Prior to being expelled from the team and subsequently the school for stealing Coach’s cell phone, deleting all of his contacts to conceal the stolen item, then turning around and selling said stolen phone to another player, Delonta was a college basketball teammate of mine.

Delonta was no taller than 5’6″ with shoes. He was, by all means, an unlikely candidate for the sport, particularly on a roster of towering trees on the hardwood. However, Delonta had freakish athletic ability evident in his lateral quickness, vertical jump, and uncanny ability to create sufficient space between him and the defender, which allowed him ample time to get off the open shot. He was a sharp shooter who lived mostly behind the 3-point arc, but once inside the paint lived predominantly above the rim gliding by and above defenders over a foot taller.

He had a shiny head that he shaved regularly, a bright smile, and hands the size of our starting center, Stanford, who was well aware of Delonta’s pilfering past and prior misdemeanor convictions.

“Keep a close eye,” Stanford had said when Delonta appeared through the double-doors on the first day of tryouts.

After Delonta made the roster and our first away game scheduled, I was in Coach’s office shooting the breeze about our potential for the season when Stanford moseyed in through the door. He folded his giant body into the lone chair beside me in Coach’s office. He slouched a bit, positioned his elbow on his knee, and propped his face in his hand.

“Coach,” Stanford said, “I don’t care if the locker room door is bolted shut with a logging chain and a 5-inch thick padlock, I’m not leaving my shit in the open for sticky fingers to snatch. I’m telling you Coach, your golden boy is a thief and will pick the pocket of more than just the opposing player.”

Coach was The Redeemer in a way. He was all about second chances. No one was flawed in his opinion, only misguided, and could be put back on the straight and narrow with the proper mentor—someone who could identify the struggles of the individual and help them overcome it. One way of doing that was to be part of a team, an interconnected group of individuals whose success depended on the whole of the team and not on one individual. It was a way for a kid turned sour to turn good again. He could play basketball as well as earn his degree, and with an education came a better future and more open doors.

“I’ll pay close attention,” Coach responded, trying to appease Stanford. “But give him a chance, will you? People change.”

Stanford rose, sort of shook his head a little and unwillingly agreed to give Delonta the benefit of the doubt—for Coach’s sake.

For the short time I knew Delonta, he was a likeable guy and could tell a story with the best of them. On our third road trip that season, Stanford sat in the back of the bus with his headphones in, nodding along to the music in his ears. His left leg was stretched out and straightened in the aisle.

The entirety of the team went through their pre-game road rituals.

Jerel began freestyling.

“I like that,” Chris said in response to Jerel’s freestyle before beginning his own.

Then Buck jumped in.

Then Juan.

Keshawn Pickens sat beside me and Bird Owen and Palmer to the right of us.

My ritual consisted of reading Larry Bird’s autobiography, Drive, every road trip—a habit that, more than anything, grew out of superstition.

“I think you’d appreciate this,” Coach had said to me, handing me the book prior to one of our away games.

That night I went out and scored 19 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, and dished out eight assists in a win. Therefore, as a rule of superstition, it became a necessity to read Drive every trip while twiddling a crumpled Dennis Rodman trading card between my fingers for hours on end as I read.

Delonta initiated his road ritual that day, a ritual that would only last approximately two more games before being banished from the basketball team for good.

“I have a story,” Delonta began. He licked his lips and rubbed his thumb against his heavy eyebrow, a habit of his that accompanied the onset of a brief narrative.

“When I was in first grade, I was a good speller,” he started. “So I’m standing up there in front of the school in the auditorium. The year-end Spelling Bee. The Big Finale. It’s just me and another kid. We’re the only two left. Everybody else has been knocked out. Kids sitting down, still crying ’cause they missed a word ten minutes ago. One boy had to be picked up and carried offstage by two people because he was so upset he lost. Me and this other kid are going back and forth; the judges trying to make one of us slip up. My moms is in the front row, smiling. Proud of me.”

“‘Bicycle,’ the judge says.”

“‘B-I-C-Y-C-L-E,’ I respond. My moms gives a big thumbs up.”

“‘Hydrant,’ another judge follows.”

“‘H-Y-D-R-A-N-T,’ the other boy spells.”

“We’re neck and neck. It goes on like this for a solid two-three minutes. Neither of us falters.”

Delonta pauses. Jerel has stopped freestlying, as have Chris and Buck. All eyes are on Delonta except Stanford. He’s still in the back of the bus. Sleeping. Leg stretched out.

“Then the judge says, ‘Crayon.’ My smile gets this big.”

Delonta smiles from ear to ear.

“You stupid,” Bird says to him, laughing.

“So I’m thinking, ‘I got this Bee.’ This kid doesn’t have a chance. I’m taking home the gold today. ‘Crayon,’ I respond. ‘C-R-A-,'”

Delonta pauses again.

“‘C-R-A-Y-O-‘”

“I’m picturing my crayons in my hand, coloring. My favorite color green. I’m smiling. I’m gonna win the Spelling Bee. My moms is smiling. Everybody in the auditorium has their attention focused on me. The principal is looking at me. My teacher.”

“‘C-R-A-Y-O-L-A, Crayon.'”

“‘I’m sorry, Delonta,’ the judge says. ‘That is incorrect.'”

“‘C-R-A-Y-O-L-A,’ I spell out again.”

“‘I’m sorry, Delonta.’ He looks at the other kid as if to give him a chance to spell it.”

“‘Crayon. C-R-A-Y-O-L-A. Crayon,’ I say, crying. My moms is up from her seat, walking hurriedly toward the steps to the stage. The principal is nodding his head at the assistant principal. The auditorium is in complete silence. The kid who had been crying for ten minutes because he spelled a word wrong ten minutes ago has stopped crying. He’s looking at me.”

“‘That’s how they spell it on the box,’ I say to the judge.’That’s how they spell it on the box!'”

“At this point, my mom has whisked me from the stage and taken me behind the curtain. Her hand is over my mouth. My feet are dragging the ground.”

“‘Crayon,’ I hear the other kid say, ‘C-R-A-Y-O-N, Crayon.'”

“I’m throwing a temper tantrum, protesting to my mom and telling her they are cheating. My mom is whipping my ass behind the curtain. And everybody’s clapping for the other kid who just won the spelling bee.”

Less than a month after telling this story, Delonta was expelled from the team after Coach’s cell phone went missing and was traced to another player on the team who it had been sold to. Whether or not Delonta’s failed attempt at winning the coveted Spelling Bee championship in 1st grade after being robbed of the crown on account of corporate branding and product monopolization was the result of his descent into a life of crime and kleptomania is anyone’s guess.

Nevertheless, his theft did result in his banishment from the basketball team for good; and though Delonta may have been a kleptomaniac, it was never suspected he was a pathological liar and had made up the Spelling Bee story. Stanford would later transfer on scholarship to an apprentice school in Norfolk and be zapped by a high voltage of electricity while working as an apprentice in the shipyard. He would be okay.

Fin.



I’m being forced to play kickball. That’s right, forced. As in “have to” as in “no way around it” as in “do you really want to be out of a job in this economy?” Let me explain. My office is having a team-building activity (their motto: “You WILL have fun!”) and, in this case, team-building means a game of kickball (my motto: “I haven’t felt this nauseous since middle school P.E. class.”).

Here’s the problem: I am not an athlete. I don’t shoot hoops or sink putts or run around a football field trying to grab a yellow flag from someone’s Umbros. I’ve never asked someone to “play a little one-on-one” or “shoot the 8-ball,” and I’ve never, to the best of my knowledge, uttered a sentence that contained the word “pigskin.” Hell, I don’t even watch sports on TV, unless of course, you count professional wrestling as a sport, which sadly, most people do not, choosing instead to think of it as a gigantic pimple on the butt of the TV screen, not unlike late night infomercials, and the dancing old man in those Six Flags commercials.

Bottom line: I’m just not a sports person. What’s more, there’s not a whole lot I can do to change that. You see, Sportsessence (a term derived from the Latin phrase Ix-nay on Sitting on your ass-nay and watching TV-nay) is actually a hereditable trait, much like handedness, tongue curling, and the ability to see a 3-D image in those posters of multi-colored, mish-mashed waviness. There are, however, plenty of people out there who have managed to inherit Sportessence. These are the folks who go jogging at 5 AM on a Saturday, and do things like participate in intramural sports for no reason other than, get ready for this one, THEY ENJOY IT! These are the same people who use that ridiculous piece of exercise equipment at the gym. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s where you sit down on the little seat, place your outer thighs against the sweaty pads and then spread your legs obscenely far apart, thereby feeling, not only “the burn,” but also quite the draft. These are the folks who, back when they were teeny, tiny cells, actually camped outside the Gene Dispensing Factory (at 5 AM on a Saturday) to ensure they received the coveted Sportessence gene.

I missed out on getting that gene. Probably because I was in the next building over, the Klutz Cafe, watching sitcoms and eating a pastrami sandwich. But Rob, you say, surely you learned some athletic skill after all those years of playing catch with your father! Ha ha! While my dad and I have certainly had our share of beautiful bonding moments (“And that, Son, is how you make an Egg Cream!”), “playing catch” was not one of them. Not that I blame him in any way. The complete lack of any and all athletic ability whatsoever among members of the Bloom family dates all the way back to 1896 when Stavros J. Bloom attempted to compete in the first Olympic games. Taken from Bloom family records, here is the actual transcript of a conversation held between Stavros and his track coach in April of 1896:

“Please-a pick-a me for the team-a, Coach!” Stavros said.

The coach frowned. “Your shoes are on backwards.”

So Stavros wasn’t chosen for the team, which truthfully, was probably for the best. Between his clubbed foot, frequent dizzy spells, and rare allergy to Oxygen, Stavros had no business being outdoors, let alone in a sporting event. This would prove to be consistently true for future generations of Blooms as well. Blooms and Sports just don’t mix. Especially during adolescence when you’re short, uncoordinated, and wear glasses with three inch-thick lenses. Welcome to my P.E. class at Rock Lake Middle School in Longwood, Florida.

I was always picked last for teams. Always. It didn’t matter what sport we were playing, either—I was last. The teacher would pick two team captains, guys with names like Travis or Conner or Austin or Colin; guys who were a foot taller than I, with biceps bigger than my thighs. What’s more, these boys had very cleverly made a deal with God (a huuuuuuge sports fan) because they’d already started going through puberty, meaning they had hair in places that I didn’t even have yet. For these guys, P.E. class was the reason they went to school every day, whereas I greeted each class with slightly less enthusiasm than I did a dental cleaning.

So the entire P.E. class would stand in a big group and the captains would pick different students to join their respective teams. Brown. Turner. Palmer. The chosen boys would jog over to their fellow teammates where they’d begin hi-fiving and slapping each other on the back. Young. Morris. Harris.One by one, my fellow classmates would get chosen. Stewart. Miller. Anderson. More names would get called while I stood there, uncalled, watching as the crowd around me got smaller.

“Okay, let’s play!” TravisConnerAustinColin would say.

“Hold up,” the teacher would reply with a snicker. “Nobody picked Robbie Bloom.”

Now while this sort of embarrassing event would actually happen MANY times over the years, there is one incident in particular stands out in my mind. In fact, this particular P.E. class was so awful that it solidly ranks as #2 on my “Horrifyingly Embarrassing, Wishing I Was Anyplace Else In the World, This Can’t Really Be Happening” Scale, coming in just a notch below #1: Performing the Tango in my college Ballroom Dancing class with Mauricio, who, in addition to being a hairy-chested Colombian man with a Village People moustache, was also the teacher.

I was standing alone in the middle of the baseball field, while my classmates stared at me like I had some dreaded disease. And then the debate started.

“C’mon, coach! I had Bloom last time!”

“Well I don’t want him! We won’t stand a chance!”

“Please don’t give me Bloom! He’s useless out there!”

The debate lasted nearly two more minutes before the teacher mercifully assigned me to a team, a decision that was met with mixed reactions (“Ha ha! You got stuck with Bloom!” or “Crap! We might as well not even play now!”).

Thankfully, I was placed in the outfield. This was perfectly fine by me because it meant I could stand all by myself, very, very, very far from the action. Seriously, my classmates were playing baseball and I was a zip code away. Now you’d think this would’ve been a comfortable enough distance to prevent me from suffering any additional humiliation, right? C’mon, that would’ve been a direct violation of the Klutz Code, which clearly states:

“regardless of the distance between the Klutz (referred to herein, henceforth and backwards as “Schmoe”) and the athletic activity taking place, Schmoe will always, without fail, find him/herself involved in a situation where Schmoe is called upon to perform an athletic feat. Naturally, this feat will be accomplished with disastrous results.”

And that’s exactly what happened. You see, in addition to being a big sports fan, God also has a tremendous sense of humor, which explains why, despite the fact that I was so deep into the outfield that I couldn’t even see the actual field without squinting, the ball went sailing through the air (in dramatic slow motion, with the Jaws theme playing) and came directly to me!

Good one, God.

So the ball came right to me and, of course, I didn’t catch it. I didn’t even come close. Instead, the ball landed on the ground and I went chasing after it, listening to the respective cheers and groans from the two teams, until I finally got to the ball and heaved it with all my might, sending it sailing triumphantly through the air… about ten feet before it dropped to the ground.

I ran to the ball and threw it again. It went another ten feet. So I chased it again. And threw again. Only this time I watched in despair as the ball, which now weighed 45 pounds, traveled a measly five feet. Several minutes and nearly a dozen throws later, the ball landed in the vicinity (read: a good quarter mile) of one of my teammates, who quickly scooped it up and threw it effortlessly to home plate—while still finding time to yell out, “Thanks for nothing, Bloom!”

Unfortunately, this type of thing was common as I grew up. However, as I got older, I realized that my lack of Sportsessence was actually OK. I mean, so what if I couldn’t catch a stupid baseball? Who cares if every time I went to bat, the other team chanted “Easy out! Easy out!” while the pitcher instructed his teammates to “Move in closer!” And does it really matter that one time in high school, when teams were chosen for a soccer game, I was picked last—behind Sam Tiffs, the kid with one leg? HELL NO!

Sure, I’ll agree that being good at sports does provide some advantages in life (“And so we made the deal right there on the golf course! 30 million, just like that!”), but c’mon, there are plenty areas of life where athleticism is not a prerequisite for success. Like being a mime, for example.

Besides, that stuff is ancient history. After a lifetime of obsessing over and reliving those moments from my childhood, I’m finally ready to let go of the past and start focusing on the present. Like this stupid office kickball game. And how I’m going to get out of it.