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?
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...
Do you like abstract art?
No. I think it has its place. I think some people have the urge to paint, and they like to dream up things that are cerulean, and I think for some it's OK. But I don't like distorted things. I'm a realist.
Do you still paint?
Of course not. I'm sitting here waiting for the Great Reaper! [Laughs] Yeah, but I'm not morbid about it!
Has Willard Scott ever announced your birthday on the Today Show?
I don't remember that. Especially if they did say it, I wouldn't listen.
On February 6, an unidentified American Airlines pilot asked Christians on a flight from Los Angeles to New York to identify themselves and discuss their faith with their non-Christian passengers. Many people, who are obviously heathens and will burn for all eternity in a lake of fire, were alarmed by the pilot's actions. Not us. We do appreciate this courageous cockpit commander's attempt to move beyond the banalities of in-flight small talk. We've come up with a few more icebreakers.
Meet your seatmate of indeterminate ethnicity: This little in-flight game is not only good, it's good for you. Say there's a guy in coach whose country of origin you just can't pin down. Maybe he's from Pakistan, or maybe he's just from Greece and has a really excellent tan. Why take a chance? He has a beard, and that is clearly against the Patriot Act. So before the beverage service begins, invite his neighbors on Row C to say hi...and frisk him.
Discuss, in as much detail as possible, your favorite plane crash: Everyone's thinking about it, so just put it right out there on the table. If possible, get the rest of your flight crew to help out--doing different voices, making sound effects, that kind of thing.
"Is anyone onboard a member of the Mile High Club?": A home-run hitter among the 17-to-34 demo, this query gives your flight the crucial dose of sex appeal that puts asses in the seats. If you think the folks in your cabin are down for it, trot out this saucier alternative: "Anyone here fancy a shag in the loo?"
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.