Wheel Skills

Plus: Painting Miss Violet; Pontius Pilot

 Wheel Skills

Twenty-three of the best basketball players without shoe contracts will gather in Atlanta this week for the 2004 National Wheelchair Basketball Association All-Star Classic in a game that won't be televised on TNT or even ESPN2. Representing the Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks is Jermell Pennie, who has helped lead the Wheelmavs to five championships in the past seven years. (He'll also play for the U.S. national team at the 2004 Paralympics in Greece.) Pennie spoke to Full Frontal from his job at an Arlington video-game company.

What happened to your legs?

Wheels in motion: Pennie jams.
Wheels in motion: Pennie jams.
Violet on her art: "If it ain't pretty, don't take it."
Violet on her art: "If it ain't pretty, don't take it."

I was shot at the age of 5. Three times. I guess you could call it a drive-by shooting. They were shooting at someone else, and I just happened to be there--and got shot.

One on one, you and Shaq?

I would get murdered.

What if Shaq were in a wheelchair, too?

Oh, he's in a chair? I would murder him.

What's the state of wheelchair basketball today?

Overseas it's really popular. Italy, Great Britain, Spain...they get crowds just like the NBA. But people in America hear wheelchair basketball, and the first thing they think is... Oh, that's cute. Guys in wheelchairs rolling around with a ball. People who come to see wheelchair basketball for the first time are like oh-my-God, I never knew wheelchair basketball was like this. The intensity, how physical it is.

Do they have charging in the NWBA?

Oh, yeah. Say, for instance, I'm at a standstill sitting sideways and a guy comes at me full speed and hits me. If I'm sitting still, it's pretty much a charge on him. It's pretty much NBA rules. Only thing we can't do is the vertical movement from side to side...And no dunking.

What's the scouting report on you?

People say I'm a hustler, a workhorse. I do a lot of dirty work, you know, pickin' and stuff. I'm a point guard, so I love handling the ball, pushing it up and making a dish. I'm a passer before I'm a shooter, but if I feel like I can shoot the ball and take over, I will. I love driving the lane [and] doing the Van Exel floater.

Does play ever get dirty?

Oh, yeah, you've got some guys who will use their cheat tricks. [They'll] loosen their strap, and some [players] can stand up a little bit to grab that extra rebound. Or you've got some guys who will lean away and use their feet to stop their chairs. You'll see guys with both hands on the basketball and suddenly their chair stops and turns, and you're like whoa, what happened there? You're not supposed to be able to use your feet.

Got any groupies?

[Laughs] At times, yes, we do. Yes. International-wise, when I was on Team USA trips in Argentina and Brazil, yes, I had groupies. Even after the game--I wear headbands and sweatbands, and I'm like drenching with sweat. And they want that! They were like surrounding me, and I couldn't even get to the locker room, so I had to just throw [the sweatbands] out--because they wanted that stuff. That was like crazy. I was like wow. I didn't know what to think. You could say I've met a couple friends playing wheelchair basketball. --Dan Michalski

Painting Miss Violet

Retired painter Violet Moulin, now 104 years old, still dons an outfit and jewelry when most of us would have resigned to 24-hour PJs and slippers. Numerous paintings, photos and trinkets keep Moulin, now residing at Retirement Inn at Forest Lane, in a time she enjoyed most. Her humor is contagious, and in her Jessica Tandy-like voice she makes me show her the press release that we received announcing her recent birthday and corresponding art show. She reads it aloud and grins mischievously. As she positions herself in a comfy armchair, she passes on some pre-interview advice: Take care of your teeth.

Is there a secret to living long?

Secrets? No, I just took it on the lam, as the saying goes.

When did you first start painting?

Oh, I started painting when I was a little kid. Now I'm 104.

What was the first thing that you painted?

Legs on houses. I used to draw a house, a little square, and then put a little square to hold the house up.

What did you use when you first started drawing?

I guess I used a slate. Yep, no doubt. You know, in those days, that's the only thing they had that I can think of.

You painted mostly portraits--of people you knew or of famous people?

Famous people. I painted the governor of Louisiana. I remember the governor 'cause I'm supposed to be famous because of that one! I remember painting him. He'd take his glasses out and put 'em on and start reading, and I'd say, "You can't do that!" [Laughs]

What is your favorite color?

Blue. I like blue. Blue always was a strange color because it always had so many different casts. And it was difficult to get a good blue. Some artists prefer a certain color, and I think mine was blue. But it's been too long...

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