer today in Ottawa.
So that is my fondest memory of Almonte. Second hand, delivered with love. The second favorite memory of my Almonte? My first visit to Dr. James’s birthplace.
We digress. CBC reports that they’ve finally popped some DAP to the gentle inventor of the peach basket conundrum.
A larger-than-life statue of the inventor of basketball is set to be unveiled in James Naismith’s home town this weekend, a task which took two years for one man to see reach fruition.
The bronze statue, which is one-and-a-quarter sizes bigger than Naismith, will be unveiled in Almonte, Ont. on Saturday — the birthplace of the man responsible for inventing one of the world’s most popular sports.
The commemoration comes more than 100 years after Naismith laid the foundations for the present-day game.
Having the statue erected in the Ottawa valley town was the work of Allen Rae, president of the Naismith Basketball Foundation.
“It’s a long-held dream. I’m very biased in terms of the impact that basketball has on the world. It seems to be the one thing that can still bring people together,” he told CBC.
Although the first game of basketball was played in December, 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and is hugely popular in the United States, Allen still maintains that the game holds firm its Canadian beginnings.
“We try to educate as many people, especially young Canadians, that the game was invented by a Canadian, albeit in Springfield, Massachusetts,” he said. “There are very few games that have been invented by a Canadian, especially one so popular as basketball.”
The sculpture was crafted by U.S. sculptor Elden Tefft, at a cost of about $50,000.
A similar one was unveiled at Springfield College last year.
Good on Almonte.
And thank you James for keeping me entertained and in shape for the last 57 or so years of my hardscrabble life.
And? We know, we know Dr James.
And apologize for that other James.
You know the insufferable twit who calls himself the king?
He’s just another pretender and petit demigod.
With narcissistic tendencies.
You sir. Are the real King.