On the day of my biggest junior varsity basketball game of the season, my mother went into labor with my brother John. No one in my family knew much about Down syndrome. I was 15 at the time, and I don't think that I had ever met anyone with Down syndrome. It was a reality-shock to us - my mother wasn't just going to have a baby at 40, but she was going to have one with special needs.
Almost nine years after that JV basketball game, John and I stood on the cement of my grandparents' driveway (my childhood basketball court). "Play ba-ketball," John said. He left out the "s" when he pronounced certain words, but he had repeated this phrase often enough for me to understand him perfectly. John's favorite sport was basketball " my mother did, after all, go into labor during one of my games. "You Le-bon James, I Dw-ight Howard," he said. John rubbed dirt off the back of my car, put his hands together, and kissed them. He looked at me and grinned as he threw the dirt in the air - a pre-game ritual Lebron James performed with baby powder. John posed with crossed-arms like he was in a television commercial. He loves to watch NBA games on television, and the two Florida teams are his favorite. I passed him the ball, and he took a quick shot. The ball bounced off the front of the rim, and he grabbed the rebound. He shot the ball again, but I was able to block it - I usually went easy with defense on him, but sometimes I liked to block it, just to let him know that I was still the big brother.
When John was five, he could barely shoot the ball or dribble, but now, at almost 9 he can do both. For dribbling, he used to just run around with the ball, trying to keep it from me instead of shooting. I passed him the ball from his missed rebound, and John tried to dribble the ball between his legs. He stuck his tongue out a little, like Michael Jordan, and bounced the ball hard on the cement. He could actually play a pretty mean point guard for a little kid. The ball hit his knee, and he tried again. After his sixth missed through-the-leg attempt, John shot the ball at the hoop - nothing but net. I had lowered my rusty hoop, the same one that I had played with when I was John's height, to about nine feet, a height that he could easily make a basket. As the ball swished through the net, John ran over to me and gave me a high-five. We both laughed as the ball bounced under my car. On the day John was born, I could have never imagined that my little brother would one day give me a run for my money on the basketball court.