Characters from the Hong Kong Blacktop

I squeezed in a few games tonight after arriving about an hour before lights-out. Like last time, I thought about a lot of stuff on the way home. I guess I like thinking about things when I’m walking home from basketball late at night.

Tonight, I was thinking how, in life and in basketball, one often meets a myriad cast of characters. The characters I encountered tonight:

The Asshat (synonyms include jerk, asshole, dick, douchebag): I don’t know what I or anyone else on my team did to incite him, but Mr. Asshat for some reason was talking trash and being really cocky from start to finish. Remembering that this is Hong Kong, it wasn’t the in-your-face type of trash-talking, but the more sarcastic, passive-aggressive type that is so common with Hong Kongers. If you’re gonna trash talk, please do it to my face. There’s nothing more annoying than passive-aggressive trash-talking. Every time I or a teammate made a shot, he would act surprised and sprinkle in a sarcastic “wow you guys are sooooo good” comment. He also intentionally gave me a lot of space to shoot. I was pissed at myself for letting him get under my skin and rushing (and missing) a bunch of shots that he gave me. I was too eager to show him up. We lost the first game.

The other thing was, this guy was my height, but really strong. He was owning the guy guarding him in the first game, taking advantage of his strength down low. In the second game, luck would have it that I would be guarding him. I couldn’t believe how strong he was. Seriously, I could not budge the guy. Not surprisingly, he basically just camped out in the paint, but fortunately I was able to bother him enough to keep him off-balance and miss a few shots (ha!). We won the second game, and were winning the third when the lights went out.

This guy was good enough that he didn’t need to trash talk. If anything, his attitude gave us even more motivation to beat him. After the lights went out, I couldn’t resist and gave him a “man, you’re so strong, do you work out?”. He didn’t say a single word.

The Follower: don’t know if he was associated with Mr. Asshat, but we all know his type. He was trying to be like Mr. Asshat but not pulling it off very well. The bully always has his followers. This guy was a decent shooter but not very mobile. He kept calling ticky-tack fouls that would never be considered fouls outside of Hong Kong. I was getting frustrated so after I got slapped in the hand and saw the shot was going to miss, I called a foul. Of course, Mr. Follower would be the first one to animatedly dispute it on the grounds of it being late. I didn’t argue it but I did think it was funny how he could get so worked up over a late call yet not bat an eyelid at calling fouls if I so much as breathed on him.

The Black Hole: As I said, we lost the first game and I was very motivated to not let it happen again. During that first game, one of my teammates had made a few shots in a row so I deferred to him a little bit; I passed him the ball every time he called for it, which was basically every possession. When I had an open shot, he’d call for the ball. When I grabbed a rebound, he called for the ball. After he passed me the ball, he called for the ball.

When you make a bunch of shots in a row, perhaps you have the clout to do something like that. On the other hand, after you miss so many times (including air balls) that no one can remember when you last made a shot, then perhaps it’s time to stop telling other people not to shoot (and to stop shooting). Seriously, after those first few shots, this guy became stone cold, was getting killed on defense, and yet was still calling for the ball and telling me not to shoot!

In the second game, I was naturally upset after having lost in such a manner, and decided to assert myself a little bit more. I played lock-down defense, hustled, and grabbed rebounds. I moved around on offense a lot and pretty much got open all the time (remember Mr. Asshat didn’t think I was good enough to guard). Well, Mr. Black Hole didn’t pass me the ball. On some occasions, he didn’t even take out the ball (another HK-bball oddity) and just started dribbling! Do you know how frustrating it is to run around on offense getting open, only to have your own (mediocre) teammate never pass you the ball? I hold the ball after grabbing a rebound to slow myself down, ignoring Mr. Black Hole’s orders to not shoot the ball. A couple of jab-steps later, I pull up and SWISH a shot in Mr. Asshat’s face. Game on.

The Player: Not to have only bad things to say about people, the other guy on my team was a player. At the beginning of the second game, I was pretty much the only one going full speed, obviously because I was fully motivated, and because Mr. Asshat’s team thought they were unbeatable. In my experience, when people aren’t taking the game seriously, going for the hustle plays and playing hard defense wakes them up. Well, Mr. Black Hole thought he was good, so he didn’t need to go full speed. Mr. Player, on the other hand, heeded the call honorably. He drove the lane so many times and finished every single time, and he’d make the pass at the appropriate time for a wide open shot on my end. It was a pleasure teaming up with Mr. Player. It was so much fun stopping the other team, making shots, and completing no-look passes that I didn’t even realize it when we won. I had just made a shot and was heading up top to take out the ball when Mr. Player told me “game already”. Game indeed.

Another note about Mr. Black Hole: At first, I thought Mr. Player was Mr. Black Hole’s friend because he referred to Mr. Player by name, but later I found out that they were unassociated. Before the first game, Mr. Black Hole had also introduced himself to me. Now I know why, it’s so he can call you by name when he insists on the ball!!!

Do any of the characters above sound familiar? Do you have a Mr. Asshat at your company? What about a Mr. Follower or a Mr. Black Hole? Wouldn’t it be nice if all your coworkers were like Mr. Player? I’ve always thought that basketball can serve as a microcosm for real life.

Other Thoughts

One of my biggest misconceptions about people is that everyone is the same. I always expect everyone to be polite, to be honorable, to have the same basic values. When that doesn’t happen, I get flustered, and my fight-or-flight response is triggered. Look at what happened in game one. I did not expect Mr. Asshat to behave the way he did, and as a result my blood started pumping, too much adrenaline started flowing, and I couldn’t make any shots. Similar things have happened to me outside of the basketball court.

Recognizing this, I can start finding ways to mitigate the effects. It’s not easy, though. It’s just like the “wake up at noon and feel pathetic” thing that I had going. I’m actually a lot more comfortable with that, but it’s been an ongoing process. When I feel the negativity edging closer, I remind myself to ask “why do you feel bad about it?” and then I realize that there is no reason to be negative. I try to be more objective about it, to look just at the facts.

The fact is not everyone shares the same values. Some people have no qualms with using sleazy methods to get ahead in basketball, and in life. Remember that Mr. Follower didn’t bat an eyelid at calling fouls. Well, he didn’t bat an eyelid at cheating, either. He would try to lower our buckets when we called out the score (something not uncommon in basketball, unfortunately).

Final Thought

Last year I wrote that I regretted acting like an ass on the court after a ticky-tack foul. This year, I say that there are some things in life that are universal, that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, that if something’s wrong, it’s wrong. No hiding behind “cultural differences”. Hong Kong basketball players need to get out from under their rock and realize that they are weakening their own level of basketball when they call those ridiculous fouls on every little bit of incidental contact on every single possession.

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