Basketball is Life (Another Lesson from the Court)

Victoria Park Basketball Courts - June 30, 2015
Victoria Park Basketball Courts – June 30, 2015

June 30, 2015

It’s a Tuesday afternoon. Having just finished a game, I’m sitting on the asphalt, watching the activity on the courts, soaking in the sun, and thinking about all the time I’ve spent here during the previous two years. All those nights staying until lights out at 11 PM. The time when I destroyed my ankle because I was an idiot. It’s just a regular day to all the players here, but for me I’ve just played my last game here until the next time we return to Hong Kong, whenever that may be. Earlier in the day, we moved out of our flat and turned in the keys; instead of going home to clean up, I’ll be heading to the hotel when I’m ready to leave.

I still have some time before a scheduled farewell dinner, so I continue to sit, and watch. The sun will be setting soon. I watch the local HK basketball players wearing their NBA-style jerseys. There are some familiar faces. I watch the double decker buses passing by. I look towards Causeway Bay and the skyscrapers. Soon, the Excelsior Hotel will be gone, too. It’s a moment to remember, and I remember it vividly now as I write this.

For some reason, my mind thinks back to my college days, when some NBA alumni would come to our gym to work out. During practice, they would bomb threes like they were doing layups. In the NBA, because players are so good at putting the ball in the hoop, defenses have to be sophisticated (and physical) to counter them. There can’t be any slacking and players are actively and constantly trying to stop you. The fact that NBA teams regularly score over 100 points a game even in the face of hounding defense reveals just how amazing these players and coaches are.

I start thinking about efficiency in basketball. At the most basic level, depending on which side you’re on, there are two goals in basketball: put the ball in the hoop, or prevent the other person from putting the ball in the hoop. It’s a very simple premise. And yet, I unnecessarily complicated the game that I had just played. Instead of simply and efficiently putting the ball in the hoop, I often do a lot of unnecessary dribbling trying to get by my defender. Sometimes, when I have room to shoot, I’ll do a few shot fakes to see if the guy will bite, and if he finally does, I sort of stand and watch to admire how I faked a guy into the air (wtf). If he doesn’t, I don’t take the shot and end up back where I started. It’s a lot of wasted energy and unnecessary movements, and by the time I finally do put up a shot, I’m exhausted. I wonder why I don’t just put the damn ball in the hoop, especially when I have the capability to do it.

Now, it’s time to go. I make some notes in my phone so I can remember my last time here. On the way back, I almost get off at the wrong stop, having gotten off at that stop so many times without thinking.

November 5, 2015

Now, I’m back in America. I’ve started playing more games and have been reminded that it is much more physical over here. Less (or no) fouls are called. People are bigger, faster. In Hong Kong, I was able to get by people, but I don’t think I’ve done it once here. It’s also possible that my age has finally caught up with me – although it’s only been a few months since HK, a precipitous decline once you hit a certain age is not unheard of. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. Being unable to get by people makes it that much more important to take the shot when you have it.

So that brings us to today. The reason I’m posting this now is that I had one of those games today, where if I had been more business-like and efficient in my approach to the game, I could have done a lot more, and maybe even have won. It was a good 1-on-1 with some back and forth missing early on, but later on my opponent caught fire and hit several shots in a row while I was stuck at 2. Despite a furious attempt at a comeback and hitting several shots in a row of my own, he was able to finish the game off with a contested jumper. Final score: 7-5.

I spent a lot of energy dribbling around trying to get by the guy and getting nowhere when I could have just pulled up and taken a shot. I had a stupid hang-up thinking that the game would not be fun if all I did was shoot (and make) threes from the top of the key. In the end, it was a good game and a good workout, but I couldn’t help thinking what could have been if I hadn’t hindered myself with that unproductive thought.

That brings us to our final thought for tonight, which is, once again, that basketball (in this case, specifically pickup ball) is a microcosm of life. The court is the world, the players are society, and everybody has a different motivation for playing (living). Most people want to win, some people want a good work out, some people want to start a fight, and some people want to hang out with their friends. Players are able to influence or be influenced by other players’ behavior. If you don’t have a goal in mind, which puts your mind in the wrong place, then you don’t know what to focus on, and you allow others to dictate your actions. This is the part that bothers me the most, in life and in basketball, and is what happened today. I allowed some completely made-up hang-up, one that only existed in my mind, to affect my focus, which in turn affected what I did or did not do on the court and cede control of the game to my opponent. That is not who I want to be. I want to be the person dictating my actions, having a plan, and knowing what I want – not the person limiting myself. There are already plenty of others trying to limit you, so why do it to yourself? Time to drop the hang-ups.

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