I’ll play in gyms, on asphalt, in the sunshine, in the rain, under a moonlit sky, beneath the glaring fluorescence of floodlights.
I’ll play with men and women, boys and girls, teenagers, adults, senior citizens, white people, black people, brown, yellow, red, green, blue, purple. It doesn’t matter. I’ll play with anyone.
Some days I’ll be on, some days I’ll be off. Some days I’ll be smooth, some days I’ll be shaky. Some days I’ll be hot, some days I’ll be cold. But for every bad day, I’ll come back to make the next one good.
Basketball is a simple game. On one end, you’re tasked with putting a round ball through a circular hoop sitting ten feet off the ground. On the other end, you’re tasked with preventing an opponent from putting a round ball through a circular hoop sitting ten feet off the ground. It’s as easy as that.
In this country, basketball is the redheaded stepchild of our major sports scene. This is due in large part to the failed endeavors of the NBA to promote a wholesome image of the game on our home soil. We tend to amalgamate the National Basketball Association with thuggery, with crime, with lavish lifestyles, exorbitant contracts, unrelatable personalities, and egregious disloyalty to a once-loyal fan base. At its highest organized level, the sport has crumbled, distancing itself from an entire generation of individuals who will never understand the beauty of a game I hold near and dear to my heart.
Basketball is not limited to the misdeeds of the NBA, or even the slightly more puritanical rendition of play found in the NCAA. Basketball is more than free agency, more than letters of intent, more than scholarships, more than scandal, more than pricey footwear and apparel, more than an image, a rep, or anything else that could possibly serve to complicate the austerity of a dribble, a pass, and a shot.
We tend to overlook what basketball does for those who play it. It breeds self-confidence, assuredness, mental toughness, physical toughness, teamwork, awareness, intelligence, work ethic, desire, a positive attitude, and social skill. The latter perhaps coming as a result of all those on-court verbal jab sessions your uber-confident ballplayers might engage in from time to time (myself included).
Basketball is an American game, created in this country, for our citizens, and adopted by the rest of the world. There are cities in this great nation of ours that may lack open fields upon which to play baseball, football, or soccer. But in almost every township, every borough, and every neighborhood in the United States, you will find a hoop inviting you to shoot baskets on it.
And in its most granular form — that of the shootaround — basketball becomes more than a game. It’s just practice, yes. The act of honing one’s skills, or working on one’s shot, or taking on one’s shadow in a fierce battle of man-versus-mirage.
But for some, like me, basketball is therapy. The court is a sanctuary, the ball a shoulder to lean on, the hoop a sense of reassurance. The court heals, it soothes, it lets one cope with anything — from heartache, to stress, to breakups, to death. It doesn’t judge. It doesn’t interrupt. It doesn’t sympathize through words or actions. Rather it waits. Always open. Always available. Always ready. And when you seek out its advice, its care, its comfort, it indulges. It obliges. And it does so asking nothing of you in return.
The pulse of the dribble. The rip of the net. The squeaking of soles. The thud of the backboard. The clank of the rim. This is the chatter of the game. The conversations we have together. A “clank” and I can do better. A “rip” and my effort has sufficed. And in between we bounce, the ball a heartbeat that carries life from shot to shot.
Some people drink. Some people cry. Some people yell. Some people vent. Some people eat. Some people sleep. Some people run. Some people walk. Some people punch. Some people kick. Some people fight. Some people scream. Some people shop. Some people hate. Some people love.
I play basketball. It is my outlet. My solace.
I run in the heat. In the cold. In the twilight. Amidst the sunset. Beneath the stars.
I could sit, or stand, or lie and wait. I could do anything. I could nothing. Instead, I play basketball.
I’m twenty-five years old. I intend to play until I’m one-hundred-and-twenty-five. I will teach my children, my grandchildren, their children. I will watch them play. I will play alongside them. We will play. My life will be a game.
Beyond everything else — the work, the job, the family, the friends, the house, the car, the pets, the possessions — there will be a common denominator, an underlying bond, a running theme. It will be basketball. It is basketball. This is what basketball means to me.