Center of Attention (Greg Oldfield)

Dear Paul,

I’m sorry I crumpled up your David Robinson rookie card. It was a dick move. I was immature, insecure, manipulatable, and unable to express myself in constructive ways. We were twelve.

I still want to blame Bobby Ritter. He’s the one who pulled the card from its plastic sheet and said, “Holy shit! Paul’s got a David Robinson rookie card.”

“David Robinson sucks,” I said.

I knew Robinson was a college All-American, a Naval Academy graduate, the NBA Rookie of the Year. That he was one of the most athletic centers in the game. Maybe as good as Hakeem Olajuwan. He really didn’t suck. He was a good guy, humble, the kind of guy kids should look up to. But he wasn’t my center. We had Manute Bol and Rick Mahorn, who once fought the entire Chicago Bulls in 1987.

I didn’t know Robinson was going to become a ten-time All-Star. A Dream Teamer. An MVP. Then win two NBA Championships while mentoring Tim Duncan, the Robinson-Olajuwan for the next twenty seasons. I didn’t know we were going to trade Charles Barkley. Draft Shawn Bradley, Sharon Wright. Trade for Theo Ratliff, Matt Geiger. Draft Todd MacCulloch, Samuel Dalembert. Then trade Ratliff for Dikembe Mutombo. Win one game in the NBA Finals over the next three decades. Intentionally lose for three seasons so we could draft the next Moses Malone. I didn’t know the card was the first of its kind. Worth more than Jordan’s at the time. That it’d still be worth hundreds of dollars almost thirty years later.

“I’ll rip that card right now,” I said.

I remember Bobby’s sneaky grin, his smirky laugh. “You won’t do it,” he said, dangling the card in front of my face.

I had just joined your travel soccer team. The Southampton Scorpions. My own team folded. My friends were playing on three different teams. I was trying to fit in, prove myself. You guys went to the good school. Lived in big houses. Had hot girlfriends whose pictures you carried in leather wallets. Your parents invited me over to swim in your pool between summer tournament games. An endless supply of snacks and soda. I never wanted to leave.

You had clever pranks. Like when Adam crushed a stink bomb inside the hotel elevator in Connecticut, and the smell traveled to every floor and cleared out the whole place for hours. Or when we slung water balloons off the balcony in Virginia Beach, pelting pedestrians eating ice cream on the sidewalk over a hundred yards away.

In high school, your nationally ranked soccer team had eighteen future division one players. We could never beat you. Your teammates would later joke that they’d smoked weed in the woods before beating us 5-0.

“You won’t do it,” Bobby said again, maybe not with his words but with his actions. Fucking Bobby’s fault.

I snatched the card from his hands and crumpled it into a ball. You had one of those spiraling staircases, so when I threw it over the railing it swirled in an elliptical motion until it landed on the hardwood floor.

Bobby’s eyes grew wide. “Paul,” he yelled, smiling as he ran down the steps.

Bobby picked up the card, snickering. He tried to unravel the permanent creases. “Paul,” he yelled again. His face turned serious, and he walked into the kitchen. “Look what Greg just did.”

I knew you were upset. You were too nice to say anything rude, so you said nothing. During the ride to our next game, you sat with your head in your hand, elbow against the window.

“It’s fine,” you mumbled when your mom whispered if you were okay.

It wasn’t Bobby’s fault. Wasn’t David Robinson’s fault. It was mine, and I wanted you to know that I’m not that kid anymore.




Greg Oldfield is a physical education teacher and coach from the Philadelphia area where he lives with his wife and daughter. His stories have appeared in Hobart, Carve, Porcupine Literary, and Maudlin House, among others, and he also writes about soccer for the Florida Cup. He can be found on Twitter under @GregOldfield21.


image: Jesse Hilson