Wednesday, September 23, 2015

how to live with hunger, or what could have happened if i hadn't quit basketball

Because I am tall, people often ask me if I play basketball. Usually, I simply say yes. But I feel like a bit of an imposter when I answer that way. I know they are probably imagining me powering through the baseline with the ball in my hand, shoving my shoulder into the chest of a defender who's planted herself to get the foul. Then I fake and pass to a teammate, or take the hook shot, or fall with the defender as the whistle blows to call my trespass. Or they see me jumping for rebound after rebound, hungry for the ball. They are reading athleticism and aggressiveness into my profile. 

Here is the truth: I tried out for the team in seventh grade without ever having played a game of basketball in my life. The closest I got was probably shooting a round of Horse in our front driveway with my best friend or older sister. During those early practices, I felt clumsy during the drills. It took me time to get the hang of dribbling the ball in a figure eight around my spread squatting legs and the coordination of a two-step lay up (lift off the inside leg, pull the outside leg up). 

I made the team, which I guess I wasn't too surprised about. My coach may have seen some promise in my game, but I'm sure he wanted me on the team for my height. I was already close to my full 5'11" in seventh grade.

But here's the thing - I never quite felt like I belonged on the court. I can't jump high, I'm not that aggressive, I usually choked and passed the ball instead of being eager to take the shot myself. At game time, I was uncomfortable holding the ball in my hands. 

I played for a few years, had some fun and convinced my mom to buy me some really hot black nike high top sneakers (they were so cool). But after tenth grade, I quit.

Since then, I've played intramural games in college with a stacked team of really tall friends and a few co-ed pick up games. I'm still not that great, but I love the pace of the game and the slap of the ball on the ground and the arc it makes headed for the net. I've wondered many times what might have happened if I'd kept playing. Would I have found my groove? Would I have gained confidence? Would I have learned how to live with hunger, how to allow it to move me forward and jump high and act like the ball really should belong in my hands?

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