The Love of the Game

When I was a kid, basketball was the greatest thing ever created.

Everything was a hoop. Laundry baskets. Clothes hampers. Trash cans. The wall. Anything could be a ball. Socks. T-Shirts. Shorts. Crumpled up paper. The urge to hoop could hit me in a moment’s notice. I didn’t need anything but my imagination. My feet would do the rest. Dribble. Crossover. Stutter-step. Fade. Swish!

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Playing basketball has been and will always be one of my first loves. It ranks up there with being a musician, and that’s pretty high. Basketball was the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thought before I went to sleep. I’m sure at some point hooping was a delightful dream. I would wake up, go outside, and play ball for hours on end. I had kid’s hoop in my backyard. My brothers, Dairius and Demetheus, would come over and we balled until the sun went down. Or, until they had to go home. At one point, we didn’t even have a basketball. We used a rubber volleyball.

That’s how I perfected my Jordanesque reverse layup.

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As a kid, I wanted to be like Byron Scott. The Showtime Lakers are one of the greatest teams ever assembled.  Magic Johnson. James Worthy. A.C. Green. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kurt Rambis. Out of all of those players, Byron Scott was my dude. So much so that I wouldn’t answer to anything else other than Byron. Kids have some weird tendencies. I eventually grew out of that and was convinced I had to like Michael Jordan. A teenager in the church had a conversation with me. I was letting him know how the Lakers were the best thing since Chuck Taylors, but he kept chiding me about this Michael Jordan character. Being a gullible kid, I took this guy’s word. Michael Jordan was now my favorite player.

See ya, Byron.

Jordan shaped a generation of kids in playing the game. Reverse layups. Up and under. Trying to palm the ball for pump fakes. Shimmy and fade. We were outside working on our footwork and we didn’t even know it. The love for the game kept us working on our craft. In fact, it was never work because I loved it so much. Thus, when it came time to play for the school, I was ready. I played organized basketball from 5th grade through high school.

So. Many. Coaches.

They can either increase your love for the game or make you hate it. I can’t say there was a time where I hated playing basketball. However, I dreaded some of my coaches. My 9th-grade coach in particular. Hindsight being 20/20, I believe it was because of personality conflicts. I’m a fun loving guy. He was serious. Those two personality traits don’t necessarily mix in the basketball world. I was the type of player where yelling at me was not motivating in the least. It just made me really defensive, and not on the court. It goes without saying that I had coaches chew me out. That is part of the game. However, the most effective criticism for me was a simple statement. Why? I was already beating myself up for making a mistake, and above all, not receiving the coach’s approval. So, all I needed was confirmation. Tell me what I did wrong. Tell me how I can better myself. I’m going to go out there and do that.

My 9th-grade coach? He gave the impression that he was unhappy with something I did most always.

According to him, I was lazy, out of shape, and I didn’t play hard. Could I have worked harder? Definitely. There’s no question. However, I played most of my 9th-grade season nervously. I played not to make mistakes which means I made plenty of them. Practices were probably the worst. Especially Wednesdays which was cardio. They ran us into oblivion. It was like they had enjoyment watching us circle the track gasping for air time and time again. I had no concept of runner’s high back then, but I wish I did. The thing about practice was my confidence level wavered.

I knew I could play, but I wasn’t used to the high school system. I was trying desperately to make sure I understood the dynamics of team ball.The drills. My role on the team. I was trying to avoid chastisement which, again, means I received plenty of it. I had bright spots here and there, but I played the game restricted. I never tested myself.

That’s the great thing about basketball. You learn about yourself.

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My and my guy Josh Hackney on the basketball bus.

Character is important, and it shows up when you play the game. The next year I came out and made varsity as a sophomore.I played my game freely, and the coach took notice of my skills. I enjoyed every second of open gyms. Playing with other people at a high level is one of the greatest challenges for me. It makes me see how I can grow as a player.

With the joys of basketball comes heartbreak, and wow did my heart break.

I played JV and Varsity through my junior year. That was a dismal season for me, so by the time senior year came I was ready to hoop. I didn’t care who it was against, I was ready to put in work. The season had just begun, and I was depending on that season to see what college offers I received. All was going well……… until I blew out my knee.

My heart was absolutely shattered. I cried for days after my injury. Not because of the injury, but because I saw my college basketball dreams slipping away. My season was done (although I wouldn’t accept it). I couldn’t run, jump, or walk. Limping was a privilege. Putting a ball in my hands was the ultimate slap in the face. A college sent me a “get well soon” letter which really meant “no scholarship for you, kid.” It actually hurt to watch my team play. I longed to be on the court doing what I loved.

That’s how life goes.

The game I loved so much eluded my grasp for almost a year. I didn’t touch a ball for almost six months. I rarely looked at a hoop. However, absence makes the heart grow fonder. As soon as my doctor said I could play again I was out there.

I never played organizational ball again. I had some chances to play college ball, but I passed them up for various reasons. I got recruited to play for a JuCo when I was a Junior in college. Crazy, huh? All in all, my dreams didn’t die. They were just delayed.

Fast-Forward.

I’m 32 years old. I’m well past my playing weight. I’m slower. My legs aren’t young and spritely anymore. Yet, I still get a twinkle in my eye when I see the court. Place a ball in my hands and the shoot around is on. You might even catch a random shooting motion as I drain an imaginary three. I may be older, but I love this game.

I will always love this game.

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[Gif Credit Giphy]

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