CHAMPIONS IN GOD’S EYES: The Ironmen of Eagle River (Part 1)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: People continue to ask about the novel I published last November. For those who miss high school basketball and love an inspiring story, I am serializing the first chapter on WhatcomHoops.com over the first five days of July. I hope you enjoy it (and if you’ve already read it, please leave a review on AMAZON).

PROLOGUE

October 1974

Cameron Carpenter watched his dad shove the Smith & Wesson Model 15 revolver under the front seat.

“What are we shooting today?” Nate Carpenter asked.

“Only basketballs,” the fifteen-year-old said right on cue.

Before his dad could say, “That’s right,” Cameron bolted out of the ’72 Buick Skylark into another of his favorite autumn mornings. It was the kind that spoiled Southern California’s playground players. Sunny but not too hot when he was one of the Skins. A slight breeze to keep him cool when he was a Shirt. Yet not so windy as to throw off his shot.

“C’mon, Dad,” Cameron yelled back, already dribbling the weathered Spalding across the cracked asphalt courts. “Honey will be here soon.”

As he absent-mindedly bounced the ball, Cameron scanned the courts for familiar friends and foes. It was just after nine, but Omaha Beach Community Park was already filling up. There were teenagers just beginning their hoop dreams and senior citizens not ready to give up theirs. Cameron was another of the dreamers who stood out only because he was the lone white youth.

He picked a vacant court near a concrete wall covered with angry graffiti. Cameron smiled as he heard the opening of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’bout A Thing” rising from a nearby transistor radio into the fronds of the gently swaying palm trees. The smile widened when he made his first shot from twenty feet.

“Did you see that, Dad? Watch out! Cam the Man is on today.”

“Okay, Pete Maravich. Let your old man warm up, and I’ll show you some real shooting.”

As his dad did his middle-aged stretches against a wooden sideline bench, Cameron did his routine of layups, corner jump shots, and top-of-the-key bombs.

“Yo, Sarge, what’s up?” a tall black man called out as he strutted toward the Carpenters. 

Arthur “Honey” King wore a big grin and a tight No. 13 Lakers jersey that showed off his biceps. At six feet three inches and still in shape despite his thirty-seven years, his athletic gait announced to Cameron and to the world this was his royal residence.

“Not much, Honey,” the older Carpenter said as the two slapped palms. “Stayin’ out of trouble. How about you?”

Honey laughed as he sat on the bench. “Always, my man,” he said, tying double-knots on each of his size 14 Adidas Superstars. “If you don’t count the armed robbery and drug deals.”

“Maybe now you can afford another jersey.”

“What you talkin’ about? Lucky 13. Honey’s good-luck charm.”

Cameron dribbled the basketball between his legs and behind his back. Back and forth the ball went as the boy watched Honey. Finally, he’d waited enough.

“C’mon, you old has-been. Let’s play.”

“Who you callin’ old?” Honey made a quick swipe at the ball, but Cameron was ready. He grinned as he dribbled out of reach.

“Ha! Who’s got the sweet moves now?”

Honey rolled his eyes, looked at the boy’s father, and pointed a thumb back at Cameron.

“Hey, don’t blame me,” Nate said. “He gets his cockiness from his mom.” Then looking at his son, he said, “How about you hang with Honey while I make the rounds. I see a few new faces.”

Cameron briefly watched his dad head toward a group of youths gathered on a nearby grassy knoll. It was no big deal. Checking for trouble around the park was something Nate Carpenter did every Saturday before joining the five-on-five games. Cameron turned his attention back to his friend for their one-on-one game—something they did every Saturday. Before the boy could turn his head, Honey stole the ball and, in one quick motion, fired up a shot that arced high in the desert air before clanging through the metal net twenty-five feet away.

“One-zip.” Honey retrieved the ball and gently tossed it back to the boy. “You ready now?”

“Lucky shot,” Cameron said as he snatched the ball. He knew he never stood a chance against Honey. This wasn’t Wilt the Stilt versus Pistol Pete. More like the Big Dipper versus a little pop gun. The teenager didn’t care. Despite giving up almost a half-foot, Cameron started to back in on Honey, keeping his dribble low and looking for an opening.

“You know what’s coming, youngblood,” Honey said. “It’s rejection time.”

“In your dreams, old man.” Cameron tried pushing the larger man but knew he’d have better luck moving the spray-painted concrete wall.

“If that’s all you got, you ain’t never gonna make that school team.”

“Then watch this,” Cameron said. He stepped back, dribbled between his legs, and prepared to drive by his older foe. “You’re goin’ down, chump.”

Honey laughed, but just as suddenly, the laugh died. Honey stood up from his crouch and stared past Cameron toward the knoll.

Cameron was confused. Maybe it was another of Honey’s tricks. The boy wasn’t sure, but he stopped dribbling anyway. Honey stood still for a moment, and Cameron saw a look he’d never seen on his friend’s face.

Fear.

Then the big man focused on Cameron, and the fear turned into something else, something worse.

Sadness.

Cameron tried to turn even though he didn’t want to, but Honey’s muscled black arms grabbed him, squeezing him to Honey’s broad chest even as Honey’s deep voice commanded, “Don’t look.”

The crack of the two gunshots made Cameron flinch.

His world suddenly stopped as silence filled the park, but only for a moment.

Cameron’s wet eyes closed even as the chaos exploded around him. Teenagers screamed, and old men shouted. Basketball shoes pounded the asphalt as their owners fled in every direction. Doors slammed and tires squealed as cars peeled out. 

A minute later, Honey and Cameron stood alone on the courts. The older man still held the boy, hugging him until Cameron began sobbing and hugged his friend back.

In the distance, the sirens’ faint whining grew louder just as Stevie’s final, assuring “Don’t you worry ’bout a thing” faded into the perfect autumn breeze.

And Honey whispered in Cameron’s ear.

“It’ll be all right. It’ll be all right.”

Continue to PART 2

For a signed copy of the book, e-mail whatcomhoops@comcast.net or click on SIGNED COPY. You also can order it online or find it at your local book stores.

Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

Author
Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.

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