The Playmaker


All day Bonifacio Diaz had been planning to hurry home from school, change into his old clothes, and head straight for the outdoor basketball court at Stevens School. If I’m early, I’ll have a chance to play. Then I’ll be warmed up for tryouts tonight, Bonifacio thought. I hope I’m hot tonight. If I’m not, the coach won’t notice me—not with all those tall guys there.

Bonifacio met his sister Maria on the steps between the third and fourth floors of their apartment house. She turned and called after him, “Mrs. Alvarez came home from the hospital today. She wants to see you right away.”

“But I have to practice. Why can’t you go?”

“I’m baby-sitting. Besides, she needs you. You’re her errand boy.”

Minutes later he knocked on the door marked A-1 and called out, “It’s Bono.”

Mrs. Alvarez’s voice sounded shaky. “Come in, Bono. The door’s open.”

When he saw how pale and weak his elderly friend was, Bono winced. “Hi! Maria said you wanted to see me.”

“I need some medicine from the drugstore,” she told him. “Would you get it for me?”

“Do you need it right now?” he asked.

She nodded. “The doctor told me to start taking the medicine as soon as possible,” she said, handing him the prescription and a five-dollar bill.

Bono ran all the way to the drugstore and back.

“Gracias (thank you), Bono,” Mrs. Alvarez said, holding out a dollar. “Now would you mind going to the grocery store to buy some crackers, a loaf of bread, and a quart of milk?”

Bono frowned. He felt a little frustrated but he took the money and ran to the nearest store. Maybe I’ll still get a chance to play, he thought on the way back to the apartment. When he had climbed the stairs again, he plopped down the leftover change and the groceries on the kitchen table. As he went out the door Mrs. Alvarez called, “Bono, I’m sorry, but I forgot to have you pick up the walker at the firehouse on First Avenue. If I can learn to use it, I might be able to walk again.”

Bono couldn’t believe the old woman would expect him to go on another errand. But she seemed so helpless and alone that he couldn’t refuse. Twenty minutes later he was back with the walker.

“You’re a good boy, Bono,” Mrs. Alvarez said. “Thank you so very much. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

When Bono reached the school yard five minutes later, a full court game was in play. And once a game started, no one had a chance to play until it was finished. Bono walked home muttering to himself, “Now I’ll have to go to the tryouts cold.”

Tryouts for City Center’s basketball team were scheduled for six thirty, but Bono and several of his neighborhood friends were there by five thirty. He looked at the other players and saw that he was shorter than anyone else there—just two inches over five feet.

During tryouts, Bono hit four out of ten foul shots and three out of ten set shots. Although his shooting was off, his play showed the smoothness of hours of practice on the school yard court. He stole the ball twice, never let anyone take it away, and put the ball into play. He went up under the boards but could not get any rebounds.

The coach took Bono out of the scrimmage, and he sat on the bench watching every play. There were twenty-three boys trying out for the team and he noticed that everyone tried hard to score. Those tall guys are lucky, Bono thought. I’d give anything to be tall.

The coach blew the whistle and sent Joe McMasters, one of the tallest boys, to the bench. Bono moved over to make room for him.

“Do you think I shoot too much?” Joe asked.

Bono shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen you play before tonight.”

“I thought I could make those outside shots,” Joe explained. “Did it look like I took a shot every time I got my hands on the ball?”

“Well,” Bono replied, “you didn’t pass off much and you did take some wild shots.”

“I know but everyone expects me to score a lot because I’m tall. And they depend on me to get all the rebounds. If I don’t produce every game, they don’t want me on the team,” Joe said.

“You can’t play great every game,” Bono encouraged. “Everybody has a bad day once in awhile. Nobody’s hot all the time.”

“But they expect me to be high scorer every game. If I’m not, they give me funny looks as if I’ve been goofing off. I try my best but sometimes the breaks are against me.”

“That happens to everybody,” Bono said, “even to professionals. You just have to stay in there and keep trying.”

“That’s what they say, but they’re really hoping I quit. And that’s what I did.”

Bono looked puzzled.

“Last year it was the Bulldogs and the year before that it was the Giants,” Joe continued. “I didn’t belong with them anyhow. I hardly knew the players on my own team. They were glad when we quit.”

“When who quit?” Bono asked.

Joe gestured to two boys on the court. “Mel and Gene and me.”

“I thought you guys had played together before,” Bono said. “What made you try out for this team?”

Joe shrugged. “We heard about it at school and decided to give it a try. But if people think I’m goofing off when I’m really playing my best, then I’ll quit this team too.”

Bono sat there thinking, I never realized it before. What this team needs more than anything else is self-confidence. I’m worried because I’m too short. And Joe’s worried that he won’t be high scorer or snag all the rebounds. Everybody thinks he has to score double numbers to be valuable to the team.

For the first time Bono saw that the team needed someone to give the players confidence and the feeling of playing as a team. Maybe it needed him after all. “Help me to know what to do and to be fair always,” he silently prayed.

During the remainder of the tryout session, Bono played better than he had ever played before. Afterward, the coach announced the names of those who had made the team. Then he said, “Even though Bonifacio Diaz is shorter than anyone else, we need him. He’s a team player and a playmaker.”

Bono couldn’t stop smiling as he made the rounds congratulating the players and telling them he was glad they’d be playing together. When he reached home, he told his family the good news.

“That’s great, Bono,” Maria said, adding, “Mrs. Alvarez wants to see you tomorrow after school.”

“Okay but remind me in case I forget,” Bono said. Then he thought to himself, Everybody has problems … Mrs. Alvarez, Joe, and me. We all need help sometimes. I thought being short was the worst thing in the world. I always wanted to be over six feet tall. But now I’m just going to try to be the best playmaker I can.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Albert Michini