Movie Diary

A commanding performance


In 1984, my high school basketball team had one of the best records in the state. My teammates and I had been playing together for years, so we were a well-oiled machine. We also had a diverse set of players that covered all the needed attributes for a championship team. 

I was a tall, thin guard who had a knack for diving into the fray and then dishing off to one of the big men for an easy bucket. I was also a good shooter, although I was repeatedly criticized for not shooting enough. 

I loved every aspect of basketball, and I had my father to thank for that. 

My father had been a basketball referee for 30 years, so I grew up around the game. I tagged along with him to high school and college events throughout my childhood, reveling in watching him command over a game with an astute authority.

I could tell, even at a young age, that my father was good at what he did. Coaches challenged him, but he never backed down. And he certainly didn’t take disrespect from players or coaching staff lightly, having seen him eject many over the years. But I also noticed that whenever we’d return to gym where there had been a prior conflict, he never held a grudge.

My days of attending games with him dissipated once I started playing more competitively. When I reached the high school level, I wondered if he’d ever ref one of my games, but I knew there was an unwritten rule that it wasn’t proper to ref when a relative was competing.

That changed during my senior year when, due to a scheduling conflict, my father was forced to preside over one of my mid-season games. 

The event was at our home gym, which was packed to capacity due to our increasingly impressive record. I was always nervous before tip-off, but the pressure was intensified knowing that my father would be on the court with me.

I vividly remember two moments from that game. The first was when I took a jump shot from the baseline and, as I was releasing the ball, a defender caught my hand, forcing the ball to carom off the side of the backboard. 

It was clearly a foul. 

I looked next to me on the baseline and in astonishment my father was standing there with the whistle in his mouth, but he never called the foul. He looked at me with a strange glance and then pressed forward with the game. (On the way home, he sheepishly admitted that he blew the call because he was focusing on my shooting technique and not the defender.) 

My second memory happened later in the game. After having been fouled taking a shot, I walked to the line and waited. My father announced that it was a two-shot found and then turned and handed me the ball. And in the split-second that he did that, he quietly uttered, “I bet you make one out of two.”

I remember being completely dumbfounded that my father would say that to me in that moment. And of course, I doinked the first attempt off the side of the rim before making the second one. I just shook my head in disappointment while he laughed.

I only remember a few other sporadic moments from that glorious season, with many revolving around the championship game that we unfortunately lost. 

We had been the number one seed going into the tournament and made it all the way to the finals before getting upset by another high school that was located only a few miles away from my home. It’s tough to lose a championship game, but it’s especially tough to lose to a team that encompasses a bunch of guys that you’ve known for years. 

My father went on to ref several more years before dying on a cold February night in 1989. Ironically, he passed away while refereeing a basketball game in front of a capacity crowd. 

I still have a photograph of him in my office – he’s standing on the court in his refereeing gear, basketball in hand, looking ready to command over another game. 

This week’s feature, “Somewhere in Queens,” is the story of an Italian father whose son is the star of his high school basketball team. But while the father revels in his son’s accomplishments, the son struggles to fit in.

Written, directed, and starring Ray Romano, “Somewhere in Queens” is obviously a personal project derived from his own experiences. Romano is at his best, delivering a poignant portrayal of a complicated man who’s trying to do the best for his family.

Give this one a shot if you love stories about ethnic families and the dynamics that we’ve all faced while coming of age. It’s a solid drama, but there’s plenty of that classic Romano humor mixed in for color. 

A commanding “B+” for “Somewhere in Queens,” now playing in theaters everywhere. 

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