Requiem for a Vernonburger

There are many good fathers who have thrown a game or two of basketball just to watch their child basking in the glory of victory.  Usually moments like this  create lasting memories, sometimes they come back to haunt us. This is a story about what happens when a benevolent spirit is taken for granted.

It all started in the summer of 2012, on a makeshift basketball court that was hastily assembled in front of fire station 31. The court was set on a hilltop that overlooked Bull Creek and the surrounding green belt. Lee Vernonburger, a fiery young competitor with a flare for the dramatic, had just bested me in a friendly game of 21. At the time I didn’t think much of it, just a simple game of ball between friends.  Sure, I pulled a few punches, let a couple of jumpers fall short but what’s wrong with letting the kid get a win for a change?

The moment we entered the kitchen  Lee’s mouth erupted in a series of taunts and jeers.  The classy gentleman I had known on the court had suddenly transformed into a drunken blowhard as soon as an audience was present.  Was I rattled by his outburst? Was I angered? Sure I was, but unfortunately I can’t say I was surprised.  It turns out not everyone possesed my ability to remain both humble and classy in victory.

In those days I was known on the court by two nicknames.  Sweet and Smokey or KC Masterpiece, both names described my game perfectly while also being two of my favorite BBQ sauces.  Lee was known simply as “The Leeasle” or as the ladies called him “Hey you in the bushes”.  When Lee approached me about a rematch I knew it was game on and time to put this Leeasle back in the bushes where he belonged.

When I arrived at work the next shift I was greeted by an extremely jovial Lee fully clad in an oversized Dirk Divinski jersey, bball shorts and brand new high top sneakers.  Lee’s mouth was running like a scatter gun, pieces of dried kale and Brussel sprouts spewing forth from his open pie hole. The game was to begin the moment equipment check and station business had concluded. A small crowd gathered near the hoop as people were arriving early to witness the riverbank showdown.

It was your standard game to 15, make it-take it, no blood-no foul, gotta win by two. Lee won the toss and started with the ball. After his lame attempt to charge the hole was denied, Lee tossed up a brick and watched as I crashed the boards and snagged the rebound.  That would be the last time Lee handled the ball that day.

The rest of the game was a blur of jump shots, finger rolls and broken dreams.  It was just after I had built up a comfortable 8-0 lead when a phantom injury brought Lee to his knees and brought a merciful end to my onslaught. Some have claimed that Lee was heard uttering the phrase “no mas” as he went down in the manner of Roberto Duran, succumbing to the pummeling of Sugar Ray Leonard.

Lee still claims to this day that he had broken a mysterious “sixth toe bone” in his right foot but medical professionals on scene were unable to verify the injury. In one of my typical showings of true class, I helped Lee to his feet and proceeded to carry his battered body and broken spirit back into the station.

The game became an instant classic and should have been just the beginning of a storied rivalry.  The problem is that the victory was too devastating, too one sided, it was a humiliating defeat that left both players feeling empty. I wanted to celebrate, I wanted to strut around the station rubbing Lee’s face in it like the cowering dog he was.  But alas it was your classic Pyrrhic victory, I may have won the day but in doing so I had destroyed a great man.

Never before have I spoken publicly about “the riverbank spank” but recent pressures have persuaded me to open up.  ESPN is currently working on a 30 for 30 production that will include a complete reenactment of the game. While Duane Johnson has already agreed to play my part, producers are still in talks with Paul Giamatti to play the part of Lee.  I’ll keep eveyone posted as things develop and leave you with the first single from the films upcoming soundtrack.


“Son of Jerry”


Tentative stars of upcoming film.

Dwayne Johnson as Jim


Paul Giamatti as Lee


Eugene Levy as Kent


Forrest Whitaker as Dennis


Prison tramp from MSNBC’s lockup as Bo.


Kevin James as Mike


Mittens as Brad



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