I’ve been a skier since the age of three, so it’s frustrating to sit inside and watch a blizzard here in the flatlands of the Chesapeake Bay, rather than being out on the slopes or the trails. But, a 25-inch dump is good reason to do some serious writing. I am working on my second memoir — the working title: Cowboy from Prague — which deals with my life in the U.S. after coming here from Czechoslovakia at the age of 13.
This snowy weekend, I am working on a chapter titled “A Life-Altering Scandal.” It deals with my love affair with the sport of basketball. Although my high-school coach in New Jersey wasn’t enamoured with me or my play, I managed to do well enough in various summer and semi-professional leagues to attract interest among some college coaches. In those days, some of the best basketball in the country was being played in the New York metropolitan area. NYU, CCNY, LIU, St. John’s, and Manhattan College were national powerhouses. I dreamed of playing for one of them.
But, then it all came crashing down. Players from those schools — as well as others from Kentucky and Bradley — were implicated in a gambling scandal. They had been taking bribes from big-time gamblers to shave points such that final scores would be within established point spreads. I was heartbroken — and my dream was dead.
Then, one day, I happened to pick up a copy of my parents’ Life magazine. I opened it to a two-page spread. The left page was headlined, “Basketball at its Worst,” and it showed some of my former heroes in handcuffs, being led off to a courtroom. The right page was headlined, “Basketball at its Best.” It had a photo of a stern-looking man named Henry Iba, accompanied by several action shots of his Oklahoma A&M Aggies. I read about the school and its squeeky-clean program, and my dream was restored. This time, it was a dream of one day playing for the man known to everone as Mr. Iba.
Thanks to the point-shaving scandal, and to having been lucky enough to pick up my parents’ magazine, my life was altered forever. I did play for Mr. Iba, and today I “bleed orange” as a proud alumnus of Oklahoma State University — formerly Oklahoma A&M College.