📝 Words by Zach Baker
Saturday morning — or afternoon, rather — I woke up in a Hyatt Regency on King Street in downtown Toronto. My forehead had a lump. At the foot of the bed were yesterday’s blood-soaked socks. I read texts through one eye as I tongued a chipped front tooth that I swore was perfectly fine a day ago.
As a family, we moved every couple of years because my dad was a college basketball coach. He was an agent for a second, then coached the Harlem Globetrotters for two years, went on to scout for the NBA for a while, and now, he’s an assistant coach for the NBA G-League Ignite, a team without a hometown, constructed to serve the NBA’s development league and currently stationed in Henderson, Nevada. They had the most picks out of any single organization at this year’s NBA Draft. It’s kinda cool and pretty weird.
There’s a scene in Air Bud that has stuck with me since I was young, where after missing a pass mid-game, the title dog bursts into the gym to save the coach’s son. The father is yelling at the kid and pelting him with basketballs to teach him a lesson in ball handling. I knew plenty of versions of that kid. They were usually pretty good at basketball and also definitely really sad children. My dad allowed me to be as bad at basketball as I wanted, and I’m eternally grateful for that.
He probably could have battered me into being great, if not at least like, kinda good, but he didn’t, and I’m not, and that’s awesome. I opted for this silly wheeled stick that brings us to this website today. And it’s that same sandpaper dolly idiot plank brought much of the skateboarding world out to Toronto two weekends ago.
But like, did it? I, for one, would probably have turned down an invitation to attend and cover the spectacle of skateboarding’s elite seshing a bump to field goal, or quarterpipe-to-barn alone. I mean, I saw that shit too and it was pretty sick. I saw Mason Silva get completely annihilated on the goal post. Grant Taylor flew a million stories into the sky. It was incredible. I saw Nyjah skate for the first time in almost a decade; since I tried to interview Sinner at Street League, but instead just partied with Sinner at Street League.
But c’mon dog. I’ve been to so many goddamn skate events in my day, boy. Hoo-wee. Why I gotta go? Lui is gonna be there recapping the whole shit in real-time anyway. I gotta physically be there? Why? To network? Get lost!
Now…the Bunt Jam, offering a display of some my favorite skaters not only skating, but seriously engaged in a 3-on-3 tournament of basket…ball? We’re cooking with petrol now. That’s what I call entertainment.
I’d love for what follows to be some unbiased reportage, but sadly, my team lost the final game 11-8 so… sorry, but things are about to get real subjective in this bitch. Despite a personal disdain for Miami men’s pro basketball (minus James Butler [obviously]), I was asked to play for Andrew Skateshop with Elijah Odom, Rezza Honarvar, and Nick Katz. I said yes, and then of course, was terrified. I hadn’t played an organized game since I was, at most, eight years old, and as an adult, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t make a free throw with a gun to my head and/or lizards in my socks (?).
Before the game, I pursued joy in the form of Pat’s Homestyle Jamaican Restaurant, then walked over to Dunbat. The teams shot around for a bit while I hid in the rafters and drank Monster Energy, then Gary Rogers made the $1,000 (Canadian) half court shot, then Thrasher played Dime. Jake Johnson is really good at basketball. He has a keen defensive eye, is as graceful as you’d hope, and has a pretty fantastic jumpshot. Davis Torgerson is a studied point guard with great handles and an eye for ball movement. James Hardy was draining threes and Jake Anderson is as formidable an opponent as I’ve seen. Gary Rogers is… well. Let’s just say I’ll have nightmares about guarding Gary Rogers for a long, long time.
I swear the Andrew boys and I thought we had it all figured out. We were up in the stands commenting on how other teams misused court space, wasted energy, ignored obvious passing opportunities, etc. Then we got down there, and after two possessions I thought I was going to die. In Ontario of all places! We played Blue Tile and they were good I think, I can’t remember. I was just focused on like… oxygen or whatever, getting the ball away from someone or to someone, or maybe sometimes laying it up, which I’m pretty sure I did at least once. I think I’m a strong defensive player, or Connor Neeson made me feel like I was. But Elijah and Rezza played marvelously. They had chemistry and played tough throughout. If memory isn’t out of order, Rezza made a number of really clutch jump shots and we won. Unbelievable.
We rested for like seven seconds and played Thrasher in the semifinals. No recollection again, really. I feel like we got some steals. Will Marshall gave me some of a cigarette. I know Gary Rogers was sinking some really deep threes and also was doing a great job of getting in my head. This is rude because I think that I actually really like and respect Gary Rogers, but at the time, I manifested him to be Kevin Garnett or, in other words, a cold and ruthless opponent. Luckily, Eli and Rezz were making buckets and we won that one too.
In the finals against the reigning champion Bunt team, we met our match. It was the most physical of the three games by far, and we left it all on the court. They got ahead early and ran some well-executed offensive plays. I tried with all my being to defend Cephas and couldn’t. I dove for loose balls and tried kicking it out to my open teammates. I think I blocked Cephas once… but to what end? Donovan and Lesly were just as unflinching, just as powerful. The Ghost, their alternate, was basically the Manu Ginobli of skateboard podcast DJs. If you run back the game-winning play, you’ll see me face down on the court–battered and broken. An utter failure.
I didn’t expect to make it very far, but to fly as close as we did to sporting glory only to come in second place was surprisingly crushing. To my Miami teammates, I’m sure there was a bitter parallel drawn between that fateful night and the Heat’s finals run in June. I now know heartbreak. The only solace in any of it is knowing that I don’t suffer alone, that my teammates must also bear that weight. I know now too that to suffer as a unit is to gain wisdom as a unit. It is to build character — as a team. Oh, and the Bunt gave us their prize money. That was some chill solace too.
I don’t remember really what happened after that. I accepted a Beamer or two, our opponent’s proprietary beer label, then waddled back to the telly. As stated, awakening on Saturday morning, or, afternoon rather, felt fucking psychotic. Then I remembered that all the people I played basketball against had to skate a three-story barn with Nyjah in a couple hours.
And that, my peter pushers, is what I mean when I say action sports entertainment. Gone are the days of the Boom Boom Huck Jam. It’s 2023 and it’s getting intramural. I’m trying to see Kader on ice skates. Lance on the balance beam. Save your full cabs for the fuckin’ Insta reel. Hold that. I can go down to Blue Park to see some sponsored motherfucker skate a kicker. If I’m getting my backpack searched and plopping my ass down on a bleacher, I better see some motherfucking SPORT. The Bunt Jam was something fresh, something different. Something truly unique. You can bet your last toony or whatever that I’ll be in some Rec Specs and a mouthguard next year ready to break some fucking ankles.