Nerds in Jockland, Part 1: Basketball Shorts & My Ralphie Parker Moment

And they're reversible!

And they’re reversible!

There I was sifting through Target’s website looking for an exact match for the basketball shorts I had just purchased for my big fella. The winter basketball team he’s played on since 3rd Grade, the Vikings, had for reasons I’ve never quite been able to determine always worn a deep green color. Sporting some Sports Authority gift certificates, I couldn’t resist giving Gus the gift of the one pair of forest green Nike hightops despite the fact they broke my three-digit ceiling for sneakers.

And when we found matching socks, I simply couldn’t abide the notion he wouldn’t have a matching pair of shorts as well. So when I was shopping at Target the next week, I found a pair of charcoal gray mesh shorts with a backsplash of neon green, I held it up to the light like a glass of fine wine to see how the colors blended. And when it seemed indeed to combine into that ideal verdant tone, I was as giddy as my 9-year old on the 8th Night of Chanukkah when he received the Geno Smith jersey he had been pining for all week.

So excited was I at finding costume’s end (and at $10, a bargain!) that I began to hoard every corresponding pair off the rack, thinking without thinking that if I bought out the store, the whole team would, for the first time in their storied five-year history, truly be uniform. Heaven forbid that anyone else see me hold up these holy grails of basketball perfection and steal one away! But before I rushed to the checkout line, I noticed that the crotch of the XS shorts in my cart would probably need to be split in half in order for it to fit over one leg of the average 12-year-old.

And so after having the rare good sense to speak to an employee, I did as he suggested and found the shorts online. Immediately after finding the link, my fingers flew an email to Coach Lindsay, telling her I’d have Gus model the shorts at practice and if she liked them she could suggest everyone get a pair. I noted that I’d even volunteer to do the group purchase to save the money on shipping.

See?  The neon TOTALLY works!

See? The neon TOTALLY works!

When Gus arrived at practice, I tore through the box of brand-new Vikings jerseys and helped Gus to put his on—much to his pubescent consternation. I beckoned Lindsay over to take a look, noting that the splash of neon green would give them a, “Seattle Seahawks kind of look.” “Great!” she smiled. “That looks pretty good!” I kept grinning as she attempted to extricate herself back to her players.

And it was then that I realized those $10 shorts were nothing more than the massive fruit basket Ralphie Parker plops down at the desk of his teacher in A Christmas Story in the quest for his Red Rider BB Gun. Coach Lindsay was forced into the role of Miss Shields, humoring her student uncomfortably as he basks just a few beats too long in the over-the-top glow of his own generosity.

Oh sweet mother of Spock, I am such a N-E-R-D.

Yep, that pretty much sums me up

Yep, that pretty much sums me up.

When my zealous moments give way to the reality that, perhaps, not everyone shares the passion for a pair of basketball shorts, a baseball cap that corresponds to the state bird, or a specialized jersey that harkens back to area Negro League lineage quite as, uh, intensely as I do, there’s always that flash of humiliation.

I’m 7-years-old at Shea Stadium, hearing the laughter of drunken fans mocking me for, “Wearing Yankees pants!” because I desperately wanted pinstripes to match my Mets jersey, but the closest color at the store was navy.

I’m 13 and walking through the Omni hotel in my home-made Dr. Who outfit, comprised of a generously-collared paisley felt shirt adorned with question marks pinned to the collar, partially covered in an oversized black, yellow, and white checked jacket—both unearthed from my father’s disco collection. To top it off, I sported a frayed straw gardening hat with a green visor. I walked, people laughed, and I took 3rd place in the costume contest—out of 3 participants.

I’m 17 and the Woodward Academy basketball star has just ripped my copy of Marvel Secret Wars out of my hand. He waves it around, speaking in a high pitched nasal tone. The words were irrelevant! as I had heard them all before, but my baseball “teammates” showed up to salt the wound with a taunting chant of my given nickname—“Photon”—made just a twinge more painful in that southern “FAW-tawn!” twang that this son-of-a-carpetbagger did not possess.

But, you know what? That Ratatouille flashback is indeed a flash. As I’ve realized that the nerdy passion I bring to my kids’ sports may be the exception, but I think it should be the rule. Indeed, one of the current Kings of the Nerds, Will Wheaton, actually expressly mentioned sports when he gave his now virally famous response to a question at a Sci-Fi convention, when a pregnant woman asked him to speak to her unborn child and say why being a Nerd is awesome:

So there’s gonna be a thing in your life that you love. And I don’t know what it’s gonna be. It might be sports, it might be science, it might be reading, it might be fashion design, it might be building things, it might be telling stories or getting pictures. It doesn’t matter what it is. The way you love that, and the way that you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes being a nerd awesome… The defining characteristic that ties us all together is that we love things… we come from all over some cases all over the world so we can be around people who love the things that we love the way that we love them. And that’s why being a nerd is awesome. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that that thing that you love, is a thing that you can’t love. Don’t ever let anyone tell you “You can’t love that, that’s for boys. You have to love this because you’re a girl.”. You find the things that you love, and you love them the most that you can.

I would say courtesy of TJ Arrowsmith, but taking this picture was just rude...

Courtesy of TJ Arrowsmith, though courtesy is pushing it

That’s me, Scott Nathanson—Nerd. And the only thing I’d argue with ole’ Wesley Crusher about is the implication that we Nerds need to find people like ourselves to love the things we love. I get it, given the taunts and bullying that so often comes with being a Nerd. I think that makes it that much more incumbent on we grown-up Nerds to be out there sharing the way we love things with others—especially our kids.

In my next post, I’ll tell you a horror story that explains exactly why I believe we Nerds need to put away our pocket protectors, pull up our socks and shorts just a little bit too high, and go take over youth sports.

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