Hardwood Classic

“If you took my heart out, it would be a basketball.”Kevin Garnett

This won’t be the first time I’d write about basketball, but this would be the first time I’m writing about how I feel towards the game. Its my first love, and it taught me so much; instilled so much values in me that I carry outside of the hardwood.

Dedication to the perfection of a craft. Attention to detail. A never-give-up attitude. Long term work for long term rewards. A competitive drive few can match. Always striving to be the best version of yourself in whatever you do. Critical and quick thinking. Sound decision-making. All of these would have been unknown to me, had I not picked up my first leather ball when I was six years old.

Growing up, I was frail, with weak lungs, and an even weaker demeanor. I can barely run for a few seconds full sprint, and I can barely push a door open. Then, I saw some kids my age playing with an old, worn-out, orange ball outside our house. I got curious, so I went and played with them. I can barely lift the thing, but the moment I picked it up, I knew that it won’t be the last time I’d do so.

Soon I was learning how to dribble with both hands, make passes, hit layups and shoot the ball. It took me years to get the basics improved enough to a respectable level, but I was confident enough to try and play in my first local league in the neighborhood. I saw the same kids that I saw years ago, and it seems that I was going to play against them.

I was small when I was younger – ten, at the time – so I had to play point guard, which has to be the most mentally taxing position. Add the fact that I have to handle the rock for most of the game, and for a ten-year old kid, I didn’t have the fortitude for it. I was one of the guys that they knew can play, so they had me play as much as possible.

I struggled(okay, I sucked) in that league. That got me questioning whether I chose the right sport for me, or am I just forcing myself into something that isn’t really fit for what I’m good at. During this time, I opted not to join any leagues, and just played alone.

“If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail.” – Kobe Bryant

Inadvertently, I got to practice my shooting and handles. Working alone, I had free reign on my shooting mechanics, and I can dribble all I want. I was able to hone those skills, and I started feeling confident again. So I joined another league, three years after the first one.

I was good enough to start again. Since I have been working on my game alone, I had trouble adjusting to other people’s play style. I found it difficult to make passes, and I relied on trying to shoot and dribble my way out of anything. That isn’t a good way to play, and it’ll get you a lot of pissed off teammates. I was effective for a few minutes, but stamina got to me. All that work on two particular skills didn’t help everything else.

So I was doing better in that league, but there wasn’t really much of a bar to clear. I can shoot and handle the rock, but only for short stretches. I was starting, but I played fewer minutes than my backup. We lost a lot of games. I was in high school, by the way, so things outside¬†the court are starting to get shitty, too.

With that said, after the league, where we finished 4th out of 12 teams, I went into a basketball hiatus. I decided to focus my efforts on something else, like a high school romance and being as sociable as possible. So I stopped improving for a good two years, and lo and behold, in our high school league, when I was asked to play, I sucked big time.

I didn’t like that.

So I worked on my game again for another year. I also decided to go jogging during mornings, to improve my main weakness in the last league I played in. It worked, and during my senior year, I was a go-to guy. Yep. I reached that level. Note that my teammates were hobbyists at best, and they don’t really play outside of the high school league, so I had to will and carry my team every game.

I led the league in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks. We lost every game that year, though.

“I can accept failure; everyone fails at something sometimes. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

I didn’t win an award, which was blasphemy, according to my teachers and opponents. But I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I just wanted to win.

It all came to a stop when I went to college. For several years, I didn’t even touch a ball. Sure, I still followed the NBA, the PBA, NCAA and UAAP, and all those leagues that matter. But mostly my basketball involvement was me screaming at the TV. Turns out, it helped me as well; it improved my instincts and play-reading. At this point, I was close to giving up on playing ball, and was seriously thinking about being a coach, instead.

I was 19 when I played again. It was supposed to be my last year in college, but things happen, so it wasn’t. Anyway, while I did stop playing for a good four years, I still kept myself in shape. I was jogging whenever I felt like it, which is usually three to four times a week, during that span. So while my stamina is intact, I was worried that everything else isn’t.

Lo and behold, when I dribbled a ball again, everything just came flooding back. My left arm lost most of its strength, so I relied heavily on my right to be effective. Since my right arm is still strong enough, I was able to work on my shooting. Soon I was swishing shots from farther than I used to, since I was getting taller as well. My footwork was a lot better too, since I had better command of my legs than in years past. What I lacked was brute physical strength, which became a requirement. It didn’t matter though, because I was schooling cats left and right, with my newly and improved basketball acumen.

That proved to be a letdown, because I was again invited to a league, this time, its quite fancy. Its our town’s local league, so I’m basically up against the best our town has to offer. Now, I wasn’t the star of our team or anything, but I knew I was better than more than half of us, skill-wise.

“The time when there is no one to feel sorry for you or cheer for you, that’s the time that a player is made.” – Tim Duncan

So, our coach let me in. Second quarter, 8:44 left.

I went to get the ball from the inbound, since in my mind, I was still a guard. But alas, I had a forward’s height now, so the guys who defended me when I reached half-court were almost at least a foot smaller than I am. I had a hard time dribbling because of that, and I turned the damn ball over the moment I crossed half-court. They stole the ball, stepped on the gas, and got a basket.

I got a pass from my coach, since he knew that this was my first major competition in years. The next possession, however, they ran a play for me. They got me behind a screen on the right wing, which is a sweet-spot for my shooting. In my mind, I had the shot made. But when I fired…I got air.

I shot an airball. In front of the entire town.

I was benched for the rest of the game after that shot. I heard people murmur, laugh and all that stuff that you hear when you’re paranoid after screwing up. It pissed me off more that I got spot minutes since then, which means I barely played.

I almost gave up on basketball again. Until I got an invite from an old friend, who wanted to work on me personally. He told me that he can see the potential, the instincts and the drive. I just wasn’t properly deployed during the last league.

So we did. We played a lot of one-on-one, and even more pick-up games. By the time I was 23, I was good enough that people avoided playing against me whenever there’s betting involved. I joined the team that my department in the office fielded out; unfortunately, I got fired shortly before the league started.

I was there for every game they had, though. I was cheering and helping the guys during plays. I was essentially part of the team. In the next company, I was invited for their basketball team, and I was being groomed to be their go-to guy. I left them even before planning for the league started.

“I don’t know if I practiced more than anybody, but I know I’ve practiced enough. I’m just wondering if somewhere, somebody is practicing more than I am.” – Larry Bird

Another year passed, and I never got the chance to play in any official leagues again. I was still a beast on pick-up ball though, and guys I played with hit me up whenever there’s a game they need to show up for.

Then, my first major injury happened. I used to twist my ankle frequently, but this time, it was my back that started to give. I had a herniated disc on my spine, and it took months for it to heal. Luckily I neither had the time or the energy to play, so I was able to recover quickly.

I started playing again when I was 25. I was doing drills, practicing shooting, but I noticed that I wasn’t as agile as before, nor was I as fast full-sprint. So I started relying on my jump shot a bit more, and began to stray away from attacking the basket too often. I am still quite effective, tho not as lethal as I used to be.

“Basketball isn’t just a sport. It’s an art; one that must be mastered to succeed.” – Stephen Curry

Now, which is about a year later, in my current company(which, by the way, is very dear to me), I am playing in a league. I haven’t played up to my standards yet, but I’m sure I’m going to blow up soon enough. The Falcons haven’t really clicked yet, and the chemistry, when everyone’s playing well, is there. We just need to unlock it.

So, going back to the point of this piece(if you haven’t stopped reading yet, thank you). Basketball is a complicated sport. It can be viewed in black in white, like most people, or treated like the science that it is. You learn an awful lot of things playing it, and its not just 10 people bumping bodies to get a ball into a hoop.

You’d learn to read and react. See angles. When to apply force and how much. Improve your hand-eye coordination. Get a better grasp of Physics and the laws of matter. I’m not sure if it applies to everyone, but I don’t like losing. That means you’d get pushed to your limit, and try to be the best you can be, at least, on the court. Now, I understand that everyone has limits, but this is a good way to find out what you’re made of.

Basketball isn’t just a game. Basketball is a culture. Its awfully entertaining, but what people fail to realize is that its not as simple as its primary objective.

Due to that, I’d say that basketball is my first love, and that will never die.

“Once you’re in the game, you forget about everything.” – Manu Ginobili

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