Basketball plays a very important part of my life. Ball is one of the few things in my life that I’ve stuck with faithfully for the last six years. Cigarettes, writing, and drinking are the other vices that strip away at my spiritual and physical health, but basketball replenishes me without the stigma of salads and jogging.
I just wish that I had began playing basketball, or any kind of sport for that matter, when I was younger.
I don’t know how I’d present sport to my son. I probably would have hated my parents for forcing me into sports when I was a kid, I was too focused on saving the Princess and counseling Messrs Crono, Cloud, and Squall on how to save their world. I had my head deep into books and the Internet. I liked watching sports, the highlight reel displays of athleticism were as awe-inspiring as a well orchestrated Limit Break. But playing? I already knew I was irreconcilably clumsy, a disparate group of limbs that each spoke a different language. How could they ever work together as an athletic machine?
Beyond my limitations, very few people start off as natural ballers. This is especially so for people with lacking hand-eye coordination, no formal training, unrefined timing, rhythm, and depth perception. To play basketball effectively, you need all of these things. If you have none, basketball is a fucking hard game to play, especially when your only option is playing pick up with skilled strangers at the local court.
It’s like going to the gym for the first time. You’re intimidated by all the people lifting what you possibly can’t. Those otherworldly, sculpted bodybuilders or massive strongmen pressing stacks of plates on heavy metal bars. When you see such a gap of skill, you wonder why you’re even there at all.
Most people start off by shot putting the ball (2 handed sometimes, like I did) and trying to will it into the basket with telekinesis. A friend of mine used to mimic the Hadouken technique from Street Fighter. But even when you learn proper shooting form, making baskets is such a difficult art that even pros that convert 45%+ of their tries are considered elite.
So with all these barriers in becoming good at the game, and being conscious of having minimal natural talent at the game, it took a long time to really delve into the culture of pick-up basketball. I didn’t start playing regularly until my first year at UCLA.
I sucked ass. Predictably.
I continued playing. I found my niche. Narrowed down my role on the court until I had mastered the few skills that gave me the right to play with strangers. I set picks, I invested most of my energy on rebounding and defense. Most of my peers took their basketball cues from gifted guards like Kobe, Tony Parker, and Baron. I focused on the non-stop grind of Joel Przybilla, the defensive instincts of Tyson Chandler, and the footwork of Pau Gasol. I learned to put a body on my guy when a shot was released, learned how to swim out of box-outs, learned the proper angling of a pick, how to time my jumps so that my hand would always contest a shot.
Mostly, basketball continues to teach me that there’s no reason why I should be the outsider looking in at any point. When I started to write this post, I thought to all the lost opportunities to better myself because I lacked the confidence to jump into the moment. I have to remember that there was a point when my game was an embarrassment, but I managed to make it work down the line.
I’m a player, not a great one by any stretch of the imagination, but a player nonetheless. I made myself worthy of the court. Now, I can make myself worthy of other things too.