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First person: I challenged Horace Grant to a three-point contest

Okay, so I know it sounds ridiculous.

Horace Grant is a former 17-year NBA player with four championship rings. He played a key role alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen while playing for the Chicago Bulls and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant on the Lakers.

I’m a former varsity high school basketball player at Cate School in Carpinteria with student enrollment of 250.

Horace is 6-feet-10 inches tall and he was named an All-Star in 1994 when he averaged 15 points per game against the best players in the world – jamming rebounds home with ease.

While a starting point guard, I averaged 16 points in my best season in the Condor League and at 5-foot-11 I could barely get my fingertips over the rim on a good jumping day.

Last week, before an interview with Horace about the youth basketball camp he’s putting on June 25-28 at the Oceano Community Center, I led myself to believe that I could beat him in a three-point contest.

Granted (no pun intended) that Horace was no three-point specialist in the NBA, he was still a very solid player who shined in packed stadiums of thousands of fans in situations of the highest pressure.

I think my biggest crowd in the CIF playoffs was maybe 1,000 when we played against a Brentwood High School team that starred Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s son. And they smoked us.

It’s about 2:30 p.m. at the Oceano Community Center on a quiet Thursday. The audience for our contest is Mark Pazell, Horace’s trainer from Kennedy Fitness Center in Arroyo Grande, Barbara Carey, executive director of the Oceano Community Center, and Dave Middlecamp, a longtime Tribune photographer.

Horace, a pleasant fellow, has already complimented me on my shooting form in warm-ups so I’m glowing about that. But I must admit I’m a little nervous. I’ve never faced off against any NBA player nor played on the same court with anyone of his impressive size and strength.

I clank the first one. As I move around the perimeter of the three-point line on the contest's route, I can’t believe I’m bricking the second and the third.

“You feeling the pressure?” Horace asks.

“Yes, I am, Horace.”

Get the eyes just above the rim, soft hands, bend the knees, snap the wrist, hold the follow through, I tell myself. Finally, my fourth shot goes in, swish. Miss the fifth and sixth, but the seventh and eighth go down. Confidence is back, but negative on the ninth and tenth jumpers. I finish 3-for-10. Not too bad, but I know I could have done better.

Big smile, Horace then picks up the rock and, boom, first shot swish, nothing but net. Then bam, swish, second shot. This isn’t the Condor League.

Outside shooter or not, he’s draining threes, smiling, laughing, with much better form than you’d expect out of a big man who dominated the glass and considered defense as his strength coming out of Clemson University to join the likes of Jordan – the greatest basketball player of all time.

But then he misses one and then another. Do I have a fighting chance? Another splash. Nah. But then some more misses.

When all is said and done, Horace makes 4 of 10. He’s all smiles and complimenting me.

One of the biggest things that Horace will speak about with the first- through eighth-graders who attend his camp this summer is attitude – and keeping a good one even when you lose.

Horace, who grew up a poor kid in Georgia (he’s now officially retired and living with his family in Arroyo Grande), is helping to sponsor disadvantaged local kids to attend his camp. Kids will receive his coaching tips as well as instruction from Kevin Bromley, Cal Poly’s head basketball coach, and Mustangs players.

I have to say that it was easy for me to take Horace’s message to heart - losing a three-point contest to him was a fun defeat. It was a great experience hanging with Horace and, unless I’m judging incorrectly, I sensed he was a little scared to take me on again at the three-point line. Then again, that might be my imagination doing the talking.

For more information about the camp, visit www.hgcamps.com or call 709-7567.

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