I Love Basketball

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
My love affair with basketball.

Submitted: December 14, 2011

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Submitted: December 14, 2011

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BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIINGGGGGGGGGG!

“Wake up mothafucka I’m coming to get you in 15 minutes.”

I love basketball. Very early on I realized there is no place in the world I’d rather be than a basketball court. Especially on a sunny day. Especially on a sizzling, scorching, 34 feels like 42, humidex warning, smog alert sunny day. The hotter the better. Something about the sunburn, the sweat, the thirst, the hot concrete, the blisters on my soles that worms my heart like nothing else ever could (quite possibly the sun :p). Who knows. It is my first and only true love. But, as is often the case, we are not always true to our true loves.

There are only 24 hours in a day and we all have to set our priorities. I rarely put any effort into my relationship with basketball. I used to come drunk to practice. I used to smoke weed before games. I was out partying when I should have been working on my jumpshot. I treated basketball not like a queen but like a hoodrat who I’d fuck when I felt like it. Therefore, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when, one day, she was no longer there for me.

For me, basketball is the one that got away. Yeah we’re still friends, we still play around, hang out, shoot the shit. She might even let me take it to the hole sometimes, but there are no more lovey-dovey 6 am practices, no more obsessing over her while practicing crossovers in my basement in the middle of the night, no more freaky S&M suicides or romantic dates like city finals or regionals. Teenage love. Ewww. Today, our relationship is strictly casual. I see she’s now getting serious with some new kids on the block. It’s cool, I ain’t mad, although I do take extra pleasure in spanking them when I play them on the street or at the Y.

Often times when I was drunk or fucked up, I used to reflect on what might have been with me and ball. As with any breakup, you always blame yourself. Less than a year after graduating from high school, I started having major regrets about my past decisions. You know that moment of clarity you get about an hour into a date with a stripper your (ex) girlfriend caught you cheating with? Right around the time she stops in the middle of her story about some guy jizzing on her during a lap dance to check her phone because she got a message from her 56 year old trucker customer? Yep. That’s the one.

That was me. For a while. Now that I had time to think, I realize that basketball would have probably kicked me to the curb for an open three anyway. She always had a thing for younger guys, and would have most likely dumped me down low after my freshman year in college, had we lasted that long (haha I love the punssss!). Come to think of it, she did show signs of being scandalous throughout our high school love affair. I remember fucking up my wrist senior year and having to sit a few games. She wouldn’t even say hi. In retrospect, I probably treated her accordingly.

***

I slept for maybe an hour. From what I can remember, last night we were at some motel party until 5 am. The entire place got trashed. We arrived there after the club around 2, nonchalantly avoiding the barrage of beer bottles lobed at three-second intervals from the second floor balconies. In the ancient game of “Who Wants To Be The Bigger Drunk Idiot”, contestants attempt to outdo each other with more extreme alcohol-fuel antics. Therefore, it came as no surprise to anyone that soon after the shower of beer bottles, they proceeded to make a bonfire by setting room furniture on fire. The flames and flying bottles, along with the thick fog which had settled on the city, made the atmosphere in the motel seem like a war zone. I remember this kid with a police baton looking for someone. Someone apparently punched his girlfriend. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.

Right when we got there, I saw my friend Ben who was on his way home. He asked if I was coming to the 3-on-3 tournament tomorrow morning, and then, before I could answer, expressed doubt that I would come. So little faith. Although, truth be told, it wouldn’t be the first time I reneged on a promise. I assured him that I would be ready.

Ben was now coming to pick me up. He and I have been playing ball on the same team since elementary school. We were the 1-2 guard combo on one of the best high school teams in Venice in the last 20 years. Bayport Lords. 2005 city champs. We’ve been through the wars together. Like me, Ben also had dreams about a basketball career. Unlike me, however, Ben had a plan B. He just graduated as a mechanical engineer from Stanford, and seemed to be fully over his teenage love. That’s probably why he continues to play on a regular basis. For some of us mere mortals, the pain is just too much.

Ben plays every year on a rec team with some of our old high school teammates and other neighborhood kids in 5-on-5 tournaments. I always had more important shit to do than play with them. Looking at that pool of players, it was somewhat of a mystery to me why I, of all people, was invited to play on Ben’s team for this tournament. Realistically, there were at least three other kids readily available who would, by all accounts, contribute more than I could at that moment. I knew Ben knew I COULD play at one point, but basketball is not like riding a bike. Granted, all those guys used to keep the bench worm for me at Bayport, but 2005’s a long time ago.

Vodka and Redbull are a fucked up mix. It keeps you alert enough to be able to pass a driving exam, only if you could remember where you parked. While vodka leaves you mentally impaired, Redbull eliminates the usual sluggishness associated with high alcohol consumption, which then transform you into what the Latins called – Obnoxious Annoyus Drunkus – a loud, wired, brain-dead asshole that other party people look to avoid.

There are, however, certain cases where this mix can work to your benefit. One is when you are having sex, provided you are (by the grace of God) able to attract a mate in that enlightened state. You can fuck for hours. Another is when you have a basketball game the next morning.

***

I jumped out of bed, got dressed and stumbled around my house until Ben came. There was an annoying ringing in my ears, constantly reminding me that I was a fuck-up. Luckily, I feed off that shit. All with a sly look on my face.

When I got in his car, Ben asked how last night turned out and if I was OK to play. I opened the window to get one last breath of that crisp morning air before I sparked up a cigarette. I sparked up a cigarette. Being that the Redbull had me wired and tense for 10 hours straight, the sudden relaxation of my body induced by nicotine caused my bowels to loosen up. Fuck, I had to shit. However, having some experience with such issues, I knew that the situation would not become dire for at least some time. So when Ben offered to drive me back home I declined. They had to have washrooms there.

The tournament was being held outdoors at the Italian Cultural Center, where local Italians were having their annual picnic. 16 teams made up of 3 players, all competing for the grand prize of 500 dollars. The entrance fee was $50 per team, but since Ben’s uncle was one of the organizers, we got in for free.

The first thing I noticed when we arrived at the court was that the baskets were too high. They were at least 11 feet. I took the ball to go shoot around. That first shot is always a bitch, especially if you haven’t played in a year. It can go anywhere. You literally have no control over it. With a hundred eyes on me, I summoned all of my mental focus and bricked it off the rim, avoiding total humiliation at least for the time being.

We looked at the bracket to see who we, Da Lordz (Bayport represent what what!), were matched up against in the first round. It was a team made up of ex-Glendale Marauders – a high school we had played against. Not only did we know those clowns from high school tournaments, but I would also see them around Glendale when I used to go to my ex-girlfriend’s who lived out there. We didn’t like them and they didn’t like us.

“Glendale whatever, I got the best guy from Glendale” said Ben. Up until that point, I never bothered to ask who the third player on our team was. Apparently he was the best guy in Glendale. Ben told me his name was Jim and that they played together in one of those rec tournaments. Since both Ben and I were guards we needed a tall guy to play down low, and Jim was a 6-9 power forward who had played d-1 at Northern Colorado. Quiet guy who meant business. He showed up not too long after we did.

***

A couple of largely forgettable games were played before it was our turn. Basic street ball rules: take back after a missed shot, air balls up, first to 11, win by 2, 2’s are worth 1, 3’s are worth 2 etc. The only deviation from the norm was that the “no-possession” rule was in effect, meaning that the team that got scored on starts with the ball on the next play. We usually play “possession” where you keep the ball each time you score, which in my opinion is a much better rule because you can really pound teams when you get on a roll.

Glendale shot for the ball and missed. Ben checked it and immediately looked for Jim in the post. Unable to find the adequate angle for the pass, he swung it to me on the wing to see if I would have more luck. However, Jim’s man was all over him, probably riding the adrenaline from finally being on the court. Instead, I saw the lane open up and instinctively attempted to drive down the middle, only to be bumped (fouled) hard by my defender which caused me to lose momentum. I hesitated at the free throw line, faked a spin move to the outside, spun to the middle, pump-faked and leaned in for a floater. My man bumped (fouled) me again while I was in the process of shooting and the bump (foul) caused me to miss the entire rim and brick the shot off the backboard. No foul call. The ref was an old Italian guy with a moustache and glasses who probably cuts the grass at the picnic grounds and knows as much about basketball as I do about bocce. They got the rebound and scored.

I needed about five plays to get used to the level of physicality that was being tolerated. Now, I was never the one to shy away from contact, but after a sleepless night of drinking it takes time to adapt. They took command of the game by outhustling and outrebounding us, while we tried hopelessly to look for Jimmy and, in response to our futile efforts, bricked jumper after jumper.

I was playing like shit. If I had an excuse for missing that leaner, there was no excuse for missing two forced jumpers, blowing an open layup from a nice backdoor pass, and having the ball stolen mid-dribble which feels like taking a dick up your ass (I’m told). Other teams along with random Italians who gathered to watch were beginning to look at me like I’m some fucking chump. I could feel it. That look with that smirk, that’s the way I used to look at them! Meanwhile, Glendale built up their lead to 7-3. We were falling behind and needed a big play to turn the momentum in our favour.

Feeling frustrated, Ben shot an ill-advised 2 with a man in his face. Because I played with Ben my whole life, I knew he was prone to such temper tantrums and that the shot had no chance of going in, so I hurried in for the rebound. Sure enough, the ball bounced softly off the back rim and into my hands on the other side of the basket. I timed it perfectly and caught it in mid-air, only to throw a no-look pass behind my head to Jimmy for a lay-up before my feet hit the ground. Pure basketball instinct. All I heard was the crowd go “OHH!” in disbelief. To them it must have felt like the twist at the end of The Sixth Sense. My chump status was wiped out. A chump does not make passes like that.

That brought me back into life. Michael Jordan says that basketball is 90% mental and 10% physical. You’d be hard-pressed to find truer words than those. Natural adrenaline and serotonin, which returned after that play, had now replaced the artificial high induced by vodka and Redbull. I was flying, grabbing rebounds, intercepting passes, and setting up Jimmy.

The guy guarding me, named Buddy, apparently was not convinced by my sudden resurgence, and took it upon himself to expose me as the bum he must’ve thought I was. Buddy got the ball at the top of the key and waved his hand to his teammate underneath the basket, telling him to move out of the way. He wanted to go 1-on-1. That’s the basketball equivalent of a slap in the face. Buddy’s teammate yelled “Clear out!”, showing he supported Buddy in his endeavour. Returning to Jordan’s profound statement, 1-on-1 duels are won and lost by concentration more so than anything else. It’s like the matador and the bull. And, because I take them as a personal insult, I get so focused that events unfold almost in slow motion. Buddy dribbled the ball between his legs once and put on a crossover that fooled nobody. As he was unable to shake me, he bumped me once with his shoulder, then rose up for a mid-range jumper. I couldn’t believe that was the best he had, but it was. As soon as the ball left his palm, I sent it back towards the center of the court. The block sounded like a gun shot. Much like crossing up a player or dunking on them, a blocked shot is an assertion of your dominance over another man. This makes it one of the greatest basketball plays. Buddy wasn’t the same after that.

Glendale began to feel the heat, and with sound defence and smart decisions we eventually brought the score to 9-8. Their center, a curly-haired 6-8 fatass by the name of Mitch, was playing dirtier and dirtier as their lead got smaller and smaller. Mitch was angry. And when Mitch got angry, his fat round face became red like a tomato. He backed Jim up in the post and screamed “GIVE ME THE FUCKING BALL!!”, while spit flew out of his mouth. After a lot of huffing and puffing, head faking and bumping, he finally put up a shot. Jim swatted it right back to him. This enraged Mitch, whose face had now become purple. Grunting, he took one dribble and buried his shoulder into Jim’s chest which knocked Jim to the ground and left him wide open for a layup. No call.

That made it 10-8 for Glendale. They needed one more point to win and send us home in the first round. We moved the ball around patiently, knowing that a miss here will likely spell our demise. Jim battled to establish a low position where he is most effective, and, in that split second in which he freed himself from the constant clutching and grabbing, Ben gave him the ball. With his back to the basket, Jim dribbled the ball twice, absorbing a hard bump each time he bounced the ball, turned to the middle and put up a baby hook. The ball bounced off the back of that 15-foot high rim and went straight up in the air. Buddy had done a good job of boxing me out and only an act of providence would enable me to grab the rebound. As he jumped and extended his arm to catch the ball, it hit the rim once more and bounced just over his fingertips and into my waiting hands.

I dribbled it out to the elbow behind the 2-point line, turned to Ben who was at the top of the key and asked: “10-8?” He said “Yup”, but by that time I had already put up the shot. Buddy didn’t have time to react. I watched the ball approach that 20-foot basket knowing as soon as I let it go that it was good. 10-10. The crowd went nuts.

The clowns took their sweet time setting up. To the untrained eye, it looked like they were being wise by waiting for a good shot opportunity as this was a crucial possession. But I knew that wasn’t the case. They were scared. Our comeback had left them reeling, and it became increasingly clear that they had no one who could turn the tide. Nobody wanted the shot. They looked for Mitch, but by that time he was so fat, I mean tired, that he could barely stand. The best thing they could muster was an off-balance floater over 6-9 Jimmy. The ball bounced off the rim and a battle for the rebound ensued, with a hundred hands (and elbows) flying around. It lasted less than a second but felt like an eternity. Jim and Mitch repeatedly tipped the ball at the same time which only caused it to go back up in the air. After the third tip, Mitch was able to knock it back on the rim in an attempt to score. It bounced out towards me and Buddy. I tapped the ball just out of Buddy’s reach, who flew out of bounds as I collected the rebound. Knowing that I had time until my guy came back into play, I hurried to clear the ball in order to capitalize on our extra-man advantage. Ben’s man, remembering my previous basket, rushed out at me and left Ben wide open at the 2-point line above the key, where he usually likes to camp out. To Glendale’s horror, I swung the ball to Ben who shot it without hesitation. I put my trigger finger up ala Larry Bird, hopping that it would summon the basketball gods to will the ball through the hoop. It swirled around the rim like shit in a toilet bowl and dropped right down their throats. We won.

***

In that split second, I felt her love again. I didn’t care that it was just one game in a village 3-on-3 tournament, to me it felt like NBA finals. It was like one more night together. Like one more slow dance on the court, where we both refused to think about what might have been in order to savor the moment. And it was only a moment. I’ll spare you the cheap sentiment because basketball doesn’t like pussies, as evidenced by Glendale’s loss. I went to take that shit which had now returned with a vengeance, followed by the return of a migraine triggered by two screaming kids in the washroom. We lost in the next round and I went to work.


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