Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The day I learned basketball really isn’t my thing.

It was really my parents’ fault. 
THEM: We just want you to be well rounded.
ME: I weigh 110 pounds and I’m six feet all. There’s nothing round about me.
THEM: You know what we mean. You can do the music thing all you want, but just try some sports. Just try. You’re in sixth grade; you still have a bunch of potential to unlock. 
ME: Why should I continue sports, though? I tried football already, and that didn’t work... 
THEM: You quit when they started hitting.
THEM: Listen, you know how everyone always says that you’ll be good at basketball because you’re so tall?
ME: Yes.
THEM: Think of this as a way to prove them wrong. 
ME: This is a really strange way to talk me into playing. 
After much more arguing, I begrudgingly signed up for the basketball team. While the prospect of staying around an hour and a half after school was infuriating enough, I was in no way prepared for how much I would despise the entire experience.  
Changing in front of my classmates before gym class was something I had only recently gotten used to. However, changing in front of The Athletic Elite of my grade–I’m talking twelve year-olds with six packs, sideburns, broad shoulders and hair on their legs–was a whole new level of daunting. I hid in the shadow of my locker door as to hide any lack of definition in my puny body, whipped off my school shirt and whipped on my gym shirt as quickly as possible and then high-tailed it out of there before anyone saw that I looked like an actual hairless twelve year-old.
Practice was my tenth circle of hell. The Athletic Elite would be sweaty and intense, making baskets and yelling commands, and then I would be the guy who would miss the ball when it was passed to him, and then try to make a joke, like, “Haha, whoops, so you wanted me to catch that, huh?–” but The Elite were too lost in sport to stop and laugh.

I remember when one of The Elite would be practicing so hard that he would get hurt, like sprain his ankle or something, and have to sit out for the season. That person would still come to practice and watch as we formulated plays, and I remember wanting so badly just to be that guy. I wished that I could just get injured and stand on the sidelines; I would even act like I really wanted to play: “C’mon, coach! Let me in! I’ll be fine! I’m willing to sacrifice my body!” and he would be all, “No Brian, we need you to get well,” and I’d be all, “But this team is like a FAMILY to me!” 
Unfortunately I never played hard enough to get injured. 
When it was time for our first game, the coach brought out a bag of jerseys. Of course The Athletic Elite elbowed their way to the front to grab the perfectly fitting maroon shorts and shirts. And when I got to the pile there was one pair left. To this day I swear that they were women’s shorts that happened to get mixed in with the guys’. I put them on and walked over to the coach.
[I looked like an embarrassed Pepper Ann.] 

By the next game I had bought my own maroon shorts and was ready to play. We were passing the ball around before the game started, a few students and parents had gathered in the stands along with some cute girls who came to make lovey eyes at The Elite, and then coach said the most terrifying words I’ve ever heard: 

I knew how this would turn out. It always happened the same way: Coach would choose who would be shirts and skins and that damn finger of his would always land on me accompanied by the disgusting utterance of the word SKINS, and I would have to take off my shirt and the whole gym–including those cute girls–would see that my elbows were wider than my biceps. 
For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to be a skinny, unconfident teen with his shirt off in the middle of a middle school gym, let me paint a picture for you: it’s awfully breezy. Any sweat that comes out of your armpits is instantly chilled and every once and a while your funnybones brush up against your sides, leaving you with an image of them being humongous bony protrusions–like elbows on your elbows. You nipples feel both really close together and really far apart and your butt starts sweating because it’s all warm and embarrassed for your upper half. Your eyes dry out from sheer anxiety and you occasionally try to flex or something but it's no use and you miss so many passes that your ears start ringing. 
That’s what it’s like.
After an excruciating five minutes, I got to put my shirt back on and we played the game. I remember trying to get into it like the rest of the players (maybe then I could get injured), but no. It was no fun at all. 
My shining moment came at the very end of the game. Ten seconds were left on the clock and the ball was passed to me near our opponent’s hoop. The crowd began to chant:



I knew it was my time to shine. Taking the ball in my right hand over my shoulder, I wound up, took three gigantic steps forward and hurled the ball across the court towards our hoop. 

As it clanged off the backboard, there was a pause, and then I heard the crowd continue, “8...7...” 


My shining moment was premature. Then the whistle blew. 

How did I cover up this mistake, you ask? Well, it wasn’t with a joke this time. My reaction was remarkably similar to Michael Scott’s in this clip: 

Go watch it. I have it all cued up for you. It'll take all of five seconds.

That’s right, the old “I’m usually much better than this” charade. Not sure anyone bought it. 
And that was the day I learned basketball really isn’t my thing.


  1. This is my favorite blog post ever. Probably because I can relate, and the term "The Athletic Elite."

  2. Wow Chris, thanks! Glad it's your favorite ever. I was sure your favorite was Butt Birth.

  3. Haha! I remember that last shot so well! It was definitely the highlight of your athletic career! Those few seconds that the ball was flying through the air across the entire court were SO exciting! It was SO close to going into the basket!!

    And the "Think of this as a way to prove them wrong" comment? You were a tough kid to talk into ANYTHING that you didn't want to do. We tried SO many different tactics with you! :-)

  4. First of all, did your parents REALLY force you to join basketball or was this just a rouse to make the story more interesting?

    Second, I was LOLing, literally, in a Slovakian cafe during this and therefore embarrassed myself reading about your embarrassment.

    Third, this is one of my favorite stories you tell. I got really excited when I saw the title.

  5. Hi Christie!

    I wouldn't say we FORCED him. It's not like we tied, gagged him and dragged him to the basketball court...but I'm sure there was some kind of bribery or ultimatum used. :-) I mean, C'MON, he had a perfect basketball body! :-)

    If he would have made that basket (and didn't take three GIANT steps), then maybe he would have stayed in basketball, but then we wouldn't have the wonderful memories of this story! :-)