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Commentary

If I only had Bob Lanier's feet

 A St. Bonaventure University 1968-1969 yearbook photo of Bob Lanier, who went on to become one of the most legendary NBA players of all time.
Wikimedia Commons
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1969 St. Bonaventure University student yearbook
A St. Bonaventure University 1968-1969 yearbook photo of Bob Lanier, who went on to become one of the most legendary NBA players of all time.

Happiness comes in all sizes. Long ago and far away, a 15-year-old gym rat fresh from another day on the basketball courts was convinced that happiness looked a lot like a 6-foot-11, 250-pound Motor City giant named Bob Lanier, whose size 22 sneakers would have put Big Foot to shame.

Lanier died recently at the age of 73 after a storybook NBA career in Detroit on his way to a permanent shrine in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. But to me, he will be forever young and forever locked in oversized toe-to-toe combat with the basketball immortals of my youth: Wilt Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond, Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

I envied Lanier — his graceful hook shot and deadly mid-range jumper. But most of all I envied those legendary feet. Several seasons riding the bench in high school were enough evidence that I would never soar above the rainbow to the basketball Oz I imagined.

If I only had the feet.

Oh, the feats those feet could perform – propelling me beyond the reach of my gob-smacked opponents.

Yet despite my importuning, my feet would — well— just stand there, stubbornly clinging to a lowly size 11, as I dribbled into adulthood still fantasizing of the marvels I could perform with double the shoe power.

Today I live in Springfield where I can visit Bob Lanier’s bronze shoes in the Basketball Hall of Fame the way Dorothy might spot her ruby slippers in some forgotten corner of a closet.

It’s been a long time since I donned a basketball jersey and hoop-dreamed of the 11 sizes between me and Bob Lanier. Yet I'm reminded of them each time I walk past a crowded asphalt court and imagine the boys — and now the girls — dreaming of the game-winning shot that swishes through the basket as the clock nears zero and the crowd roars.

Do they wonder — I wonder — does happiness lie inside a size 22 sneaker? Or do they know as I know now that the only shoes they can really fill are their own.

Robert Chipkin writes and lives in Springfield. He recently published a collection of columns he wrote for The Republican titled "Paws to Remember."

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