Thursday, March 08, 2007

One Man's Love for Basketball: Now, Distance

When I arrived at college, my whole high school basketball experience had been one long frustration. I swore to myself that I would everyone in my past wrong by making the team at my college. I did the team's weight training program, played "fall ball" with the players, and got to know some of them. When it came time for tryouts, however, nothing went right. Well, that's not quite true. On the third day of the three-day sessions, I torched a starter in a drill. I hit several shots in his face. He was getting quite upset; this wasn't supposed to happen. Then I landed wrong on my ankle, and couldn't play any longer. The next day, the coach called me into his office. He was nice but direct, telling me he liked my hustle but that he was cutting me. I thanked him and left the office. I cried all the way back to my dorm, and for a while afterward.

I resolved to try out again at Bowdoin but I never did. It never seemed like it was meant to be. I couldn't shake my past struggles with confidence, and no doors opened for me. Looking back, I can see that God had something different for me. And I'm glad He did. I was never going to make the NBA, so I was setting myself up to play for thousands of hours without any tangible benefit. I aspired to be a college athlete, and wanted to define myself as such, but achieving that goal would only have made things harder for me later in life. I would have struggled more than I did to give basketball up, to realize that it is a game, and to not define myself by my performance on a court. The whole thing seems a bit silly now, a bit misguided, and that's because it was. The Lord never opened a door for me with basketball, and I'm glad He didn't. Those are hard words to say, even now, but they're true. It was for the best.

I still love to play the game. No, more than that. I still love the game, period. But I now can realize that it is just that--a game. It's not life, it's not death, and in fact, it's not even close. It's a diversion, an amusement, a pastime, a way to get exercise and have some fun, but it's not more than that. It's just a game. It's fine to play it and have fun and edify others and be teammates and sweat some pounds but it doesn't transcend anything. There is beauty in basketball, as in all sports, but it's a limited beauty, because the activity itself is not transcendent, is not fundamentally meaningful. It's taken me a long time to realize this, and live by it, but I know now that it's true. So I can enjoy basketball as a diversion, an occasional means of entertainment, and a somewhat regular means of exercise, but I will always keep it that. It's a matter of stewardship, of living wisely, and of devoting the little life I have on this earth to things that really matter--to God, my wife, my family, my church, my friends, my work.

That is not to say, though, that there aren't moments when it all comes rushing back--all the hope and expectation and thrill of playing well and satisfaction of working hard---and I can close my eyes and see me leading a fast-paced offense to victory. Yes, there are moments. But then I push those moments away, and get back to real life, and what really matters. My detachment from the game thus encompasses my prior attachment to the game. As I move away, I can sense the beauty, taste a little of the pain, and move on, the distance from basketball a necessary decision but still, at times, a difficult one.


Anonymous Big Deeves said...

The path that you are treading, leading away from basketball, is a path well-trodden but difficult. Just ask Deevers about how he had to give up basketball after bopping Fanny Ferry on the head, causing the latter to lose his hair.

2:36 AM  

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