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Basketball Diaries

As I was gathering up past biographies, I decided to include the bio from my old high school basketball program. Then, in a fit of nostalgia I scanned the cover too and wrote up this page.

Irvine High School Varsity Basketball, 1989

Front Row (left to right):
  • Mike Littler
  • Todd Trout
  • Bryan Allred
  • Jon Mollé
  • Raphael Mollé
  • Steve Dunmeyer
  • Back Row:
  • Greg Bains
  • me
  • Tom Bulone
  • Dave Littler
  • To everyone on the team,
    I wish you all the best.

    It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career

    I never thought of myself as a bad player, but I didn't make Varsity until my senior year, and sometimes I think that was out of charity or because everyone seemed to like me. At any rate, I was good to beat up on in practice, and if our starting center's success could be attributed to something other than his skill and size, it might have been shoving me around in practice every day.

    I rode the bench for most of the year, usually the last person to go into the game. In retrospect, it was a wonderful lesson in humility, and how to be part of a team in a supporting role. At the time, I was embarrassed and thought it stunk.

    At our season-end dinner, Coach Keith said something about me that I still mostly remember, "Joe didn't play in games too much this year, but I've seen guys like him before and I promise you that in 5 years he'll be dominating pickup games on a playground somewhere."

    He was sort of right. I was already beginning to enjoy pickup games on courts at Heritage Park and Orchard Park near my parents home in Irvine. There were a lot of quality players from all over the country because we lived between the Tustin and El Toro Marine Corps Air Stations. The games were full court, and extremely competitive. Winning meant you stayed on the court, loser had to wait for another game. I was there every night and becoming a player who could win games. I played on these courts for several years until I went to live closer to school in Pasadena.

    At Art Center, there was one neglected hoop at the far end of the parking lot, it was several inches higher than it should have been, but I remember dunking on it a few times. There weren't many pickup games since the schedules were grueling and there was a lot of homework. Somehow I did connect with a few people and we started a team of Art Center students. We entered some sort of adult league near the school and played one season. We had numbers ironed onto Art Center tank tops off-center to the left, cause, you know, we were artistic. I only remember a few people's faces, one guy named Eric and no one's last name. To put this in a historical context, driving to a game once, I remember listening to Alive which I taped from Pearl Jam's first album (that CD was sold back a long time ago). This was also the first time I ever remember my then-girlfriend Michelle, now my wife, getting to watch me play in a game.

    I played a little bit after moving to New York City, even venturing onto the courts at West 4th St a few times. But work has kept me pretty busy and I haven't had much chance to play recently. Also I had a reasonably severe ankle injury at Tompkin's Square Park a few years ago, and since my feet are currently my primary method of transportation, I'm a lot more cautious now.

    When I was 17 I wanted to be able to dunk a basketball when I was 30. That was it, no other aspirations at all. I can still dunk, it just hurts more now.

    Every once in a while, basketball is the subject of my anxiety dreams. Either I can't jump, or I try to throw the ball and I'm too weak. Those dreams always take place in the Irvine High School gym. For some reason this is always disconcerting enough that I wake up in a cold sweat. Thankfully, it's been a few years since I've had any of those nightmares.

    Two birds

    Duct tape patch on the boat

    It was a Saturday morning, earlier than anyone cared to be up, and we had to be at school. Someone decided that we should take our basketball program photo on the Stars & Stripes, the boat that won the America's Cup back from Australia or something like that. The boat was moored in San Diego, a two hour drive south. We had to bring our uniforms and warm-up sweats and it was Saturday, and no one wanted to be up this early. And the driver-organizer was more than an hour late getting to the school. So we were all a bit upset and complaining.

    In the van down to San Diego, Tom, Greg and I were complaining and scheming the whole time. We decided that we would "give the finger" to the camera in the first few photos as our insightful form of protest.

    We did it and forgot about it. Once the programs were printed, we were all shocked to see they used one of the first photos taken, and the offensively arranged fingers were clearly visible. We laughed, and thought we'd really pulled one over on someone.

    The great controversy

    A week later Tom and I were called into the team room before practice. The coach let us sit in there for what seemed like a very long time. Finally he walked in, looking unhappy... and holding a program. Said program was thrown at us, Coach was turning dark red, biting his lip, pacing very quickly, stammering and breathing erratically. It seems another teacher noticed and was having a good laugh at Coach Keith's expense in the teacher's lounge.

    We were suspended from the team for a week while he decided whether or not to let us come back at all.

    I suppose that Tom and I are definately more articulated in our gesturing, but that single finger sticking out from behind Todd's head is quite suspicious and not a normal means of holding a basketball. Greg was never mentioned, not by the coach or me or Tom. I'm convinced Greg participated, I remember Tom sharing that sentiment. But I guess only Greg knows for sure.


    Word spread through the school like a wildfire, and Tom and I became known as the "Finger Brothers".

    We were back on the team in a week, but we had to do extra running after practice for a month.

    Looking back, it's kind of funny. We were dumb kids, pulling a dumb stunt and no one was paying enough attention to catch it. I felt bad at the time, I still do considering how upset it made my parents and the coach.

    There is some definite irony about my current involvement with digital imaging. In 1988, retouching meant printing the photo, hiring an airbrush artist to paint over the fingers then re-photographing the corrected print. Now the photo would be digital and just about anyone could correct our fingers with Photoshop in about 4 clicks. That still assumes anyone would have noticed.

    So am I sorry? Would I do it again? I'm glad to have the story, but of course I wouldn't do it again if I knew what I know now. I'm older and wiser and understand that my actions have consequences beyond myself and beyond this moment. But these kinds of experiences are exactly the things that knowledge builds upon. If I had somehow avoided every mistake and accident in my live, would I have any understanding of the world at all?

    Where are they now?

    Every once in a while I'll throw some old names into a search engine and see what comes up. I haven't spoken to anyone from the team besides Todd in at least ten years.

    Here's what I found out:

    Bryan Allred - Possibly a lecturer in Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Irvine. Might have attended Eastern Arizona College. (graduation year is plausible, though having been a director of the Alumni Association doesn't seem to match up with how I remember him)

    Greg Bains - Nothing found.

    Tom Bulone - Apparently, Tom still lives in or near Orange County, and now races BMX, which I remember him doing back before and during High School. He may have also participated in an IASCA auto-sound contest.

    Steve Dunmeyer - I'm pretty sure Steve now teaches technology and coaches basketball and tennis at Tustin High School. Steve lives in San Clemente, is married and he and his wife had a daughter in 1992 or 1993.

    Dave Littler - Nothing found.

    Mike Littler - Nothing plausible found.

    John Molle - The only mention I could find was that John played for the University of Hawaii Basketball team, and was mentioned as one of the "bad boys" for getting suspended in 1995, there was no mention of what he was suspended for.

    John Molle died of a gunshot wound April 1, 2005.

    Raphael Molle - Nothing found.

    Todd Trout - Todd is the founding guitarist for the band Gameface. I bumped into Todd one Sunday in 1998. Gameface was playing at Brownies on 11th St. and Avenue A, a few blocks up from my apartment. We talked a little, he said he was getting married soon, had been touring with the band all over the US and parts of Europe. Todd still lives in LA and works with children when he isn't playing.

    Coach Steve Keith - Apparently Coach Keith resigned as head coach of Irvine High's Basketball program in April of 1999. This page says he will continue teaching and might have continued with a minor role in the Basketball program.

    I learned quite a lot from Coach Keith and my experiences in the Irvine High basketball program. Coach Keith stressed sportsmanship, dignity, confidence and self-respect; to him these were as much a part of the game as jump shots and defense. I wish him all the best.

    Joe Maller

    July, 2000 (revised January, 2001, April 2005)

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