I wasn’t supposed to go to the gym today. We were scheduled to tape that little side project of ours, Karate Emergency. A conflict emerged with a member of the show (the same member who also doubles as our entire technical department), so we put Episode XXVI on ice for the time being. This, in turn, freed up my evening.
Now, I’m a pretty boring individual. Presented with spare time, I usually go work out, play basketball, write, or sleep. Nothing to see here. Please disperse. Very little excitement.
So naturally, after taking a brief nap (through innings nine, ten, and eleven of the Mariners game), I decide to rejoin society and head to the YMCA.
(While we’re on the subject, let me just say that the reason I’m a member of the YMCA, as opposed to the 24 Hour or L.A. Fitnesses of the world, is due entirely to the fact that there are fewer douchebags at the Y. I don’t want to be in the vicinity of douchebags when I’m working out. I just don’t. So please, consider the Y when selecting your gym of choice.)
I get to the gym and lift for a bit (yeah, you know I lift weights every now and then, just like the ten-year-old AIM profile says…) before grabbing a ball and going to shoot around for a bit.
You have to understand. Lately, my shot’s been on. ON on. Like, never-been-this-good-before on. Which is why I’ve been shooting around every chance I get. It’s one of those things you just want to hang onto. You miss a day of shooting, break that rhythm, and before you know it, you don’t have it anymore. I’m not trying to have that happen. I’m the same age as LeBron. If he’s about to enter his prime, then I should be right there with him. That’s my theory. Even though I don’t like the guy.
I only have about a half-hour to shoot around before the gym closes. Anytime my shootarounds are abbreviated, I like to ramp it up quickly to feel, you know, like I’m being productive. I want to break a sweat and get tired. That’s the whole point of working out, right? So I’ll extend my shot out to the arc quicker, work on my jumper at a more rapid pace, dribble the length of the court to improve the vision and the handles…and yes, I know what you’re thinking right now. I get it. It’s over for me. I’m never making the NBA. My college eligibility is gone. All this practice is for naught. And you’re basically right. But I don’t care. I just like to play. And when I play, I don’t want to suck. There’s a purpose here. It’s just lost amongst the reality of the situation. Which is that I’m 26 and never bound for anything more than rec league titles. I’m cool with that, though. In fact, I love it. It makes me happy and happiness should be everyone’s goal in life. Simple as that.
So I’m shooting and running and dribbling and enjoying this moment of unadulterated bliss when a little kid walks over to me and interrupts.
“You know how to play Bump?” he asks.
I pause mid-dribble. “Yes,” I respond.
“You wanna play?” This kid can’t be more than five years old. He doesn’t come up to my waist. I haven’t played Bump since I was about thirteen. I only have about twenty-five minutes left to knock down as many buckets as I can. None of this seems practical to me.
“Well,” I reply, “I appreciate the offer, but no, not today.”
“Okay.” He shrugs and dribbles away, launching up a knee-buckling, effort-filled eight-footer as he nears the hoop.
I go back to shooting. In between each shot, I grab my board and dribble between my legs out of habit as I make my way back out to the arc. The kid returns.
“I can do that, too!” he proclaims. He bounces the ball and slings his leg over it. He grins. “See!”
I laugh. “You’re pretty good at that, but can you do this?” I dribble behind my back a few times, then back through my legs.
He watches, bounces the ball, spins around, and promptly loses the handle. Matter-of-factly, he admits defeat: “Nope.”
“Keep working on it,” I tell him. “You’ll get there.”
He wanders off to work on this new move. I dribble to the other end of the court to shoot threes. I’m there for two minutes when the kid comes back. I can’t shake this kid. He’s a shadow.
He hurls up a few attempts without saying anything, hoisting this ball that’s half the size of his body from behind his ear with all the force in the world.
He marches out to the wing, about fifteen feet from the bucket. I put up a shot. He yells over to me.
“Hey!” I grab my board and look his way. “What’ll ya do if I make this shot?”
I ponder this for a half-second. “I’ll make that same shot, too,” I remark.
“Okay!” He catapults the ball towards the rim. Short. Airball. He races after his miss. This kid would make any coach proud with the hustle.
I walk over to the same spot and rip net. He doesn’t see me hit the shot. He picks up his ball and turns around.
“Didja make it?” he asks.
“Yeah, dude,” I answer back. I laugh. This kid’s funny.
He runs back to the spot with a look of determination on his face. He steps back, gets a running start, heaves…swish. “Got it!” he exclaims. I fetch his rebound for him and bounce the ball back. He wants to hit from everywhere now.
“Can you make it from here? What about here? Here? I bet you can’t make this. How ’bout this one?” We go around the entire length of the court trading shots, making some, missing others. When he misses badly he calls for a mulligan — “Again!” — and I feed him the pass with a caveat — “You better make it this time, then!” He laughs, then fires. He’s got skill for his size and might be the only person I’ve ever met who looks happier to be playing than me.
We play H-O-R-S-E at his behest. He gets four or five chances to my one; a modified set of rules for this kid who could outgun Kobe if given the opportunity. He takes a one-letter lead, but we only have two minutes before the gym closes for the night.
“All right,” I say, “we gotta get going, so this last shot wins.” I give him the ball. The grin on his face is replaced by a look of seriousness. He’s a gamer. He pauses, dips down low, shoots…and airballs.
“Again!” he cries. I send back his miss; he misfires a second time. His shoulders slump.
I shake my head. “Nah, man,” I tell him, “you’re not doing it right. That doesn’t count. If you were doing it right, the ball would be going in the hoop.” He senses the joke, chuckles, and perks up.
I give him the ball back. He dribbles, focuses, releases. The shot goes in. Kid grins like it’s Christmas morning. We high-five. I take off. He dribbles after me as his mom comes walking in to put an end to the play and take the party home. I knock down a long three before I leave — you just don’t leave without hitting one big shot — then bounce.
I feel like a superhero for the moment. And it’s great. It’s been a long couple weeks for me lately. I just haven’t had it. The words haven’t been there. The writing has struggled. My real job has worn me out. Things just haven’t been clicking. And in twenty-five minutes of playing ball with this kid, everything has changed.
Inspiration appears in the unlikeliest of places sometimes. You can search all you want for meaning, but often times meaning just finds you. There’s nothing you can do about it, really. It’s the way the world works, I guess.
This hobby of mine, this writing thing, it can be draining every now and then. But I love it. I really do. It means as much to me as all the ill-advised jumpers I uncork when I’m shooting around. And, you know it’s interesting, for all the scandals and sagas that anyone could possibly transcribe, it sometimes makes the most sense to write about nothing and just hope it works out.
And on the off-chance that you misfire, that you fail, that your shot is off the mark, take that do-over. You can always, always, always have an “Again!”
So let me just issue a big thank-you to a kid that will likely never read this. He brought me back to where I need to be. And even beat me at H-O-R-S-E in the process.