I spent the past few days thinking of an appropriate post for this All-Star weekend; I came up with nothing. The blinking cursor on my blank word document was teasing me, taunting me, every blink a spotlight illuminating my inadequacies as a writer and as a man.
So I looked through my old posts, searching for something, anything, that would ignite the scribe within me. What I found was an unpublished piece I wrote in October about the lockout, and the pain I was feeling from the absence of my beloved sport. And then it hit me: this is my post. Yes, it was written over four months ago, but in a way it’s still relevant. Back then, we weren’t even sure we’d even have an All-Star game. Now look at us: back to writing about snubs and first-time All-Stars, bemoaning the demise of the three-point and dunk contests, and barely containing our excitement at the potential for triple-digit alley-oops from Rubio to Griffin.
For a while, we weren’t sure this was going to happen. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.
So, here’s my piece from October. I hope you enjoy it, and I know some of my fellow bloggissists will at least sympathize with what I was feeling.
Basketball is just a game. But sometimes, it’s more than that.
This was the opening line, and theme, behind the NBA’s 2009 NBA Cares commercials. Juxtaposed testimonials from kids and NBA players describe how basketball brings people together, builds friendships, inspires confidence, and teaches teamwork. How it is more than just a game. Oddly enough, it’s taken the lockout to make me appreciate just how much more than a game basketball really is.
Basketball Is Just A Game
Put the ball through the hoop. That single sentence is the game of basketball broken down into it’s simplest forms. Forget pick and rolls, forget zone defenses, hell, forget rebounding and passing. When it comes down to it, the game of basketball is just a ball going through a hoop. So why mourn the loss of something so simple? Why should we be so affected by the absence of five people trying to put a ball through a circle while five other people try to prevent them? After all, it’s just a game.
But Sometimes, It’s More Than That
Or, rather, it’s always more than that. Think of every time you’ve watched a game, whether it was at home, at a bar, or in the arena. Think of the high-five’s you gave to the complete stranger next to you because your team just scored the go-ahead basket, or the collective groan seemingly let out in unison at the miss of a crucial free-throw. Remember how upset you got when your team traded away your favorite player for a few scrubs and some money, or how relieved you were when the team drafted the franchise’s savior. Would you care that much if it really was just a game? Would I remember my first NBA game with my dad as vividly as I do if basketball was just a game? Of course not, because basketball isn’t just a game.
Simplifying any sport into it’s most primitive description, be it basketball, soccer (kick a ball into a net), football (run a ball across a line), or hockey (hit a disc into a net with a stick) ignores the cultural and social aspects that accompany that sport.
There’s a sense of belonging, of community, that comes with being a fan of any sport or league, and the NBA is no exception. That sense of community is especially strong among bloggers, something I’ve experienced first hand. I’ve had the chance to meet and make friends with people who I would otherwise have no reason for knowing. One of my favorite things to do during a game last season was read the MST3K-esque running commentary that flooded my twitter feed. And even though I’ve never met these people in person, I know they’re riding the same lockout roller coaster, traveling from the peaks of optimism and hope to the valleys of pessimism and despair as I am. We’re all feeling the very real pain of the lockout, and at the root of that lockout-induced pain is absence and uncertainty.
It’s more than the absence of Chris Paul’s passing or Dirk’s off balance turnaround jumpshot. The absence of the NBA isn’t just the absence of entertainment, but also the absence of something that builds communities and friendships. Basketball is an international language, and the NBA is one of the more popular dialects. Words like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or Kobe Bryant can be just as much of a conversation starter as bonjour, shalom, or nin hao. But the continued absence of the NBA is causing a slow deterioration of that dialect.
Sports are both finite and continuous. One game ends, another begins. Even the end of a season is just a prolonged hiatus until the next game. This is a comforting reality of sports. It’s why we say, maybe next time, because there is an absolute certainty that there will be a next time. But the lockout has ripped that away that certainty and placed doubt in its stead. We are forced to face the unfamiliar question, and all too real possibility of, “will there be a next time?” That uncertainty is more than uncomfortable, it’s painful, which is to be expected when a constant comfort is torn away.
Don’t dismiss this as crying over the loss of a simple game, because as we’ve already established, it’s much more than that. The absence of a thing loved, and the uncertainty of its return, can be devastating, and the loss of a loved sport is no different. We all knew the lockout was inevitbale, but I don’t think any of us anticipated this nearly tangible pain.
There’s no reason or rhyme for my love of the NBA. But, as Shakespeare said, “reason and love keep little company together nowadays.” I don’t come from a tradition-rich NBA city like Boston, Los Angeles, or even Seattle. The Kansas City Kings moved before I was even born, and even though I went to school in Tulsa, I still don’t claim the Thunder as “my” team. I stopped playing basketball around third grade, when it became apparent that my eyes closed, slingshot-style jumpshot wouldn’t draw rave reviews from scouts. I didn’t even like the NBA until my junior year of high school. Still, none of that changes the fact that I love the NBA. And when something you love gets taken away from you, it hurts.
Right now, I’m hurting.
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