Updated: Oct 29, 2019
I’m not sure where my love for basketball originated. Growing up, my dad was a big New Jersey Nets fan, so he brainwashed me when I was young to root for the Nets (instead of the Knicks). I didn’t stand a chance.
I think junior high was when I seriously got into playing the actual game.
The gym teacher would make us shoot free throws, and lay-ups non-stop. And my coordination was fairly good, so I developed a nice rhythm when it comes to shooting the ball. I’m not exactly Stephen Curry out there, but I was passable as an 8th grader.
Sometimes, while playing pick-up games, I would like to prove people wrong. To surprise them, and to let them know that a short and skinny guy can be respectable in this game. I went thru that phase of measuring how many points I scored at the end of each game to gauge success.
Sometimes, I couldn’t help but mimic some of the top players of those days. I would try my hand at crossovers, fadeaways, and ad-hoc mid-range shots like Kobe Bryant. Once in a while, I’d lick my lips at an alley-oop pass ala Michael Jordan. Whatever worked. It was still fun.
In high school, my friends and I would joke around after school in the yard about the players that we best identified with on the Knicks. My hilariously wacky friend was Chris Childs. My pro-active friend was Latrell Sprewell. And I was Allan Houston - the calm and collected shooter (and All-Star I might add) on the Knicks back in the 1990s.
And we enjoyed playing our roles. It was still fun.
And this love for basketball continued on into college. My friends and I over there would go to our campus gym to just shoot hoops on the weekends or days with little work to do. And it was fun to get away from the continuous stress of mid-terms and finals.
One of my friends was particularly skillful down in the post. And we enjoyed playing together - forming a potent one-two inside-outside punch.
I remembered during summer vacation, I played with him at Riverside Park. We played pick-up ball with a group of strangers, and I was on fire - hitting shot after shot from all over the place. One of the strangers exclaimed in exasperation “how are you not in the NBA?!”. Lol. That felt good.
But, it can also go the other way.
I remembered one time, during my college days (or was it high school, I forgot), I was balling at my local schoolyard with a bunch of friends. It was 2 on 2, and my friend and I were playing against my other friend and a random paired-up stranger.
That stranger was super arrogant. Trash talking here and there, thinking he was the second coming of Kobe Bryant or something.
I played a good game that day, drilling a lot of long range shots, feeling good over the course of that game. But, I still remember that final play.
The scored was tied up. Next point wins. And I was guarding that arrogant dude at the 3 point line. He was just dribbling around at the top of the key - killing time on the shot clock if there was a shot clock.
And at that time, I couldn’t help but try my shot at talking trash to him. I forgot what I said, but it was something to the extent of “bring it on, I’m going to lock you down, you got nothing on me.”
I’m just paraphrasing. And I think it was first time I ever talked trash in the game of basketball. It was weird.
And right after that, he looked at me, took a couple of dribbles to his right, and launched a seemingly impossible shot over my outstretched arms that proceeded to hit nothing but the bottom of the net (winning the game for his team).
After that, he started running around the court with his arms spread open (apparently in airplane mode) hooting and hollering at nobody in particular, while my friends and I just kind of looked at him in awkwardness.
After that, I went back home and took a long and humiliating shower. I was embarrassed about getting embarrassed by an arrogant stranger in my own schoolyard. I deserved better. And on that fateful day, I learned that I was indeed not Kobe Bryant. It’s hard to believe, but I have my limitations.
Nevertheless, basketball for me, was still a good time overall. Shooting. Passing. Playing defense. Getting a workout. Teamwork. Learning the intricacies of zone defense. When to rotate. When to anticipate. Rinse and repeat.
There was always so much going on on the court, yet the game flows beautifully when you get in the zone. It’s hard to describe and put down into mere words.
I played basketball over the summer of this year with my good friend from meditation class near Flushing. He came late, so I was just shooting by myself on one of the side courts for an hour, quite content with just doing that.
I loved shooting. From almost anywhere. Layups. Mid-range shots. Three pointers.
But, my friend finally showed up. He warmed up together with me on the court and after 10 minutes of playing around, he noticed that I really liked to shoot the three. My guilty pleasure had been discovered just like that.
There were already lots of people playing a full court game on the court next to us. But, we eventually got 8 people together to get a nice 4-on-4 half court game going.
This time, I decided to try something new. I thought to myself that I would just play this game for the sake of basketball.
I wasn't repeating a mantra in my head or anything. I was just trying to show everyone (the players on that court and whomever was watching us) how awesome and beautiful that this game can be.
It was something greater than simply myself shooting the ball, scoring points, or looking cool. Just play for the sake of basketball. Every shot. Every pass. Every drive. Every dribble. Every defensive effort. Just for the sake of it.
I scored most of my points at the start of the match. Draining two three pointers immediately to give our team an early head start. And as the game wore on, both teams had trouble putting the ball in the hoop. My legs were progressively getting tired, so fatigue was a factor.
But, nobody finger pointed nor blamed each other for missed shots or turnovers.
Eventually, their shooter got hot and drilled a couple of long-range contested shots himself to put his team over the top. We shook hands, congratulated each other, and that was that.
I was physically drained. My body was sore all over. Legs, shoulders, core, everywhere. I needed water to recuperate. But, it was still one of the most satisfying basketball games that I had played all year.
It was the only game that I played all year. But beyond that, it was fun and refreshing to play for something that was greater than my own perceived worth. Win or lose.
And basketball season just started up this week.
It’s not easy being an NBA superstar (or any public figure for that matter). There are cameras following you everywhere. You are forced to act a certain way, even on days when you don’t feel like it. The media can micro-analyze everything you do (or don’t do). Even the fans can be unforgiving at times.
Of course, the counter argument is that these players get paid millions of dollars to play a game - so deal with it. But, plenty of them suffer from issues that plague the ‘normal’ human being. Mental health and depression are a couple of the major ones that have recently come to light.
Do I envy their status, wealth, and fame? Not really. But do I respect them for what they do day in and day out? Absolutely.
Tonight happens to be the first game of the crosstown rivalry between the Nets and the Knicks. I look forward to watching it - just for the sake of basketball. And that should not be too much to ask.