I don't know exactly when I made the switch to basketball. The 90s, the formative years of my adolescence, witnessed the explosion of basketball, however, so it makes some sense that a sports-loving kid enjoyed it. Basketball was and is a huge part of the youth culture. It was far more exciting than baseball and less complicated to play, and I easily made the switch when I was young. My family didn't have a hoop or a tarred driveway, so I walked across the street to Mrs. Roney's house and dribbled on her driveway. She didn't mind. She enjoyed having a little guy around, even if I did eventually start "shooting" the ball onto her roof. What can I say? I was desperate to shoot.
I worked so hard on dribbling with my left hand in that little driveway that I have always been a far superior dribbler with my left than my right. I would recreate games and invent games and, predictably, be the hero. Then the game moved. My family tarred our driveway and--cue orchestral music--we got a basketball hoop. It was incredible. I had my very own court
. My mind was blown.
I also played basketball indoors on a little mini hoop. This was the subject of much consternation when my dearly loved grandmother Dustin would visit with my grandfather. She never could understand why I so loved that game, and she hated the "thump, thump" of my little orange ball. Can't say I blame her. My grandfather understood. He was the first in the family to put up a hoop especially for me. He and Grammy Dustin lived outside of Boston in Lincoln, MA, just 20 minutes from the city. He and Grammy got the Globe
, which had all kinds of info on the Celtics, the team I loved. I would pore over the stats when in Lincoln and then, heart pounding, race outside to enact all kinds of heroics on the court, my very own Boston Garden. At night, I'd watch the Celtics. I loved my grandparents, and I loved that court. I still miss it.
Adolescence was also the time for basketball camps, and to basketball camps I went. We didn't have AAU then like kids do now, so that lots of kids play for months outside of the regular bball season. So we went to basketball camp. I went to Raider Camp and Clipper Cage Camp at UMM and the Pine Tree Clinic at Colby College (rival of my alma mater
and current home to my cousin, Esther). Basketball camp was quite an experience, and I was usually intimidated. I never played very well. I remember getting beat in a drill and having my coach yell at me--"OWEN!" in front of a whole group of players. I was frustrated and yelled back, "WHAT?" I didn't get much playing time that week. I learned some things at camp, but the experience as a whole was strange, impersonal, and intimidating, though exhilarating.
Basketball and I were an odd pair. I was tiny back then, and tiny little white guys weren't looked upon very positively. But I started at my junior high (and probably averaged two points a game) and worked extremely hard on my game. Basketball was something of an obsession for me. When I got to high school, I had high hopes, but made the dreaded freshman team as a freshman and then was the last cut for the varsity team my sophomore year. My junior year, I sat the bench for the first half of the season and then earned significant minutes after playing good defense on a few players. My senior year, my role was clear: play good defense, avoid mistakes, and shoot little. Basically, I was the hustle guy. But I was frustrated with this role; in fact, I was frustrated with my whole career. Though I earned praise from some folks, I was never allowed to do much. Miss a shot, make a turnover, and I'd be yelled at, or yanked from the game. My parents--who were incredibly supportive and kind, coming to nearly every single event of my scholastic career--endured many tear-filled nights on my part. I wanted only to be a basketball player, but nothing seemed to go right, and noone I played for seemed to grasp that I could lead a team and that I was a skilled player. That is, until the last part of my senior year.
I can still remember the night things changed. It was in practice, interestingly. I had had a terrible go of things in recent games and had less than half a season to go in my high school career. Something snapped in me then. I decided to shoot and keep shooting no matter what anyone said or did. After all, it was almost time to graduate. So I did. I made five shots in a row. My teammates were stunned. The next night, I was player of the game. The rest of the season went well, and I ended things on a good note, hitting a few threes in our playoff game in the fabled Bangor Auditorium. In Maine, high school basketball is huge, and the tournament is king, so that was a thrill.
Basketball had a hold over me. I lived and died with the game. It gave me moments of great joy, but it was a tough mistress, always doling out its share of frustration and heartbreak. Beauty and pain, all controlled by the bounce of a ball, the flick of a wrist.