It could turn out that the greatest memory of Derrick Shore’s basketball career was an air ball he shot last month.
It wasn’t just any old air ball, however. Shore, along with teammates Graham Bodnar and Joel Wiebe, was on the Air Canada Centre court at halftime of an NBA preseason game between the Toronto Raptors and the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 17.
The Manitoba trio was on the floor for a six-minute game against a team from Montreal that they had lost to the previous day in the national final of the NBA Jam Session 3-on-3 tournament.
"I shot an air ball on my first shot and the whole crowd was booing me," said the 31-year-old St. Vital resident. "But I kind of just laughed it off. I guess they were expecting more from the championship teams, but it’s hard when you’re not warming up or anything and they expect us to put on a show."
Longshot, as the team is known, won four straight games to capture the open 19+ division of the local tournament in September. The victory earned them a trip to Toronto to face the other five local champions in a tournament held at the Raptors’ own practice facility.
The team split its round robin games, beating Calgary before losing to Halifax. That was enough to earn a berth in the semifinal against Toronto, with a spot in the next day’s halftime show on the line.
In some ways, Longshot’s 16-11 win in that game was as important as a potential championship would have been.
"After we beat Toronto, I said, ‘We’ve got it,’ " said Bodnar, a 29-year-old from St. Vital who now lives in Fort Richmond. "That was the actual prize: to get to the final game. That, to me, was the biggest part. That was the moment."
The team lost 16-8 to Montreal in the final, but exacted a small measure of revenge by outscoring their rivals 5-2 during the six-minute exhibition in front of a crowd that was fired up to see Canadian basketball legend Steve Nash.
Shore and Bodnar both said the six minutes felt like 30 seconds.
"It was amazing," said Shore, who played high school basketball at Dakota Collegiate. "It’s hard to take everything in."
Bodnar, who played at College Jeanne-Sauve before joining the basketball program at Providence College from 2001 to 2005, said the whole trip was an experience of a lifetime.
"It was beyond what I could have imagined," he said. "They treated us first class. I’m an unbelievable basketball fan, and I never thought I’d get to do anything like this."
Bodnar and Shore have partnered in local 3-on-3 tournaments over the past five years, winning three times. But this was the first year they were joined by Wiebe, a Winkler, Man., native.
The strength of the team is its balance, with all three players around 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 and able to match up against bigger or smaller opponents.
With no true point guard or big man, Longshot is able to keep the opposition off balance offensively and defensively.
"We can guard anybody and vice versa," Bodnar said. "We may have some trouble with smaller or bigger guys, but we can all guard a little bit of both."