As a Cal student during the years between 96 and 00, I spent most of my free time playing pick up ball in the RSF. In many ways, the RSF was the center of my Cal universe, with many friendships developed or strengthened within its hallowed galleries. These days, the RSF holds an almost mythical place in my heart, for being the last great place where quality pickup basketball exists. Of course, having spent many hours therein, there are a plethora of stories to tell--some involve the now legendary athletes of that particular era, others involve everyday students and the drama that results from 10 guys playing shirts and skins.
So for those who are not familiar with the way the RSF courts are laid out, there are a total of 7 basketball courts in the RSF: 2 courts in the "Blue Gym", 2 courts in the "Gold Gym" and 3 in the Field House. Most games are played in the Field House, because often other activities like Women's b-ball practice (pre-Haas Pavilion) or Aerobics, rec V-ball/Badminton, or IM Indoor Soccer (which were all the scourge of RSF bball regulars...closing 2 courts so that 6 people can play badminton, or even the concept of IM soccer was asinine to us) occupied Blue, Gold, or both. The 3 courts in the field house are often labeled based on the competition level of each court. The Eastern-most court as "A", middle as "B" (or the NBA, Nothing But Asians), and western-most called "C" (or disparagingly called the Engineer's Court).
The first story I'd like to tell is a friend's. Like me, James was a 5'11" asian kid who spent all of his free time in gyms, loved the game, and played it with the grit, IQ, and hustle that a 5'11" 165 lb chinese power forward HAS to play the game to keep the bench warm on his HS varsity squad. He's the kind of player that takes pride in playing tough defense against bigger, stronger, more athletic competition--even during pickup games, which is my favorite quality in a basketball player. He was a B-court regular, who more than held his own amongst competition of similar athletic pedigree, but was skilled/coached enough to be a passable A court player.
One afternoon, playing on A court, James spots Tony Gonzales waiting in the queue to play "next." Top level Cal athletes playing pickup in the RSF stops being surprising quickly because it's relatively common, so aside from the general amazement that resulted from being in the physical presence of singular athletic god like Gonzo, he approached the upcoming game as just another game that he'd play as gritty as every other he played in that gym. As the next game began, he was struck with the grace and power with which Gonzales played the game, showing a deft touch in addition to world class athleticism. It was a stunning reality check for a mortal man.
At some point in the game, a long rebound leads to a fast break: 3 on 1 with James as the single defender. Gonzales is filling the left lane like a freight train with a rocket attached to it--and my friend already knows what's upcoming: Tony is going to take the bounce pass, elevate, and literally rip the backboard down on top of him. By instinct, or perhaps with the ghost of his JV basketball coach screaming in his mind's ears, James decides that he cannot accept this inevitability. No one gets a free pass in the lane: he's going to take the charge. He sidesteps and assumes the position, arms down, resigned to the forthcoming, ungodly collision that he's willing to endure to prevent the easy basket.
But as his coach's voice fades to black, and reason returns--James' understands the reality of the situation: there's no ref to call the offensive foul, and this is a 6'4", 245 lb mangod bearing down on him like lightning. At best, he'd be sent flying into the wall, with the opposing team retaining possession--at worst, he'd be sent flying through the wall as Gonzales scores at will. Reason wins out, and at the very last second James does his best to get out of the way. This is, of course, the worst possible course of action--because the result is Tony Gonzales, Mr. All-World Everything has a full head of steam and both feet off the ground, and has just been undercut playing a meaningless pickup game in the RSF and for all we know, could've ended the career of the NFL's greatest TE of all time before it actually began. Gonzales goes down very badly, falling to the floor in a twisted heap. James is sent flying into the wall. The entire gym gasps--the collision so violent that it was probably heard from the deepest basement classroom of Evans Hall, and the resulting, collective silence absolutely deafening.
Gonzales picks himself up off the ground, none the worse for wear, and still in disbelief at what has just happened. James is also standing, unsure of what to say to Tony, and manages to utter a completely inadequate, barely audible apology. A flicker of anger flashes in Gonzales' eyes, before it disappears and he says almost matter-of-factly, "Check ball up top."