The scene: Cincinnati, Ohio, in the dark upper reaches of Cincinnati Gardens.
The players: A young man about to turn 13-years old from Bourneville, OH, his cousin Mick, the Cincinnati Royals, the Baltimore Bullets, and a cast of thousands.
It all started in the 3rd quarter when Mick and I decided that moving from our seats in the lower level of The Gardens up to the top of the arena would be a good idea. You know, when you're a kid it's fun to go up top and look down for some reason. Back then the Royals almost never sold out and our Dads used to take us to several games a year. Anyway, the top always seemed to be empty. Once we got up there and looked down for awhile we began to get bored. At this point Mick had a great idea - let's make some paper airplanes and see which one goes the farthest! It was always a contest with us, and we'd make everything into a game. Of course I accepted the challenge. One of us had a program so we each tore out a page and began meticulously folding and preparing our miniature gliders. When we were finished, we flipped a coin to see who would go first. Mick won.
He let fly and his plane basically did a nose-dive into a row about 10-feet in front of us. After laughing and taunting him for about 5-minutes, along with adamantly refusing his request for a redo, it was my turn. It was at this point that history was made. As I released my plane gently upward (I'd seen what unleashing it with reckless fury would do), I watched as it dipped downward. After nearly brushing the top of the row where Mick's had crashed, it slowly rose about 10-feet, started dipping again, but keeping a straight path as it went. The engineering I'd put into this marvel must have been pure genius. My little plane kept continuing this pattern (looping up, looping down) as it slowly made it's way to the court. Oh my God. It was making its way to the court. I was feeling a mixture of excitement and pure terror as the plane descended. As I looked around, expecting to see a security guard pointing at me and reaching for his gun, a weird thing happened - a few people in the crowd saw my plane and started chanting "Go, go, go . . ."
And go it did. The plane sailed right over the Royals' bench on its grand flight into infamy. Now, here's where amazing really happened. As fate would have it, the great Earl "The Pearl" Monroe was shooting a free-throw. The ref had just handed him the ball as, out of the corner of his eye, The Pearl saw my plane make its final approach. He, the rest of the players on the floor, both teams on the benches, and thousands of fans in the stands watched as my plane executed a perfect landing, skidding to a stop dead center in the paint. For a moment time stood still. I sat frozen, eyes on the court, as Gus Johnson took a step, leaned over, and pick up my paper airplane (that's Gus "Honeycomb" Johnson, NBA All-Star, rebounding demon, and one of my childhood heroes, folks). He crumpled it up without remorse and tossed it off the court, never to take flight again after just one historic maiden voyage. I didn't care. Gus Johnson had picked up MY paper airplane! I was beyond thrilled. Then, I swear I felt 7,000 eyes looking at me all at once. Alright, it was probably a few hundred but let's preserve my chilhood memories, OK? Among those eyes, however, was a pretty angry rent-a-cop heading up the stairs with a look of demonic vengeance on his face. We'd evidently tread on his turf and broke the rules on his watch. Man, he was pissed.
As he advanced on us with angry intent, we did what any self-respecting kids from Bourneville, Ohio would do. We ran like hell. With no way out downward, we headed up, out a side exit, down the stairwell, and into paper airplane flying lore.
We eventually worked our way back to our seats and nobody said a word. I'd been afraid Dad would kill me but I was convinced I'd gotten away with it. At that point some drunk guy a few rows down front stood up, looked at me, and yelled, "Helluva toss, kid!" Oops.
As I waited for the hammer to fall, Dad just looked at me and said, "That was you? That WAS a helluva toss." Then he took a sip of his beer.
For years after, at games from Crosley Field to St. John Arena to Ohio Stadium, I tried to re-create that airplane. Never again did I come close to designing a plane with the exact specifications of that little marvel. Sigh. I guess it was truly one-of-a-kind, just like that night in The Gardens.