By John J. Duncan Jr.
Obviously, after Jesus Christ, I thought my dad was the greatest man who ever lived. From the time I was a small boy, I suppose I wanted to be as much like him as possible. I fell short in many ways, but one area in which I was way short was in my pitiful basketball career.
Daddy was a very good athlete. He was a champion boxer in high school and was captain of the Huntsville High School basketball team. He played for the freshman basketball team at UT as a walk-on, non-scholarship player, but he had to work his way through and did not play after that.
Not one time did he ever brag about any athletic skill, and I found out about his sports exploits from others.
The only time he ever mentioned any of this to me was when he laughingly, in a deprecating sort of way, showed me a newspaper clipping from his UT days in which he was called “Two-Point Duncan.”
Apparently, Daddy had gotten into many games for the freshman team just long enough to score two points.
I wasn’t even good enough to make the team at Holston High School. I was cut both as a freshman and as a sophomore. I still remember walking home from Holston after I had been cut the second time and the cold wind blew some tears into my eyes. Although maybe it wasn’t the wind.
Later, along with others who had been cut from the team at Holston, we formed our own team and played in a league at Chilhowee Park. We called our team the Rejects, and we had a decent team.
A few years ago, one of the women who worked for me in the Knoxville office, came to me and laughingly asked, “Did you play for a basketball team called the Rejects?”
Apparently, even though this would have been more than 50 years later, another man remembered playing for that legendary team and had come into the Knoxville office while I was in Washington.
Never giving up, when I went into law practice with Zane Daniel, I formed another team. Zane had played on the Rutledge High School team with A.W. Davis and had gone to High Point College in North Carolina on a basketball scholarship.
On our team, though, Zane had gotten so out of shape, he ran up and down the court a few times and got so out of breath that he quit after one game.
The next year, thinking I needed better athletes, I got Steve Cone, who had been captain of the UT football team, and Ricky Townsend, who had been a barefoot placekicker for UT, to play for us.
And, I got Gary England, who had played basketball at Auburn, to join our team. The only problem: Gary had played at Auburn at 6’3” and 160; for us, he weighed 240.
Seeing the names of all those well-known athletes, however, the City Recreation Bureau put us in the toughest league at Chilhowee Park. We lost every game that season, too.
Once, though, my basketball playing got me out of a speeding ticket. I was driving back from Atlanta with our daughter, Whitney.
Around Sweetwater, I got stopped by the highway patrol. When the patrolman walked up, he said, “Well hello, Congressman Duncan. I’m Joe. I’m Benny’s son.”
When I was 14, I played on a DeMolay basketball team coached by his father, Benny Walker. Benny had once run for sheriff as a Democrat, but many years later, thanks to my friend, Don Sundquist, I was able to help his son get on the highway patrol.
The last time I played was one quarter in a faculty staff charity game in front of the students at Farragut Middle School. I told Calvin Gaskey, the referee, that I would be alright on the court, but I did not want to shoot a free throw.
So, the first time someone got near me, Calvin called a foul. As he handed me the ball, I said “Calvin, I’m going to kill you.”
I threw the ball toward the goal, and it swished, and both mine and Calvin’s mouths fell open at the same time.
He handed me the ball for the second free throw, and I said, “Calvin, you shoot it. I can’t do that twice in a row.” Much to my amusement, the second one went in. Those were my only shots, and I ended with two points.
I called Calvin the next morning and told him I had been thinking. I said, “A person only gets so many miracles in his life, and now you have made me waste two of mine on those stupid free throws.”