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Ralph Walter: As times change, a chance to embrace distance, co-workers and the 5-point shot

UPDATED: Mon., April 6, 2020

Extreme Social Distance Basketball requires two players, two baskets and two balls. (Jess Walter / Courtesy)
Extreme Social Distance Basketball requires two players, two baskets and two balls. (Jess Walter / Courtesy)

We all have to adapt.

Take my brother Jess and me. For 40 years we’ve had an ongoing one-on-one basketball game.

But as the coronavirus pandemic has exploded and our lives have been turned upside down, we’ve had to adjust even our most comforting routines.

Even something as inane as old-man hoops.

We took a stab at Social Distance Basketball two weeks ago, with fouls called whenever the defensive player came within 6 feet of the offensive player.

And while that game fit my decaying defensive skills perfectly – I hadn’t guarded anyone within 6 feet for years – it didn’t exactly conform to our goals of staying responsible during this crucial time.

More distance – and more caution – was still required.

Enter Extreme Social Distance Basketball.

Somehow, we managed to upgrade our game to create even more distance between us. For two guys never very eager to pass, Extreme Social Distance Basketball – played with two balls on two hoops – seemed a logical change from the social distance game we had already perfected.

Over the past several weeks, The Spokesman-Review’s sports department has also changed its game, morphing into the paper’s Swiss Army Knife.

From a sports perspective, we’re still all over the local scene.

On Sunday, Jim Meehan examined the NBA prospects of GU’s top four players, sandwiched between stories on Saturday and Monday looking back at the Zags’ 2017 trip to the Final Four.

A day after hosting a Northwest Passages live forum with WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun, Theo Lawson wrote two stories for Sunday’s paper. The first revisited fun fan predictions from the 2019 Cougar football season, the second revealed that WSU basketball had just added one of the top-rated prospects in program history.

Last week, columnist John Blanchette weighed the impact of the NCAA’s recent decision to allow an extra year of eligibility for spring sports athletes.

And our staff is also stretching far beyond sports and into other sections of the paper.

Reporters Dave Nichols and Ryan Collingwood, while still maintaining their sports beats, have jumped into the news fray to help the S-R report on this crisis.

Late last week, Nichols wrote a great piece on Ken VanSickle, the longtime University High School athletic director who is retiring after 38 years, as well as a story on North Idaho’s state Rep. Heather Scott urging a push back to the stay-at-home order issued by Idaho Gov. Brad Little.

Before taking a few days off to recharge, Collingwood wrote about a parade of Idaho teachers hoping to brighten students’ spirits, then followed with stories on former Eastern Washington players facing uncertainty as Canadian Football League training camps and NFL Pro Days go silent.

While Deputy Sports Editor Madison McCord continues to design most of our sports sections and online graphics, he’s been combining with writer Rachel Baker on a new feature called “Water Cooler,” a mix of fun and off-the-wall news, entertainment and games aimed to help get you through the quarantine.

Web producer Tyler Grippi, copy editors Chris Derrick, Gene Warnick and several others are all pulling double duty shifts, working news and sports from their remote locations.

For me, the days are a mix of sports planning, Zoom meetings, designing covers for the newspaper’s features department and trying to keep my daughter off her phone.

With all of the changes, we’re scrambling to do our best. It’s what humans do. We adjust.

Even with the small stuff.

Take Extreme Social Distance Basketball, for instance.

Two balls. Two baskets. Two gimpy, out-of-shape old men.

And on Saturday, we gave it go.

The rules were fairly simple. Each player with his own ball, shooting at his own basket. We stood so far away from each other we barely spoke – so much social distancing, in fact, it nearly became antisocial distancing.

Each made shot counted anywhere from 1 to 5 points, with each basket worth more the further you were from the hoop. For instance, shots near halfcourt counted 5 points, while layups earned just 1 (with only three layups allowed per quarter.)

The game was split into four quarters, the first period ending when the first player reached 25 points, the second ending when the first reached 50, and so on.

In our first game, Jess opened a 25-21 lead after the first quarter and extended it to 50-31 by halftime. I buried a long 5-pointer to open the third quarter and closed to within 75-67 after three.

Midway through the fourth quarter, though, I airballed a 3 so badly that it banked off a slope and rolled across the street and under a car, allowing Jess to run away with a 100-84 win.

I think he tried to talk trash afterward, something about how my jumpshot was nonessential. I’m not sure. I was so far away I really couldn’t hear any of it.

Still, in a game that was way more NBA 1K than 2K, it helped offer a brief escape from the anxiety of our times.

And in the end, I felt like I walked away with a small victory.

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