It’s been more than 35 years since I’ve attended a high school basketball game, but when my friend Mark suggested that we check out Wednesday’s tilt between the now-legendary Braham Bombers and our South High Tigers, I couldn’t help myself. We could witness some history in the making.
The boys from Braham, if you haven’t been paying attention, are gradually closing in on the state high school boys basketball record for consecutive wins, currently held by those cake eaters from Edina, who won 69 straight between 1965 and 1968. Braham arrived at this week’s holiday tournament at Bethel University having won 63 in a row.
So we journeyed last night to the wilds of New Brighton, where we found a long line of high school fans outside the gymnasium and a certain sense of inevitability inside. The Bombers, we soon discovered, were composed of exceedingly long and lanky farm boys, led by the state’s most coveted player, Isaiah Dahlman, a 6-7 guard who has already signed with Michigan State University. Our South High Tigers, on the other hand, seemed undermanned by comparison, staffed as they were by muscular, but tiny fellows who seemed a bit in awe of their role in this particular piece of high school sports history.
The capacity crowd watched as the Bombers raced to an early 9-0 lead, with the Tigers struggling to find their rhythm and Isaiah Dahlman and his teammates slashing repeatedly to the basket for easy layups or spotting up for open three-pointers. Midway through the first half, the lead stretched to beyond 20 points before a brief flurry by our South lads late in the first half narrowed the lead to 19, 40-21.
With the contest on the court turning one-sided, the only tension among the crowd came from a rude fellow two rows down who insisted on standing throughout most of the first half. “I can’t see,” he replied when spectators behind him implored him to remain seated. A couple of Braham boosters threatened to “knock him down” if he didn’t desist, but that only brought his two friends their feet. “Ya gonna knock us down, now?” they asked, with much bravado. No punches were thrown.
My friend and I were left to ponder the relative talents of Isaiah Dahlman during the halftime intermission. The senior swingman was certainly an assertive offensive threat (he amassed more than half of the Bombers’ points in the first half—23 of 40, and seemed immune to the defensive gambits offered by our South High heroes. I was just as intrigued, however, with brother Noah Dahlman, the less-heralded junior who seemed to work harder underneath the basket and exhibited a nice touch around the rim along with more familiarity with the offensive rebound than his older brother.
The second half began much like the first, with the Bombers vexing the Tigers with their defensive intensity and offensive precision. Still, the overmatched South High players maintained their composure and found a path to the basket from time to time with some timely individual heroics. A curly-haired fellow wearing number 4 hit a three-pointer over Isaiah Dahlman and I mentioned to Mark that “he’ll tell his children about that someday—how he lit up the great Dahlman that night at Bethel.” Meanwhile, Isaiah slowed his offensive barrage and shared the ball a bit more than earlier in the game, and the lead gradually grew to 30 points.
The brothers Dahlman departed with about 3:30 left in the game and the Bombers up by 28. The reserves, led by a lanky guard whose name I didn’t catch, actually expanded the lead as the clock ticked down to the final 30 seconds, when the Bombers’ coach cleared his bench—including the youngest Dahlman, 9th grader Jonah, who we thought must get beaten up on a regular basis by his older brothers, as he appeared to be a mere sapling among the trees on the Bethel court.
A late three-pointer by a particularly competitive Tiger guard brought the final score to a relatively respectable 74-46, and the Bombers had escaped with their 64th straight win. Isaiah Dahlman led the way with 31 points while his brother Noah had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Jonah was held scoreless.
Exiting the small gymnasium, I was reminded of the marvelous informality of high school sports when we ran into Jonah (who was much shorter than his 5-11 advertised height) and Isaiah (all elbows, shoulders, and bright pink teenage pimples above the crowd) in the hallway. Both seemed immune to the encroaching celebrity—a fact that pleased me much more than the final score.