db vs KVD: Billiards

Mike Johnson
Bass fishing icon Kevin VanDam takes on B.A.S.S. writer Don Barone in a game of billiards.

About the author

Don Barone

Don Barone

db has been in the reporting biz for over 30 years, won some Emmys and other awards, but is proudest of his four-decade marriage, his two kids and the fact he founded Tackle The Storm Foundation to help children.

"What is game,

who got game…"

Dateline: Billiards

I believe that every once in a while, the universe shows us its hand.

Turns its cards over, and lays it all out.

The full Monty.

Right there before us.

All the secrets, laid out. Space shrinks; time can be held in your hand. And every part of you fits together with every part of everything else.

Some call that Zen.

And frankly, the word Zen loses me… whenever I say it, I can only smell strawberry incense and cheap wine behind a door of beads.

Some call it meditation.

Meditation loses me, as well. I have tried it while listening to strangers hum over the sound of astral bells and harps.

The strangers pretty much just end up listening to me snore.

I think you can bring New Age to the Old Age but New doesn't seem to stick much for me.

But I do believe that there is something like Zen, something like meditation. I believe it because every once in a while I do see the cards that the universe holds.

And when that happens, when the universe shows its hand, that, that I think is called…GAME.

Truth.

I cover and write about sports for one reason and for one reason only.

Game!

Don't matter the sport.

I…chase…game.

It has fascinated me all my life, this concept called, Game.

Not "Sport," but Game.

I don't watch much sports, don't watch much TV at all. When I'm on the road, I never watch TV; I usually unplug the thing so I can use the socket to charge one of the many batteries I carry for the cameras, laptop and Ipod.

For the most part, I don't like TV…and I have spent 30 years working in television news and programming.

But every once in awhile over those 30 years, there would be a moment, a moment that made all the years before it (and all the years after it to the next moment) all worthwhile.

I believe that moment to be…GAME.

Since around May 1992, I have worked covering the highest level of professional sports on this planet. Have done stories involving all those sports you watch and love…NFL…NBA…NCAA…MLB…NHL…NASCAR.

Except for my insane and non-defensible love of the Buffalo Bills, except for that one quirk (some may say flaw in my being), for the most part, I only had a passing interest in the sports I was covering.

It's not the score that interests me…it is the magic…that moment in time when a player, when a team glimpses the cards the universe holds.

When the universe’s got game.

"…where's the game
in life
behind the game
behind the game…"

I get that sports can be a mindless distraction from day to day life, a place where you can root for your team, be happy, be mad, down a few brews and escape all that pain in the arse stuff that lies just outside the gates of the arena.

I get all that and have made good money giving fans that stuff. I had a business card that most guys would kill for, a card with the biggest four guy letters on the planet…ESPN.

But after doing this for 20-some years, if all I have ever done is bring you the facts, the how, the score…I feel like I have wasted two decades of my life.

After all of that, I feel that if we can't take something with us from the sport, something worthwhile in life, than the sport itself is worthless.

Then sport itself is just an escape; nothing wrong with that but it makes me feel like an empty journalist.

Which is why I chase the moment in time when Game happens, because if we can understand Game, and bring Game to our real life, outside the walls of the arena, we will have finally discovered the real meaning of sports.

That sports is a microcosm of life.

Then, to me, it is meaningful.

Then, I can face the young children hanging over the fences hoping to get an autograph from the athletes; just knowing that the kids may be actually getting more than just a signed piece of paper.

The kids may also be getting, Game…for the game of life they will face both on and off the field.

But never in my quest to understand Game have I had the opportunity to be around the type of athletes I'm around now.

Regular guy athletes.

The best of the best, but guys who have had to suck it up to get here.

I can tell you personally that none of these guys have let the best of the best stuff go to their heads…that alone in professional sports is news.

These guys are you…you with what you could be if you had their talent.

In the last sport I will ever cover, I find myself in a Petri Dish that is real life.

I paid all the dues needed to get here but, in a strange way, I think all those dues prepared me for this.

Dues paid…for asking how.

Dues paid…for writing scores.

Dues due…discovering the why.

More Truth.

My mental balance hangs on this.

I am frustrated.

I feel like a failure.

Because I have yet to explain to you, after all these years, what the essence of Game is which would allow you to figure out how you can use Game in your own life.

I feel that way, because when the universe shows us its cards, it is showing us that Game…is possible.

"…it might feel good
it might sound a lil’ somethin’
but damn the game
if it don't mean nuttin’…"

Neither one of us wanted to be doing this…playing pool.

Both of us felt like crap.

Welcome to db vs KVD, Part 2.

KVD was just a couple hours removed from competing all day in boiling hot weather…a heat warning index of 100 degrees.

I had spent most of the day in bed, all my energy knocked out by the radiation of the radioactive seeds implanted in my prostate to fight the prostate cancer.

We were both just flat out spent.

The game room in the hotel was on the second floor, upstairs over the pool; and it wasn't air conditioned…was hotter inside it than outside the hotel.

We put our money in the table, and not all the balls came out of the table…so KVD and Mike Johnson (the dude who took the photos) had to stand at one end of the table and lift it up a couple of times, dropping it to dislodge the trapped balls.

Not to mention the level of the table afterwards.

It was decided…two games…no practice.

KVD broke on the first game.

I broke on the second game.

KVD was stripes.

I was solids.

Winner was the guy who knocked in all their billiard balls plus the  8 ball.

Game one…we both start off strong. KVD managed to run two balls, sometimes a three-ball run….me…long shots with lots of green in between the cue ball and the solid ball in the corner pocket…I never could make a run though…and KVD got up big on me quick.

Game one: KVD

Game two, I broke, scattered everything all over the table. KVD picked up two shots on me with his first shot…I kept just getting one ball in at a time…couldn't make a run for the life of me…but then KVD missed a couple of shots. And we were suddenly even with each having just one ball on the table plus the 8 ball.

"The next couple of shots will be game, db."

I knew that but I just leaned on my stick and looked at him….Game Time.

From my experience bowling against him

I knew this…

That when KVD feels, senses the moment…that special moment when all is on the line…when he knows he can go in for the kill, he gets excited, can taste the win and I called him on it.

"So, dude, you are getting all jitter. Your lips get tight; your face is getting all tight like…"

"Yeah… I know, db, I get cocky…"

I just watched.

He walks around the table, stops at a corner, backs up and down a couple of time looking at the various angles…

…I never for a moment look at the table…

KVD has brought his two roommates, Scott Rook and Davy Hite, with him to the billiards match-up. Both roomies are leaning up against a wall and calling out shots for KVD.

I knew this would happen…knew KVD would bring Scott and Davy…so I brought Mick. Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones are playing over and over again in the headphones looped around my neck.

Over and over Mick is telling me:

"…but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find…you get what you need…"

And I believe Mick.

If he calls my shot, though, I might have to adjust my medication.

KVD has ramped up his movements; it's interesting and I'm sure completely unintentional but as he surveys the table he is holding and moving his pool stick like it is a fishing rod.

He calls his shot and then looks up at me…normally when he does that, he smiles and winks but not this time. This time he just looks at me, a stare, I suddenly completely understand sight fishing (from the fish’s point of view), and then his eyes move to looking straight down the stick.

The stick moves back…the wind-up.

The pitch….a slow ball.

I never take my eyes of KVD…his face will tell me my fate.

KVD looks up at me and says, "That was the game right there, db."

He missed.

And then came, if only for a fraction of a second, then came Game.

If this was a movie, at this point the camera would have suddenly started speeding up and circling the table and me and KVD…a long…fast…looping camera movement.

The heat of the room didn't matter.

The roommates didn't matter.

Mick didn't matter.

What mattered…me…KVD…the next shot.

I called the ball, corner pocket, bam, thunk of the ball banging into the back of the leather/wood pocket.

"Eight ball…corner pocket," and with the stick I pointed.

KVD’s eyes never followed the stick.

He never moved from where he stood.

I bent over and lined up the shot; it was only me and the ball.

Soft hit.

Wait…wait…clunk.

Eight ball, corner pocket.

KVD, "You win, db."

And I may or may not have won; I banked the 8 ball off of the KVD ball he missed…Davy Hite said that didn't count…KVD said it did because I called the pocket…I didn't know.

I didn't care.

Sure, I want to beat the ever living britches off the KVD…and the same holds true for him beating me.

But that does nothing for you or me.

It is the moment of the GAME I chase. After the game, I asked KVD one question and only one question: "Tell me dude…what does GAME mean to you?"

KVD: "For me when it's game time, I just have the ability to have total focus…absolute total focus. The competitive spirit doesn't matter; you have to bring a totally different mentality to it."

Db: "Do you got game, dude?"

KVD: "db, when you say 'Let’s go…everything changes…everything in my body…my mind…changes."

Coming up next db vs KVD: Darts.

And this time we will do it alone…no roommates…no Mick Jagger…just me and Kevin.

We will throw down in Oneida…the last Elite tournament of 2012…and in between throws, we will talk.

I will be asking about this: "db, when you say 'Let’s go…everything changes…everything in my body…my mind…changes."

And I will be asking about those changes.

And I will be asking how he does it.

And I will be asking…how you can do it as well.

So that all of us, got Game.

And it will be called:

db vs KVD 3: Changes.

"I got game
She got game
We got game
They got game
He got game"

“He Got Game”

Public Enemy

db

 

PS: For those keeping score: In two games of bowling, I won the practice game and KVD won the real game. In pool, KVD won the first game and I may or may not have won the second game. You can score this as you like.

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