Jim Higgins reminisces as he looks down from the press box high above the court. He is preparing to broadcast the last play-by-play of his long career as the voice of the Letongaloosa Community Junior College basketball team. Fittingly, the Leopards are playing the La Mancha Mongrels.
In a game decades ago against the Mongrels, Jim earned the title “Jump Shot Jim.” In that contest, Jim had launched a desperation shot from midcourt just as the buzzer sounded. The ball swished into the net, breaking a 41-41 tie and giving the Letongaloosa Leopards the game and the conference title.
Higgins has been known as “Jump Shot Jim,” ever since. His transition from player to broadcaster was seamless. He received a degree in Duplicative Communicology from LCJC, and landed a job at radio station LCNU- FM. One night the station manager said:
“Zip down to the gym. You’re going to do the play-by-play of the Leopard’s game. Richard Handley’s voice cracked as he was doing the pregame show. He sounds like Donald Duck.”
Jim zipped down to the gym, clattered up to the press box, and slid behind the microphone just as the announcer began introducing the players. Jim scanned the names of the players on the other team. The broadcast went well and Jim became the new voice of the Leopards.
Jim did play-by-play as the team competed for conference titles and in postseason championship games.
One of Jim’s favorite trips was to the Florida Keys. He did play-by-play as the Leopards competed in the Banyan Basketball Invitational. He loved southern Florida. Now, standing in the Leopards’ press box preparing to broadcast his final game, Jim watches the team warm up and studies the Mongrel’s roster.
It turned out to be a great game. The lead went back and forth and was tied at the end of regulation play. In overtime the Leopards came out looking tired and the Mongrels dumped in six unanswered points. The Leopard’s coach called time out.
As the game resumed disaster struck the Leopards. Finney Fraser, the high scoring point guard, got hurt driving for a loose ball and had to come out. Two Leopard players had fouled out. The young sub who came on the floor was playing in his first post-conference game. Jim ran his finger down the Leopards’ roster looking for the sub’s name, and found it: Kurt Curtis, walk-on from Letongaloosa High School.
After the huddle and before the referees called the teams back onto the court, young Curt looked up at the press box. Jim couldn’t figure out why, but he waved and gave the boy a big thumbs up.
As the overtime minutes drained away the Leopards fell behind by four points. They picked up three on a jumper from the right side, and another on a free throw. The game was tied with seconds remaining. The coaches called time out.
The Leopard’s coach told his team to run down the clock and then feed the ball to their high scoring forward who would drive in for a buzzer-beating a lay-up. The play went perfectly until a high jumping Mongrel defender batted the ball away. The ball flew to mid court and landed in the hands of the Leopard’s substitute Kurt Curtis. Jim described the scene to the radio audience as Kurt let fly a jumper from mid court.
It was a swisher. All net. The Leopards won by three at the buzzer.
Jim lingered after everyone had left the triumphant Leopards arena. As he emerged from the door of the gym, young Kurt Curtis jumped down from the team bus and ran toward him.
“Sir, I’m Kurt Curtis. I’m a Duplicative Communicology major. When I was a kid my grandpa told me about your shot from mid-court that won the conference title. I want to be a play-by-play broadcaster.”
“You’ll be great one,” said Jim. “Everyone is already calling you “Key Shot Kurt.”
This particular column is near and dear to this ol’ humor writer’s heart. The Kansas House declared April 28th, “Bob Davis Day” in honor of KU’s beloved broadcaster’s , Bob Davis’ recent retirement. Rock Chalk!!
Dr. Larry Day is a retired KU J-School professor, current humor columnist and author of Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia, a book of humor columns that have nothing to do with old age, available at Amazon