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Love And (Bad) Basketball

by Darren Sands
Oct 26, 2010

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Darren Sands

I love almost everything about something I'm terrible at doing.

Take basketball. The squeaks and squeezes of sneakers, the smell of sweet sweat and dried wax that lingers long after players leave. I love the way the leather of a real basketball feels, the way it kisses the glass and the floor and nestles to the crease of your hand when it spins. I love plays and schemes, ball screens, pump fakes and the way the net looks when a ball hits the bottom of net.

I was just never very good.

But if you erase these memories, you'd erase about a third of my childhood — I was always around the game. And if you told me at 13 the most I'd play as an adult was once a month, I'd have thought you were lying, insisted that I was a Toys R' Us kid, and that I didn't want to grow up.

With the NBA season starting today, millions of fans like me will fill arenas all around the country, ordering NBA League Pass and making predictions for their team based partially in reality, and mostly in the hope of healing heartache (I'm looking at you, Game 7 of the 2009-2010 NBA Finals).

The season's arrival makes me think of my one and only experience with basketball virtuosity. I was a wiry high school sophomore, much slower than I looked with an even slower jump shot. I made enough of them in practice for my lisping coach, Chris Pentz, to know that if he worked long enough with me, it would pay off. We worked on getting more arc on the ball's flight and out of my hand quicker. Day after day, I tried to see how many shots I could get off in two minutes.

I was being groomed.

It's our last tournament before the playoffs. Midway through the half he looked at me and put his hand on my shoulder. He said I'd play the rest of the half because we were in serious foul trouble. He said some other stuff to me, which I don't remember, save for the last phrase: "Look for your shot."

Look for my shot?

That was all I could do well anyway. My ball handling was terrible. My passing was average. But fire away, I could do. And I did.

I hit three straight three-pointers on three possessions. The other team, perplexed, called a timeout. The next thing I know, I was being guarded by a kid who looked like he'd been shot out of a cannon. His hands and arms were everywhere. Did this kid have four arms? Didn't matter. It felt like it.

The biggest kid on our team, Adam Milukas - who to this day threw a soccer ball further than I thought possible — set a pick for me. I raised up and everything seemed to slow down. I could see the light reflecting off the ball. I could see people's necks bent skyward, as if an angel was descending. And then the ball I shot went straight in the hoop. The net rose up as if in some sort of religious praise. A buzzer sounded on another court in the gleaming new field house. I didn't backpedal on defense, I floated.

I had 12 points in the first half.

I finished the game with 12 points.

I got back in and was double-teamed. Yes, this was my payment for looking like I could play: special attention.

But boy, was I hot - even if only for a few minutes.

Darren Sands is a writer based in New York City.

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