Basketball 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.