|Posted by doktakra on October 18, 2011 at 11:25 AM|
With no NBA Summer League or preseason games on tap, I’ve resorted to honoring players’ birthdays on Twitter with some of their best (or worst) highlights or cheesy commercials. Since New Jersey native and NBA journeyman Anthony Avent was born on October 18, I’ve decided to commemorate him with the story of how I met him 16 years ago.
As a kid, there was nothing I loved more about summer than going to my camp in Union, NJ. I didn’t care about arts-and-crafts projects, swimming classes or field trips to the mall – all I ever wanted to do was sneak out to play basketball with anyone who’d happen to be on the courts.
On occasion, random NBA role players who lived in the area, including former New Jersey Nets Tate George and Chris Gatling, dropped by the facility to practice during the offseason. Most of the time, they’d quietly work out with a trainer on a side basket and bolt before any eager campers would catch wind of the fact that NBA players were in the building.
One day, when my friends and I were about to play a quick pick-up game, we noticed a freakishly tall, muscular player stretching on the sidelines. Since the Shaquille O’Neal and “Penny” Hardaway-led Orlando Magic were one of the league’s most popular and televised teams, I quickly recognized that it was backup forward Anthony Avent.
We watched as he picked up a ball and began shooting from just outside the three-point line on the right baseline. Swish. Swish. Swish. We stood in awe as Avent made all but one out of a dozen long-range bombs and moved on to shoot from the top of the key with the same results. It would’ve been incredible had we been watching a shooting clinic put on by Steve Kerr or Reggie Miller, but Anthony Avent? I would’ve never expected him to have been so accurate at the time, and looking at his statistics now, Avent’s NBA career field goal percentage (40.3%) is actually the eighth-worst for a big man in the last 50 years (minimum 300 games played). Yet, there he was, drilling hundreds of uncontested 25-foot jumpers as if they were lay-ups.
I considered myself to be a good basketball player at time, and despite being a five-foot tall Jewish kid with glasses so think they would’ve made Steve Urkel blush, I dreamed of making it to the NBA. But seeing a fringe player like Avent effortlessly knock down shots made me realize just how extremely talented even the so-called worst professionals truly are.
When Avent finished practicing after making what seemed like a thousand baskets, I gathered the nerve to approach him to challenge him to a shooting contest.
“Mr. Avent, um, can I play with you?”
He turned to me, chuckled, and shook his head. “Nah, I don’t get down like that.”
My friends broke out in laughter before I even realized that Avent made an immature, and in hindsight, very inappropriate joke at my expense. I felt like I’d just been humiliatingly turned down by the girl I liked at a middle school dance (which also happened that year, by the way).
His questionable sense of humor aside, Avent turned out to be very pleasant, signing my Kings hat that’s still sitting somewhere in my parents’ attic (funny enough, he’d briefly play for Sacramento a few years later). I don’t remember if I ever did get my chance to exact revenge by beating him in a game of HORSE or if that was just a daydream. I just know that from that day forward, I vowed to become a better shooter than Avent and work even harder on making it to the NBA (still working on that one) and make sure to use better wording when challenging someone to a basketball game.
Happy 42nd birthday, Anthony.