With his fingertips tense, K.'s exaggeratedly large hands can palm the ball. K. is a small man, and palming the ball does not compensate for his height, however. K. can jump. But even so he only bangs his wrist on the rim. He needs to propel himself that extra inch for the jam. The dunk. The stuff. He considers the power of the tomahawk and the whirl of the two-handed reverse. He thinks as he massages the red welt across his wrist: I'll never be called Air K.

K. is not entirely earthbound. He can get up. The unfortunate reality of practicing the slamdunk, however, as opposed to other shots, is that one's legs quickly begin to tire after a few attempts. The first few leaps have a potential that quickly drops: after ten attempts a successful dunk is practically impossible. If others are hanging around the playground they will notice someone trying and failing to dunk, clanking the ball against the rim and backboard. The backboard is metallic and loudly shakes with each attempt. The belief that he is being watched, that his failures to dunk are mocked by the children on the jungle-gym who cannot even manage to toss the ball into the hoop (let alone elevate for the slamdunk)—besides the fatigue, this belief that he is being watched and criticized by all those in sight leads K. to stand at the foul line and practice foul shots.

The foul shot is an exercise in concentration. The distance is exact and the height specific, and K. must simply aim for a spot just in front of the back of the rim. He places his feet behind the foul line, bouncing the ball twice, gripping the ball loosely with fingertips along the black grip-lines. He concentrates on the net that’s been shredded from weather and the thousands of scores held and slowed there. From certain angles, especially from the corners, the ball continues untouched through the rim to the court's floor.

K. stares at the slightly trembling net, moves his eyes to the back of the rim, which from his angle at the foul line seems lower than the front lip of the hoop. K. never stares at the backboard, which only exists for layups and misses and the rare angled shot. Then he bends his knees and continues upwards. After this slight move, his knees extend, his arms rise and the ball rolls off his hands with the correct backwards rotation (initiated by a slight downwards flick in his fingertips) and then, if all is well-executed, the ball goes through the hoop, just barely touching the back of the rim enough to propel it on two or three hops back to the foul line where K. repeats the process without changing the position of his feet. If at some point in the process he deviates from what is necessary, the ball may clank off the rim in any number of directions, or occasionally bounce off the rim, off the backboard, and through the hoop.

K. considers the projection of the free-throw a perfect oval only interfered with by the concrete of the painted key.

When he misses and the ball bounds off, he reacts, tries to get it off one short bounce, immediately following his shot. Not only does this improve his reaction to the ball for rebounding, it sets up any number of unpracticed shots true to the game situation. It also forces him to return to the foul line for a fresh repetition of the process.

The three-point shot is unlike the foul shot or the slam in that this shot is almost entirely contingent on reaction. Again he sets a sight just in front of the back of the rim, but only stares at this point before shooting. First he dribbles, trying to keep his bounces low, in good form, then quickly he sets his feet square to the hoop, pulls up, tries to find the black grip-lines for good rotation, and lets fly. As the ball soars the distance from the top of the foul line (the three-point line extended and curving equidistantly to the baseline), there is no return. Shots from beyond the arc. Submission. Once the ball flies, for that second, K. cannot influence the shot. The ball's in flight. He watches expectantly, leaning as though his body could affect the ball’s trajectory.

He rushes in if the projection seems off. If the ball seems on line to swish, he admires the ball's flight from where his feet land, then casually recovers the ball after it's made its way through the air, the hoop, and bounced off the concrete beneath the basket. Such satisfaction is limited, however, since the ball in his hand again seems drawn to the hoop, as though by strong magnets. The hoop seeks a ball, and satisfaction is necessarily brief.

If K. succeeds in consecutively making a number of shots, the satisfaction compiles. He begins to carelessly shoot. Carelessness occasionally succeeds. Often a careless shot falls short off the front of the rim, however, or is shot too strongly and bounds off the back of the rim, the backboard, then down to the concrete. Each miss reduces his stock of satisfaction, forces K. to regroup. He concentrates once again on a three-pointer, a foul shot, or simply takes an easy layup.

K. believes the righteous player practices. There is no such thing as perfect practice, he says to himself, squaring his sneakers behind the foul line, there is only practice. Even the careless shot is practice in careless shooting. All practice is perfect, and so there is no such thing as perfect practice. It is all practice. K. believes that through practice, he will eventually elevate that extra inch and slam the ball with authority through the hoop.

K. tries to slam again. He stands at the top of the key, rushes forward, right-hand dribbling, crosses the foul line, switches left, another step, a strong two-handed bounce, then he pushes hard off his right foot, extending his left arm with the ball tightly gripped in his fingertips. The hoop rejects him. He lands awkwardly as the ball bounces off the rim towards the chainlink fence around the court. He goes back to the foul line and prepares for another long series of foul shots.

Invariably, while practicing, someone walks through the opening in the fence, interrupts, asks to take a few shots, comments on how low the hoop seems, then challenges K. to a game of one-on-one. The first time a challenger mentioned that the hoop seemed low K. disregarded the comment, thinking the hoop only seemed low to this one man. It’s regulation height. After a few others made the same comment, however, K. began to suspect that, in fact, the hoop was an inch or two low. If he succeeded in slamming the ball it would only be a success with regard to this one particular hoop. If he managed to routinely dunk at this one hoop he would one day confidently stride towards another hoop, on another court, jump with ball gripped in tense hand, and once again he would be rejected, the ball bounding off towards whatever chainlink fence surrounded the court.

While practicing alone, if K. hits more than ten shots in a row, he begins to look around to see if anyone is watching his streak. If no one's in the general area, he looks a ways down the street to see if any challengers may want to face him. He stands silently looking at the court. He listens for a faint approaching bounce.  There are rarely any challengers when he's on a streak, and if anyone is in the area their backs face the court or they are lovers on a bench staring into each other rather than watching K. bury three-pointer after three-pointer. This is when K. slams. He leaps and guides the ball through the hoop. His wrist hits the rim, the backboard clanks and rattles, the ball goes through the hoop. To anyone watching it would seem as if he slammed. This is another failure, however. He wants to throw the ball down through the hoop with authority. He wants to hear the net crack. He wants to hear conversations hush.

K. is often successful in games of one-on-one. He is a horrible scorekeeper, and even if he's winning by three baskets he still may answer as to “the count” as “even” or occasionally he may give the opponent a one basket edge if he's entirely forgotten. Even if he wins a game to eleven he forgets that win as quickly as the opponent says "let's run it back." K. prefers to consider "run it back" literally, and if he won 11-7 he believes he needs eleven to win and his opponent only seven. The opponent believes “run it back” to mean “play another” and begins the score at zero-zero ascending rather than descending from the final score of the last game. K. is not daft. He prefers the greater challenge. He counts his score back from eleven, and his opponent counts from zero to eleven, and when the two numbers draw near around six, there is ultimate confusion. K often suggests they "just play" without keeping score if there is no one waiting to play the winner.

K. has had bronchial problems, however, and his endurance is inadequately suited for games without a winning score that ends a game and allows a breather. The game without score goes on and on. The tally is based on exhaustion rather than shots made. K. wears worn-thin, ratty old running shoes. His opponents often wear brand new leather hightops with air in the soles, pumped tighter by a miniature basketball on the padded tongue. K.'s running shoes are beginning to wear through the toes. The laces one jerk from snapping. He'll never buy a one hundred and forty dollar pair. He prefers endurance shoes. Maybe he thinks he will give up basketball, run alone through the neighborhoods, wherever he can, as long as he can, without all the sudden jumps, leaps, starts, pivots, and steps of basketball. Running would mean distance. He would try to stretch his distance. Twice then three times around the neighborhood.

But running would never be enough. K. needs to enter the court surrounded by tall chainlink fences, stare at the hoop, and shoot. He needs the moment the ball leaves his hand. K. can't slam, and so he must continually practice so that one day he will propel himself that extra inch and throw the ball down through the hoop with authority. Until that day comes, however, he must be patient and practice. When that day comes, at the other end of the court, there will always be the hoop that is said to be regulation height.