I feel the need to explain basketball to you.

I’m writing a novel in part about basketball because I feel the need to explain basketball to you. Because there are people I like and people I want to be like and they either do not like basketball or they have no interest in basketball or they actively look down on basketball if not sports in general. I feel the need to tell these people the merits, the reasons, the why. I have the urge to explain myself. As though basketball is embarrassing, a pointless pastime, as though any given noun could be ranked on its existential worthiness and in that all-encompassing scale basketball must fall in the lower half. If there were two things, basketball would be ranked second, per se. If there were 100, basketball would top out at 51st. At the maximum. Meaning that basketball is not the worst thing, but there are always more things better than basketball than there are worse.

I have to write a novel, apparently, to explain to you why this isn’t true.

When the game starts, I can completely see this point of view, completely empathize. When I get out on a court and I have a ball in my hands and the hoop feels twice as high as me again and the bizarre feature of the latticework net that unlike most nets is designed to hold nothing, attached even-paced around an iron circle which itself at first blush seems comically large, manhole cover large, how could this be a challenge much less a sport, even if it is so goddamn high in the air. At the start of the game, the first shot of the game, all of that surreality is intact. Toss a ball against gravity, let gravity bring it back. If the game were just shooting, no one would play it for more than the duration of your given carnival fare. And that’s assuming prizes.

But then incorporate the dribble, and therein lies the physical appeal, the pleasure of physics. Like, this is why I’ll never understand the designated hitter, I mean from the player’s perspective, like where’s the balance, how can it feel like a sport to you if you never catch the ball? Dribbling is a perfect antithesis to shooting, again, on its own there’s not much there, simply a repeated attempt to augment gravity against a reflective surface enough as to get the ball to return to the general vicinity of the hand which released it, in order to launch it back towards the earth once more. Augment gravity, fight gravity. Dribble, shoot.

Even that, though. Even the combination of the two isn’t enough, the physical pleasure, not enough to merit basketball’s placement into the upper half of Things. My argument is that basketball is strangely cumulative. On a court by yourself or in a game. You notice it especially, though, during a game. The first basket counts as much as the last basket but the last basket, the last shot, seems to bear all the importance of every one previous, combined. 

I watched Wisconsin tonight make the last shot they took, a three-pointer, in a tie game as the clock ran out. They made seven others throughout the course of the game, three-pointers. Each of those, mathematically speaking, was just as much the difference in the game as the last one. And it was a tie game, even, before that final one. They didn’t even need the three. They made seventeen other regular two-point shots. Every one of those also made the difference, and free throws! They made eight free throws at one point apiece, and yeah they could’ve missed on two more of those, but at least six of those free throws were vital, according to the intransigent laws of addition, to putting Wisconsin on top.

But my goodness was that last shot exciting.

Take away the clock, then, you say, take away the other team, and what have you got? Should be nothing. But it isn’t, somehow. It’s cumulative anyway, without keeping score. My favorite thing to do, in basketball, and if I’m being honest one of my favorite things in the world is to stand and shoot free throws. My routine is three dribbles, spin the ball backwards in the palm of my hand, catch it in shooting position, exhale, bend the knees, downward upward, and release. Over and over and over again. The first one feels like a foreign language. The last, on a good day, like spontaneous verse.

That’s the other thing. Fluency. I can promise you this, the Wisconsin guard who made the last shot tonight, he knew he was going to make it. There was not a doubt in his mind. Actually time was running down, five four three, and he had the ball and he crossed half court and he was about to take a shot when his teammate called a timeout at two. This guy, though, Bronson Koenig, he knew then. Five minutes before they finally let him take the shot. He told his teammate during the timeout, just get it to me, that’s all you have to do. Reminder, they did not need three points. It just so happened that’s where he wound up with the ball. Deep in the corner, nearly out of bounds, in fact he wound up behind another player on his own bench, his momentum carried him off the court and he could barely see the shot go in as time ran out but he didn’t need to, because he already knew.

This is, like, an essential aspect of life, to me. This feeling. It’s attainable in other sports, but none so readily as basketball, and if you don’t play sports of any kind I don’t know how rare such a feeling may be to you, or where you find it. I get it from writing. I can imagine it happening in other arts, music, painting, but finding it there seems to me so much more challenging. Probably all the more satisfying when it arrives, though, which points to basketball as a shortcut, like a drug, and I’ll admit that, it’s a nice stand-in, more fleeting, but every bit as real.

If you’re not creating something, though. Where else? I see people craving it. Online especially, Twitter, Facebook. People I know to have third-choice jobs and second mortgages, whose only practice comes in the service of either aspirations of a promotion or keeping themselves or their families alive and societally functional. I see it most in the comments section, under the guise of anonymity, people imagining themselves laureates and heaving their heavy words out into space, waiting for the landing, expecting to bring the house down with thunderous applause. But just don’t tell my mom I said that, okay?

I need the arts. I need the sports. I need the sleep, it’s about that time, oh btw there’s a comments section below and don’t forget to click ‘like,’ thanks for coming to my website, see you next time, I’ll try to do better.

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