SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)—With one uncommonly awesome dunk over Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, 19-year-old Andres Nocioni gave Argentina a basketball highlight to last a generation…
Even considering Nocioni’s feat, it is unlikely that anyone will ever forget the highlight of Argentina’s previous generation. They called him Paracaidista, or “paratrooper,” for the way he soared. It was ’75, and no one had seen anything like Ernesto Soriano.
Basketball, or baloncesto, was still in its infancy in South America. Futbol was king, and it was rare for anyone to have seen an actual basketball game, let alone played in one.
Ernesto was different. Oddly, his family’s small tv received nothing but ABA games. Ernesto was transfixed by the St. Louis Spirits. While he didn’t understand the annoucer’s jabbering, the game needed no translation. As he watched Fly Williams and Marvin Barnes, he fell in love. And as he ran to school every day, dribbling his makeshift basketball, he imagined the day he could play with his heroes.
Two years later, while walking along beach in Mar del Plata, he saw a familiar figure dressed in a fur coat, 11 women on each arm. Marvin Barnes! Ernesto tugged on Barnes’ sleeve and used the only English he knew “Shirts or skins?” Barnes smiled.
“Shirts.” The nearest court was 27 miles away. Barnes drove his Rolls—Ernesto ran.
Ernesto faked, and Barnes, weighted down by his mink, bit. One step and the 5-8 12-year-old Ernesto was soaring towards the basket like Fly. The years of training—running 40 miles a day—were paying off. Paracaidista reached his peak, and with a blood-curdling scream he slammed the ball through, tearing the rim clean off.
As he handed the rim to Barnes, he spoke: “En tu cara.”
Roughly translated? In your face.