Takes Enemy

1.

In the dark I still line up the seams of the ball to the form of my fingers. I see the rim, the follow-through, the arm lifted and extended, a pure jump shot with a clean release and good form. I see the long-range trajectory and the ball on a slow backspin arcing toward the hoop, the net waiting for the swish. A sweet jumper finds the mark, a feeling of completion and the chance to be face-to-face, not with the mundane, but with the holy.

2.

In Montana, high school basketball is a thing as strong as family or work, and when I grew up Jonathan Takes Enemy, a member of the Apsáalooke (Crow) Nation, was the best basketball player in the state. He led Hardin High, a school with a years-of-losing tradition, into the state spotlight, carrying the team and the community on his shoulders all the way to the state tournament, where he averaged forty-one points per game. He created legendary moments that decades later are still mentioned in state basketball circles, and he did so with a force that made me both fear and respect him. On the court nothing was outside the realm of his skill: the jump shot, the drive, the sweeping left-handed finger roll, the deep fade-away jumper. He could deliver what we all dreamed of, and with a venom that said don’t get in my way.

I was a year younger than Jonathan and playing for an all-white school in Livingston when our teams met in the divisional tournament, and he and the Hardin Bulldogs delivered us a crushing seventeen-point defeat. At the close of the third quarter with the clock winding down and his team with a comfortable lead, Takes Enemy pulled up from one step in front of half-court and shot a straight, clean jump shot. Though the range of it was more than twenty feet beyond the three-point line, his form remained pure. The audacity and raw beauty of the shot hushed the crowd. A common knowledge came to everyone: few people can even throw a basketball that far with any accuracy, let alone take a real shot with good form. Takes Enemy landed, and the ball was in the air as he turned, no longer watching the flight of the ball, and began to walk back toward his team bench. The buzzer sounded, he put his fist high, the shot swished into the net. The crowd erupted.

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