Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Injuring Time: The First Thing a Sportsman Learns Is How to Hurt Others

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Injuring Time: The First Thing a Sportsman Learns Is How to Hurt Others

Article excerpt

One of the things I was taught at my basketball club was how to injure people. Our manager, a guy called Kampf--an otherwise decent man, a father of two girls, and a worried, affectionate husband; his only vice, so far as I could tell, was a disproportionate devotion to the game he coached-told us to press up against the backs of opposing rebounders by dipping our knees into the crooks of theirs. They won't be able to jump, he pointed out, if they can't straighten their legs. Besides, it isn't illegal--even if, as sometimes happens, a player can rupture his Achilles heel trying to jump without his knees. "Let's not use this in practice" was his only (smiling) warning.

Another time, Johnny, the star of our team, taught me how to "throw an elbow". We were scrimmaging and he'd just caught me in the face with one of his own. Johnny never missed a chance to impart a lesson. What he had done, he explained, wasn't illegal; it was a question of plausibility. If you just lash out at someone, the ref will whistle you for it. The trick is this: start with your elbows high, and then spin round. If you happen to catch someone, whose fault is that? The ref can't be sure of your intention. Besides, you've got a right to turn round ...

It was an elbow that did for me, in the end--not Johnny's, though he played his part in it, too. He'd been riding one of our team-mates pretty hard all season, a fat lazy giant of a German, whom we all called Big Country. Big Country was the kind of player guys like Johnny, with dreams of better things and higher leagues, hated to play with--unathletic, unimpassioned, a basketball pro by virtue of cliche: he had taken up the sport because he was tall. Big Country was a constant reminder to Johnny of the company he kept, and Johnny, enormously more gifted, made him pay for it. …

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