I Got a Basketball Jones

                                                                                                                      Photo courtesy of Sporting News

                                                                                                                      Photo courtesy of Sporting News

After watching the Golden State Warriors win the 2017 NBA Finals last evening, I’ve had to ask myself why I am so angry at Kevin Durant and the rest of their historic team? It’s freakin’ basketball, man. When I think back on all the times I’ve been angry in my life, however, many of them seem to center around the sport of basketball. Basketball was my first love. She was all I ever thought about from the end of my third grade season and beyond, and sometimes, I think I still carry that with me. Maybe I just have a basketball jones, man.

However, when that particular third grade season came to an end, I remember sitting down with my dad and having a heart-to-heart conversation. I was known on that team by my coaches as “Kurt Rambis” for my abilities specifically in rebounding, passing, and making sure my teammates looked good. That’s what I did, man. Every single game. I couldn’t dribble the ball for shit, I was pretty uncoordinated and I really didn’t know too much about the game. Basically, I was a hack. But, I was every coach’s dream player. Why? Because I listened, I put the team first, and I just wanted to win.

Rebound that ball. Check. Box out over here. Check. Pass it here for an easy bucket. Check. That’s just what I did. I loved listening to the coaches back then. It made me feel so special following their instructions and seeing the payoff in the end. That same season, we played our “rivals”, a group of local kids from our township who we matched up with year after year. When I joined different teams and leagues later in my childhood, that squad was still around, and I always wanted to beat them. But, I didn’t want to just beat them. Looking back on it, I wanted to annihilate them.

It’s funny, but I’m really not that aggressive of a guy. People close to me will probably tell you of my competitive nature and my knack for getting into trouble on the basketball court, and they would be 100% correct. But, I’m far from that aggressive off the court, and after this particular Cavaliers loss, I started to wonder why basketball seems to bring out the worst in me.

So, back to my heart-to-heart with my dad. You see, that same season, we got the crap kicked out of us by our neighborhood rivals. Their point guard saw the floor like no kid I had ever played against and dribbled circles around our entire team. I was frickin’ pissed. And, I was sick and tired of being pushed around. That night, my dad told me something I’ll never forget.

“If you want something, you’ve got to put the work in to get it.”

I’m not sure if it was in those exact words or if our chat happened the night of our loss, but I remember us talking, and I specifically remember the disappointment and frustration I felt when talking with him. I didn’t wanna be only “Kurt Rambis” anymore, but rather, some other type of player. Someone who could not only pass, rebound and be coached, but one who could score. I wanted to put the ball into the hoop, man. And after sitting down with my dad, there wasn’t much else that needed to be said.

Now, the timeline on these events is sadly beginning to fade. When I was younger, I never believed parents with jaded memories or ones who had a difficult time putting certain stories together from their childhood.

How hard can it be? I often asked myself.

Now, at age 27, certain memories have begun to fade, while others swirl in the constraints of my brain and throughout the universe like floating stars. I can grab one over here. Or, one over there. Then, just like that, I can’t grab any.

After my dad’s speech, I worked on my basketball game every single second of every single day. I’ll never forget it. I was outside putting up shots, shooting buzzer beaters, working on my right hand, watching old NBA films and training VHS tapes, playing against older kids, playing H-O-R-S-E- against my dad, dribbling the ball in the house (that never went well), shooting, shooting, shooting. Then, I’d wake up, and do it all over again.

I didn’t do much else that summer. I didn’t go to the pool that often. I didn’t ride my bike that much. Hell, I barely even slept in. All I did was work. You can ask my dad to this day, and I’m positive he will tell you the same thing. That was a big bonding moment between us. He had counseled and listened and taught me that if you want something, you’ve got to work for it. Then, his son actually went and took his own advice. I’m sure that made him so proud. Hell, it made me proud! I was so stoked that I had actually taken the time to work on my craft and constantly visualized myself succeeding not only against our rivals, but against my own teammates as well.

Just wait till they get a load of me (Jack Nicholson Joker voice)

I was ready. The summer had come to an end and it was time to put my game to the test. In another unfading memory, I specifically remember our team holding our first practice/open run the following season. Practice was at Veterans Park over in my neighborhood, and I could barely contain myself. This was my moment. It was finally time to show my team just how hard I worked, and really, to kick every single one of their asses.

Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

And oh my, did it live up to the hype. I dribbled circles around my entire team that evening, even our best player. He was shell-shocked.

Hell, everyone was.

“Whoa! Patrick! Looks like someone has been putting in WORK all summer!”

Gosh. It felt so good to hear my coaches say that. It felt so good to kick my own teammates’ butts, too. I knew it was going to make us a better team and I knew it was going to push our best player to have some competition from here on out. I’ll never forget that memory for the rest of my life. A lesson taught from my dad, hard work and dedication put in day after day, and results to show.

I was on top of the world and no one was going to bring me down.

Until….

I wasn’t. Four games into the season, I broke my ankle playing pickup hoops with a friend at Family Fun Center. Family freakin’ Fun Center. That injury messed me up. The recovery period took forever. Way longer than anticipated or expected. And, my ankle was never the same. I don’t remember much about that time period. It’s like I remember everything up until I broke my ankle, and then it just goes black. I had a career-high 14 points the game before my injury, and I felt like no one could stop me. Mind you, the competition in this league wasn’t great (our rival team left to join a more competitive one), but all I needed was some confidence.

Then, boom. It was taken from me just like that.

So, life went on. My next basketball memory revolves around my obsession with making the middle school team. The summer before tryouts, I took out a piece of notebook paper and wrote, “I will make the Nagel Blue Basketball Team.” I posted it on my mirror in my bedroom, and that was the only goal I cared about. Making the Blue team was a freakin’ dream. Only the best players in the school made that team, and damn, were their jerseys cool. The girls loved those guys on that Blue team (added perk), they were the main attraction at the middle school, and the players were all really, really good. At least in my eyes, these guys were my first real heroes. I absolutely worshiped them.

So, I worked my tail off again. And, guess what? I made the Blue team. There was a Silver team too, but I made the Blue one. I wrote it down, I watched my Pistol Pete training VHS tapes religiously, and I accomplished my number one goal. I was so proud of myself, but I knew there were bigger things ahead.

Onto high school I went.

High school is a weird time, though. You’re growing up, but still so young, but you also believe you’re invincible, while still being completely insecure. It’s a total mind fuck, and I’m lucky to say I had a supporting family, friends, teams, groups, clubs and acquaintances to look after me. In my mind, throughout the entirety of my freshman year, I was going to some day play in the NBA. That’s just how I felt. I know it’s crazy, but at the time, why not? I had the world at my fingertips and had just made the freshmen squad.

Once again, I was ready to go.

I relate a lot of my time spent playing high school basketball and worrying about my athletic future to that of The Twilight Zone. A head coach, who we later discovered had a major gambling problem, a program in desperate need of excitement, change, and some true passion for the game, and a sequence that will forever stick out to me as the weirdest of my lifetime, it’s safe to say that my basketball dreams were doomed from the early stages of my high school career.

I worked out with a personal trainer, a former Northern Kentucky University standout who could just flat out ball. The guy was crazy good and he helped take my game to the next level during those high school summers. I was planning to become one of the best players in the city, on one of the best teams, but as we all know, shit happens. Our high school head coach left summer league games early to “tend to his Subways.” He owned several Subway restaurants throughout the area, but it was hard for me to believe there were 35 problems a day at each location. That’s how much he was on the phone during our games, not doing basketball related things.

But, during my junior year, I was blessed with the biggest opportunity of my playing career.

Unfortunately, our best player had to sit out for a few games due to underage drinking. We were about to play our high school rivals (coincidence?), and my coach had asked me how I felt about starting at Point Guard the Monday before our Friday night tip-off.

How do I feel about starting??? Is that a serious mother f’ing question?

Anyway, it’s game day and I have the best first half of my life. My name gets called last in warm-ups and my best friend and I chest bump at midcourt, while the crowd absolutely erupts. I didn’t tell any of my friends watching that I was starting, so it was pretty damn cool to see their reactions. I hold their star player to zero points at half. I throw the best assist of my entire life to my buddy under the hoop, and I end the first half with 6–7 points, 5–6 assists, and zero turnovers. We were up, and I literally couldn’t have played a better two quarters of basketball if I tried. I was in the zone, man. I had worked my ass off for this moment and I wasn’t going to let it slip.

Until….

It did. To start the second half, my coach sat me. He sat me! For a sophomore who had never played much on the varsity level. I asked him why and he didn’t have an answer. That really pissed me off. But, he was the coach, and I was the player, and we all know how that relationship works. So, I sat. I sat most of the second half, probably logging around five total minutes in the last two quarters. Their leading scorer ended up with 19 and we lost by double digits.

From the first moments we left the court, I can remember friends, acquaintances, parents and people I didn’t even know yelling that I got screwed. I mean, here I am walking to the locker room and my buddy’s dad from the other team is yelling about how mad he was that my coach took me out and ruined the entire game for our team. I was devastated, man. I was absolutely crushed. What else could I have done? I played my best half ever and I got nothing to show for it, no reasoning as to why it happened, and to top it off, we got our shit kicked in.

Surprise, surprise, I didn’t end up making it into the NBA. Hell, I didn’t even play college ball. I gave my life and time to hoops, and much of the same happened during my time playing AAU. No one on our team played harder than I did (assistant coach’s words, not mine), and I still would get pulled for the head coach’s son to play. That kind of stuff really messed with me. I know whoever is reading this probably thinks I’m insane, but when you give that much time and effort to something, you at least wish a coach or two might have an answer as to why he sat you, after coming in and playing so well for the team.

Was I just not good enough? Was my game missing something? Were my coaches missing something? Did I waste all of that time when I could have spent it learning how to play golf? Or football? Or soccer? Or tennis? I really don’t know.

As time progressed, I stayed involved with the game of basketball. I played in a fraternity and intramural league, and at the rec every single chance I had in college. If I had a few hours between classes, I’d lace ’em up and go run for as long as I possibly could. It was my saving grace and it kept me in incredible shape. But, once again, somewhere along the way, I grew bitter. I became almost this negative force on the court and I really didn’t like it. I started playing less. I also remember taking LeBron’s departure from Cleveland so personally, I wondered what type of life I was really living. Was I just an Internet/Twitter/Facebook troll at this point? Man, it sure started to feel like it. Then I got over it. Then, a few years later, LeBron came back to Cleveland. Then, KD recently left OKC for GS and my negativity came firing back on all cylinders.

I’ve found myself angry all season long. Pissed off about Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia, you name it. Pissed that KD left OKC. Pissed that the Cavs chances of winning it all this season dripped dramatically after KD joined up with Curry and the squad. Kind of weird, right? But, it makes sense. I called out KD for leaving OKC and taking the easy way out. Yet, deep down, I know Kevin Durant just wants to be really good at the sport he loves. At one point in my life, that’s what I wanted to.

I wanted everyone to talk about me as the greatest player they had ever played with, or against. I really did. That’s all I ever wanted, and guess what? It never happened. And, that fucking killed me. The crazy thing is I didn’t even realize this until late last evening. My dad was upset with me for my behavior at a local bar towards Kevin Durant and the Warriors, as he called me out on my bitterness, anger and resentment towards the team. He was legitimately shocked by my behavior, and I will say, it was 15 seconds after the Finals ended, so I think he could have cut me a little more slack. But, he was right. And, my girlfriend and friends have told me many of the same things. Yet, I only became angrier when they called me out. Deep down, I knew part of it was true, but I didn’t really know why.

Now, I do.

I took out my frustrations from my basketball career, or lack thereof on some of the best players in the world in a display of pettiness and self-loathing. Kind of sad, I know, but true. I wanted to play college ball and play in the NBA. I didn’t make it. I wanted to be on an amazing state title team in high school with our team photo on the front page of the newspaper. It didn’t happen. I wanted to be a member of greatness in the sport of basketball. But, guess what? It never happened, and it’s about time I finally admit that.

Growing up, I never really understood why some parents tried to live through their kids. I really didn’t. It made absolutely zero sense to me. But, now when I think about a parent and the regrets they still carry from their childhood, it really isn’t all that unfathomable to me anymore. Think about the guilt and frustrations some people carry with them throughout the entirety of their lives. I don’t want that. I won’t stand for it, and due to technology and my love for writing, I have the opportunity to vent and rid myself of this negative energy through the Medium platform, and that’s what I decided to do.

So, to the 2017 Golden State Warriors, I still may never like your team. But, I refuse to resent your skills and compare them to my lack of talent on the basketball court. I didn’t make it. That’s the harsh reality, and the fact I have been playing and watching basketball with that chip on my shoulder and negative energy is actually quite alarming. So, I’m sorry. I truly am. It didn’t work out. Such is life. I hope that when my kids grow up and possibly find that same love I have for basketball, I hope I can pass this knowledge onto them. Life’s too short to hold grudges for so long, but when you love something so much, it’s harder to identify and fix.

I just hope they’ll listen.