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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When I think about the Celtic's Ray Allen, I think about retired Cleveland Cavalier Mark Price. Mention Mark Price--I think about phonology.

In April 2009, my son and I lucked out with a behind-the-scenes tour at the TD Bank Garden, several hours before a Celtics game. Shortly after admiring photos of Ted Williams’ elegant swing in a mini-shrine devoted to the great batsman, we noticed Ray Allen alone on the floor circumnavigating the 3-point arc. I began counting. Before I lost interest, Ray had made 17 of 20 3-point jumpers from his “spots” around the arc. Most of the positive outcomes were all net. If you focused on just the bottom of the net, you’d see it flip half a foot upward with clone-like precision before dropping back down in the ball’s wake. Ray’s delivery was efficient but much more. Its gracefulness was a basketball analog to the Williams swing.

Forget Ray’s streakiness in this year’s playoff finals. Historically, he shares stratospheric company with the NBA’s shooting elite. Only Reggie Miller has made more 3-point shots. And in lifetime percentage for free throw completions, Ray ranks number nine (.885) on a compressed roster led by the astounding Mark Price (.904).

These days, Price, who spent most of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, is a shooting coach for the Atlanta Hawks. He trains other NBA players at the Mark Price Basketball Academy in Suwanee, Georgia. The academy’s Mark Price Shooting Lab employs radar and video tracking equipment to evaluate shooting arc and the mechanics of a shooter’s form.

Mention Mark Price--I think of  phonology. That’s because of a memorable moment with my late aunt—a language scholar—inspired by my high school friend, Marc Price. Aunt Sylvia and her husband, my Uncle Bill—a philosopher and editor—were language sticklers. They were that rare couple that at the dinner table might argue over the use of the subjunctive.

One June just after the end of the high school year in Worcester, Massachusetts, Marc and I visited Sylvia and Bill in Washington, D.C. Marc returned to Worcester a week later; I stayed on in Washington. After he had left, Sylvia remarked that she had enjoyed his company. But she had one reservation: Every time you hear his first and last name together, she emphasized, there’s a sonic explosion. That’s the k sound and the p sound colliding without the buffer of a consonant in between. That’s phonological trouble, she said. I’m sure his parents had no idea what they were doing when they named him. We’ll all just have to grin and bear it.

For the future author of Wig & Pen, that insight proved far more eventful than dinner time revelations about the subjunctive. It was the beginning of a realization that I had better pay greater attention to the role of sound and rhythm in both writing and speech. So in making tradeoffs as a writer and editor, one inevitable question on my short list of concerns is and always will be—How does it sound?

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