| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:14

    Duchess of dunk My sons and I love basketball. It’s in our DNA, I think. Growing up, I could never really get into baseball (OK, the cold, hard truth of the matter is I was afraid of that hard little white ball hurtling toward me). Football was fun until I started playing against guys who were bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic than me. Soccer was something they played in Europe, and hockey was soccer on ice skates. But basketball was my sport. My Dad was a big basketball player (he could drain his two-handed set shot from half-court with regularity well into his seventies), as were my older brothers. It is the family game, and it remains a meaningful element of almost every family gathering to this very day. One of the best things about basketball is you can play it with a group of friends, or you can go outside on the driveway basketball court and play all by yourself. I was especially good at playing by myself n I used to school Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes all the time on my driveway in make-believe games so intense I was sure I could hear the crowds cheering and the pep bands playing. I even did my own radio play-by-play: “Walker fakes Russell up and drives around him for a wide-open lay-up! And the crowd goes wild!” Oh, and in case you were wondering, you make the “crowd goes wild” sound by opening your mouth really wide and blowing out through your mouth. Go ahead n do it. See what I mean? It sort of sounds like a crowd going wild, doesn’t it? You have to make that sound whenever your personal radio play-by-play guy says “the crowd goes wild” n which he says every time you make a shot. Especially over Wilt. Of course, there are lots of variations on the game: one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three, H-O-R-S-E, P-I-G and Poison, to name just a few. I played them all with my Dad and brothers. Then with my friends. Then with my two sons, Joe Jr. and Jon, who have embraced the game with as much passion n and considerably more talent n as their old man. And this summer I plan to play a little one-on-one with my grandson, Dallin (hey, it’s never too early to include another generation in the Walker Jump Circle of Life. Besides, I’m pretty sure I can still take Dallin one-on-one, since he will only be 18 months old, and the main dribbling he does drips out of his mouth). As you might expect from three males who are as susceptible as my sons and I are to hoops hysteria, March is a fun time of the year for us. We always fill out our March Madness brackets, and we always compete to see who can do the best job of predicting the eventual winners. The past couple of years we have entered our predictions online, and we anxiously anticipate the e-mail updates telling us who is leading in our bracketological competition. For people who feel as strongly about basketball as Joe, Jon and I do, this isn’t just a friendly competition. This is alpha male stuff, testosterone-driven, y-chromosome-fueled. He who wins not only receives a steak dinner from the other two, but he also spends a year as our family’s unofficial King of the Court, the Lord of the Lay-up and the Duke of Dunk. So imagine my surprise when we received our computerized update for the first weekend of March Madness this year and discovered that the family leader after the first two rounds of competition is: Elizabeth. When my youngest daughter wanted to turn in a bracket I had no qualms about it. She is, after all, a girl. She isn’t passionate about basketball n she’s barely aware of it. She hasn’t watched a single college basketball game all season n she never even watches SportsCenter. And she always picks Gonzaga to win it all because she likes how “Gonzaga” sounds when you say it. It never occurred to me that she might actually win. And now, looking at her bracket, she just might. I guess that sort of thing can happen when you make assumptions n no matter how valid your assumptions may seem to be. “Your assumptions are your windows on the world,” said actor and writer Alan Alda. “Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” And you’ll miss March Madness being ruled by the Duchess of Dunk.