Bonding over basketball (and chemistry) at a Target deli
Adele Walter learned everything she knows about basketball at a Target deli in Salt Lake City.
Before she found out exactly who LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas and Gordon Hayward were, she needed to know about the game itself, starting with how teams score points. So her 20-year-old coworker, Mohammed Jaljouli, explained the different types of shots: layups, 3-pointers, free throws. Then they moved on to fouls -- and that took awhile.
One night, she finished her shift, returned home and watched an NBA playoff game with her cats, two orange tabbies named Bambi and Schnicklefritz. But when she put it on, the game moved by so quickly that she didn't know why everything was happening the way it was.
So she grabbed a Sharpie and a piece of paper, used her DVR and began taking notes.
"Of all the things I hate in this life," Walter said, "I hate not understanding something."
She wrote down Pacers guard Lance Stephenson's statistics as they appeared on the screen. Based on her notes, the Cavaliers were leading the Pacers 38-34 midway through the second quarter of Game 4 in their first-round series. She jotted down the postseason's leading scorers. She copied the Western Conference bracket -- back when the Utah Jazz were down 2-1 in their first-round series against the Clippers.
Walter went back to the deli the next day, and instead of talking to Jaljouli about chemistry or "Longmire," the A&E series starring Robert Taylor, she showed Jaljouli the notes. She wanted to know more, mostly because of him.
"She paused the TV while she was watching the game and she literally wrote down everything that confused her," Jaljouli said. "That was the best part to me."
Jaljouli has loved the sport his whole life.
"He's just absolutely galvanized, and that gets my attention," Walter said.
For Jaljouli, it started with a Nintendo 64 video game. Originally from Queens, he grew up as a Miami Heat fan thanks to Dwyane Wade. Often, after finishing a 1-9 p.m. shift, he heads to the court to put up some shots with his brother.
Walter is the mother of four children who are in their 30s and 40s. She made a point to note that one of her sons is a medic in the military and another is a doctor. "All 10 of my grandchildren are geniuses, just ask me," she said with a laugh. Her husband, Bryan, died in 2008 of a heart attack.
She says Target is "the right environment for me" and enjoys working there. She is also a science junkie. She used to work as a licensed practical nurse, and she was entranced by the documentary "Particle Fever." When she found out that Jaljouli studied chemistry at Salt Lake Community College with hopes of transferring to the University of Utah, they immediately clicked.
"Adele's a really good talker," Jaljouli said, "so she could talk about anything for hours."
Their group at the deli at Target loves thoughtful, challenging conversation, with the occasional pun. Basketball is another way for them to connect.
Walter didn't tell Jaljouli she'd be taking notes while watching the game. He thought she would watch a little bit of the game and then change the channel and put on something else. Needless to say, he was surprised to see her with a page of notes from the night before.
"That's when I knew she was really determined to learn," he said.
She paused the TV while she was watching the game and she literally wrote down everything that confused her. That was the best part to me.Mohammed Jaljouli
Jaljouli explained who LeBron James was, mentioning his departure from and return to Cleveland. "He's a machine," Walter said.
She likes 5-foot-9 guard Isaiah Thomas and his Celtics. She's rooting for Boston not because she has any close ties to the city -- she was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana -- but rather because Robert B. Parker's books on the detectives Spenser and Hawk were set there.
Jaljouli can tell her basketball IQ is growing. For instance, she now abbreviates FT for free throws and can easily follow statistics. Plus, she remembered who Gordon Hayward was when he strolled into Target after the Jazz's season ended (though she didn't recognize him until Jaljouli pointed him out). And since Jaljouli and Walter share a bond -- no chemistry pun intended -- he makes for a good mentor.
"He's in chemistry, so he's very, very specific about everything, and I love it," Walter said. "Very clear and very detailed, and he slows it down to the pace that you understand."
It isn't the flashy dunks and highlight plays that keep Walter intrigued. It's the mental aspect of the game. How players can so easily find a rhythm and perfect their shooting motion. The physics. How 1/16th of an inch can be the difference between a shot going through the net or deflecting off the rim. The coordination. How much each player needs to process around him to set up a shot.
"It's so cerebral," she said.
Her NBA Finals prediction is Cavs-Warriors, and even after the playoffs end she plans to keep following the sport. In another week or so, she thinks she'll be able to watch a full game and understand everything that's happening. Once she grasps that knowledge, she'll have a deeper level of care.
"She loves it too now," Jaljouli said. "She's so interested, and I love that. It's teaching somebody your favorite thing in the world."