Tag Archives: basketball

The Choice Is Yours (Or, If the Horse Is Dead, Dismount; But If It’s Still Alive, You Might as Well Learn How to Ride It)

e20816c1dce70514b76bc07c6327d641--jimmy-v-quotes-inspirational-cancer-quotesPeyton Manning hosted the 25th annual ESPY Awards about twenty-five miles from my television set a couple of nights ago in downtown Los Angeles. The ESPY phenomenon was conceived as the MTV Awards for sports, but the original show in 1993 instantly became so much more when Jim Valvano — Jimmy V — delivered his heroic speech less than two months before he died from bone cancer.  He was 47 years old.  Guess which birthday I’m looking at?

I remember that inspirational speech quite well because I had just completed my first season as a high school basketball coach and was scheduled to attend a Nike coaching clinic in Chicago later that summer where Jimmy V was a featured speaker — legendary Villanova coach, Rollie Massimino, had to fill in following his good friend’s untimely death.

The entire clinic was a heady experience for a baby basketball coach from small-town Arkansas like me what with Rollie eulogizing Jimmy V, foul-mouthed John Chaney stringing together profanities like an auctioneer, classy Lute Olson sharing Arizona’s secrets, a potentially inebriated P.J. Carlesimo basically phoning it in, and upstart Cincinnati head coach Bob Huggins sharing a story that has helped shape the trajectory of my adult life.

Huggins was just a year removed from a shocking run to the Final Four in Minneapolis where his Bearcats lost by four points to the uber-talented Fab Five from Michigan. Following the loss, a dejected Coach Huggins walked the cavernous halls of the Metrodome and bumped into his father, who himself had been a successful high school basketball coach.  Huggins told us that he expected his dad to give him a hug or something but instead heard him say, “If you would have rebounded better you would have won.”

Thanks, dad.  Huggins reported that he was furious.  Until he thought about it and determined that if they would have rebounded better they would have won.  So that’s what he set out to work on instead.

I needed to hear that at the time and have needed to hear it again on many occasions ever since.  Feeling sorry for yourself is easy work that feels surprisingly good and well-deserved, but that and a dollar can rent you a movie on iTunes.  It is far more productive to figure out what you can control and get to work on that instead.

Followed Through

18579549_1670127713295036_4028566310173540352_nPepperdine Law’s graduation ceremony occurred last Friday at Alumni Park, and the venue is simply unbeatable — a spacious green lawn on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean under the warm California sun. Spectacular.

Having recently resigned from the law school, I had no official responsibilities at graduation, but having recently resigned from the law school, I had hundreds of reasons to be there.  I ran into several friends on the way in, and knowing how graduation works decided to wander over to the place where the graduates would march in to see if I could offer a high five or two as they passed by.  (I really did not know that this would produce a lead candidate for my life highlight reel.)

I was dean of students when the Class of 2017 began its law school adventure and had the honor of welcoming them aboard on their very first day as well as cheering for them on their arduous journey.  There was no way that I would miss this culminating event.  As I stood there on Friday, my high five or two suddenly became a line full of hundreds of high fives and hugs.  It was an amazing experience for me. At one point I wondered if I was holding up the ceremony, but then I remembered that they couldn’t fire me and just kept hugging these wonderful human beings.

Several mentioned that they remembered to “follow through” as they passed by, letting me know that they remembered the little talk that I gave during their law school orientation when I taught them how to shoot a basketball. I explained that you could do everything right but forget to “follow through” and the shot would be unsuccessful. I gave them a little stress ball that looked like a basketball that day with the words FOLLOW THROUGH printed on.

They remembered.  And they surely followed through, and I am proud of them.

I stuck around afterward and met family and friends and posed for pictures and offered congratulations. It was their day of honor, but the warm smiles and good hearts of the Class of 2017 provided a happy day for me, too.

Madness

17126701_1108437092601567_4197244785582407680_nBasketball used to be my thing.  I thought about it all day, every day, and dreamed about it at night–and sometimes still do.  Hour after hour alone in the driveway getting sunburned, soaked in rainstorms, and frozen in the snow and ice.  Dreaming I was Dr. J.  Dreaming I was an Arkansas Razorback.  Dreaming I was the hero of a state championship game for the C.R.A. Falcons.  Alone in my dreams.

Basketball became my community.  Countless practices.  Pickup games anywhere there were players and some version of a ball and goal.  My very best friends and mortal enemies.  Jammed fingers.  Shirts and skins.  Dunk goals.  Make-it, take-it.  We got next.  Cut-off t-shirts and short shorts.  High tops and two pairs of socks, pushed down to be cool.  Arguments and hurt feelings.  High fives and heroics.

Popular culture fueled my obsession.  “Hoosiers” hit the big screen when I was in high school, the peak of my love affair with the sport.  Rap music became a thing, and I wore out a cassette learning every word of Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball.”  Thanks to an NBA commercial, the Pointer Sisters’ “Let’s Get Excited” became my warm-up song–even though I don’t think that’s what they were talking about.

I was valedictorian of my high school class and had options, I suppose, but all I cared about was basketball.  Since I wasn’t talented enough to play at the college level, my attention shifted to coaching.  I made every home game at Barnhill Arena during my college years.  Rollin’ with Nolan.  Dreaming that I would some day coach in the madness of March.

I remember the exact day my basketball dreams began a rapid disintegration.  It is hard to forget since it was one week before my wedding.  Appropriately, I was playing basketball in a outdoor three-on-three tournament at a local festival when a nasty fall shattered my right leg in three places.  Emergency surgery led to a four night hospital stay, released in enough time to make it to my wedding in a wheelchair.  In sickness and in health, right?  

In 1994, I began a love that has grown stronger year after year, and maybe not ironically, began to lose my feelings for basketball.  With my broken leg, after the lengthy recovery, I learned that I just couldn’t play all out anymore, and that stole all the fun.  I really don’t follow basketball much anymore.  Sure, I root for my Pepperdine Waves, and sure, I fill out an annual bracket and will be rooting for the old alma mater today as they take on Seton Hall (Go Hogs!), but it is no longer the center of my life.

I’m not sad about this.  I follow other sports as a spectator and am now somewhat obsessed with running.  But what I learned is that it is possible to walk away from something that was once important to you without regrets.  What is not okay, at least in my book, is pretending something is important and then doing it halfway.

This Old House

I realize that “old” is a state of mind and not a specific age.  I also realize that old is often my state of mind.  Some circumstances are less than helpful.  My parents are gone.  My sisters are grandparents.  My children are adults.  My hair color is Caucasian, and my beard is gray.  I am blind in one eye and increasingly cannot see out of the other.  I thought Pokemon GO was a statement granting a Jamaican proctologist permission to proceed.

But contrary to popular opinion, old isn’t necessarily bad.

If all went as planned, this post will publish as I fly back to California after a family visit in Arkansas.  It had been a couple of years since I visited, and it was good to go “home” for a few days, even though Arkansas has not really been home for nearly two decades.  On these increasingly sporadic trips, I always make a point to see the little place on West Mueller Street that I called home for the first couple of decades of my life.  My parents rented the tiny house for sixty dollars a month until I was in high school, and I still remember the day that the landlord increased the rent to ninety and my dad went apoplectic.  He took it as a personal insult given the thoughtful care he donated to the place.

The little house went downhill after the Sturgeon family moved out sometime around 1990, and it always made me sad to see its deteriorating condition.  An overgrown yard.  Broken down cars.  Peeling siding.  In particular, I would always look to see if the basketball goal my dad mounted on the roof of the garage was still there, and amazingly, year after year, it held on.  A couple of years ago, it appeared to be holding on by a thread, dangling from the plywood backboard looking more like a lone gymnastic ring than a basketball goal, but it was still there.

I won many dramatic NCAA and NBA championships on that goal, and I couldn’t tell you how many beautiful cheerleaders fell in love with me in my imagination given my astounding heroic feats on that cracked, cement driveway.  My dad often sat on the porch silently just watching me play.

Well, it finally happened.  The goal is gone now after a good run of forty years or so.  And it made me feel a little older.

But you know, in a sense, even without that old basketball hoop, I still feel like my dad is sitting on the porch watching me, and that provides great comfort.  And, in another sense, I get to take his place on the porch and watch my children live out their dreams in this life, and since he was my first hero, taking his seat is a pretty great thing to do.

Yes, contrary to popular opinion, old isn’t necessarily bad.

Shooting for Significance

After undoubtedly the most thrilling finish in the history of the NCAA basketball tournament, I remembered my personal stories of hoops heroics (i.e., coming off the bench to sink crucial free throws against Tyronza in 1986; converting a five-point play in OT to defeat Marmaduke in 1988) before ultimately concluding that nobody cares except me.  This is true because I have tried on multiple occasions to express the greatness of my shining moments to my sweet wife who loves me very much.  And she surely doesn’t care.

I, along with an inestimable number of fellow human beings, dreamed of doing what Kris Jenkins did in Houston on Monday night: deliver the game-winning shot in the biggest game in front of the entire world.  How many kids on sun-filled playgrounds, in sweltering gyms, in lonely backyards, in their wildest dreams, lusted for such a moment?  How many of us still do?

What makes a college student tossing an orange ball through a metal cylinder twice its size from ten yards away such an object of deep admiration?  What is it about the tournament itself that would cause a television network to invest $10.8 billion dollars for the rights to show it to the world for fourteen years?

It is madness.  To be specific, March Madness.

I am convinced that it runs far deeper than the human desire for entertainment; instead, it is an inherent longing for significance.  We all want (at the very least) one shining moment.  In Kris Jenkins, we find a representative of our desire to come through at just the right time for the force of good (sorry Tar Heel Nation, just a metaphor) and be a hero.  That way, the world will not soon forget us, we think.  Springsteen singing about glory days and all that.

Is it terrible of us to think this way?  Well, it obviously can be (we can start with, um, Hitler), but I do not think that the quest for significance is necessarily terrible at all.  At least I hope not, since we are all infected.  For just a personal sampler, it is surely that part of my brain that causes me to post on social media how far I run, or check the number of “likes” on a Facebook post, or look at how many people read my blog.  Surely I’m not alone in this.  We all want to do something worthwhile.

The real question is: What is the measure we use to gauge significance?  Since the answer to that question determines everything else, it deserves some pretty serious reflection.