Issue 24: Catching a Shirt During a Basketball Game

Remember when we used to be able to attend basketball games in person? Sure, outdoor sports like the NFL and soccer have started opening the stands up with a limited capacity. But I still wouldn’t feel comfortable attending a game. Would you?

Perhaps someday, we’ll get back to hooting and hollering from the stands with our fellow fans. And when that day comes, I want you to be prepared for one of the most important parts of any basketball game: when t-shirts get thrown into the crowd.

This story is about the time I was at a Chicago Bulls game. If you’d like to look it up exactly, they played the Toronto Raptors around Christmastime in 2014. This game was memorable for three reasons:

  • After initially buying upper deck seats, my sister was able to score us seats in the lower bowl of the United Center because she’s got connections. NICE.
  • The Bulls dropped 49 points in the fourth quarter, which is the most I’ve ever seen a single team score in one quarter in person. For comparison, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even score 49 points during my entire junior year of high school.
  • I caught a shirt ATTACHED TO A PARACHUTE. A parashirt, if you will.

If you combine high school, college, NBA, WNBA, NBA G-League, and Harlem Globetrotters games, I’ve attended somewhere around 300 basketball games in my life to this point. This Bulls/Raptors game was the only time I’ve ever caught a shirt.

There was one other game — a collegiate one, between the Miami Hurricanes and…uh…another team, but that part’s not important — where I did “catch” a shirt, in the sense that someone threw one from behind the crowd (an interesting move, for sure) that knocked me square in the back.

I whipped around and was ready to get into some fisticuffs if need be, as most collegiate guys are. But then I realized that the object that had pelted me was a shirt from the United States Marine Corps.

I wear the shirt when I go for a run sometimes and have had multiple people stop me to ask when or where I served, and I have to sheepishly say I wear the shirt because it’s comfortable and that I actually haven’t done anything to serve the country and WHAT’S THAT OVER THERE?! Then by the time they turn their head back around, I’m a cloud of dust. It’s worked like a charm so far.

Anyway, during a timeout in the game, the shirts came out. If you’ve even been to one sporting event in your life, you know a t-shirt toss is pandemonium. It doesn’t matter what the shirt says, the fact that it’s free is the most important thing in the world. You could print “I Smell Terrible” on the shirt and people would wear it proudly because it’s free. I am among that group of people.

Normally, a t-shirt toss consists of cheerleaders and dancers throwing out the shirts, and perhaps the mascot joins in via arm, slingshot, or cannon. A few things remain consistent in every t-shirt toss.

There is always one guy who is absolutely jacked, and he walks around pumping up the crowd before delivering the weakest throw imaginable that barely makes it to an undeserving person in the front row.

There is also always a smaller cheerleader (she’s typically the one who is at the top of a pyramid or gets thrown super high up in the air during a routine, and she is far braver than I am) who rockets a shirt at a group of waiting hands, but the shirt will dodge those eager hands and hit someone who is not paying attention.

And always, always, the people not in the lower bowl of the arena get nothing. If you’re sitting in the second, third, or heaven forbid, the fourth level of a stadium, I hope you brought your own souvenir shirt, because not even a cannon can send any sort of cotton, silk, or polyester garment your way.

During this t-shirt toss, the United Center decided to get a little festive and threw in an added wrinkle: t-shirts dropping from the ceiling, attached to little parachutes. The fans in the upper deck got excited, thinking that perhaps they could actually participate, but soon realized that — again, as always — they would be left out of the party. And again, that could have been my sister and me, but we lucked out and scored seats closer to the action. That led to a parashirt floating down from the ceiling, aimed directly at me.

Now, admittedly, this t-shirt was still a good 150 feet overhead. Any number of elements could have altered its course. But unlike that leaf at the end of Forrest Gump that seems to have a mind of its own, this parashirt almost plummeted straight down like a missile. And I was getting hungry for a well-balanced meal of shirt and parachute. My eyes followed the prize with a sense of concentration I’ve really only seen from hackers during a heist movie. I imagine they get a similar rush, too.

From the corner of my eye, I noticed there was another guy near me. I was not going to let him have this shirt. That may paint me in a negative picture, but this was not a child. If there was a kid next to me, I would have caught the shirt and handed it to him, and the audience around me would have cheered. A man two rows in front of us would have come up and patted me on the back and maybe I would have had a street named after me. But instead, there was a college-aged dude sitting next to me. He does not get any special treatment. Besides, if you’ve attended college, you know you get like six free shirts a day just by expressing interest in joining a club. Get outta here trying to take my shirt away from me.

I should also add that I have the benefit of being taller than the average male. That means I have an exceptionally long reach, which I used to my full advantage in this situation. I nabbed the shirt itself; the other guy tried to grab the parachute, since the whole contraption had settled itself into a horizontal position. That was his fatal mistake, because I had the bulk of the weight in my hand.

With a hearty tug, I pulled the entire garment toward me, and I settled in with my newfound parachute. I didn’t get a man patting me on the back for a good deed, but I did make eye contact with a guy in the row behind me, who had caught a shirt earlier in the game. He nodded in approval.

In my head, Morgan Freeman narrated the entire situation. The final line: “As he sat back in his seat to watch the rest of the game, he smiled. For he was quite pleased.”

That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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