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Community (aka, connecting the dots between Reggie Miller, Springfield Mass and pickup hoops at lunch)
September 9, 2012Posted by on
A week ago, I had the good fortune of passing through Springfield, Massachusetts and stopping off at the Basketball Hall of Fame where I spent a couple hours acting like a kid in an interactive Toys’ R’ Us museum. I gawked and stared at the memorabilia and basked (no joke) in the memories the photos brought to mind. I took a picture of the player photos that surround the interior dome of the BHoF and sent it to my basketball-loving amigos and in the same manner I was drawn to the game back in the late 80s, the focus orbited around Michael Jordan.
On the ground floor of the BHoF is a full court with baskets at each end, a couple ball racks with an assortment of basketballs available for the old and young alike to shoot hoops to their hearts’ content. Most people start the journey at the top floor and work their way down to the court and of course the gift shop. On each level as I worked my way down, I saw males of varying skill levels shooting around on these hoops. Some enjoyed the monasterial qualities of the setting while others seemed oblivious to their surroundings and shot with a freedom of awareness. And the reason I specifically call out males is because I didn’t see a single woman nor girl shooting on this day which isn’t meant as a commentary on the gender ceiling of the sport as women’s photos lined the dome above. Of course I arrived at the ground floor and while my wife sat on the bleachers with other wives, girlfriends and parents, I peacefully shot jumpers—in jeans and flip flops. Just like any other court I’ve ever been on where multiple people are shooting, there was an understanding, a common courtesy that you’d grab a stray ball for another shooter if it came your way and they’d do the same for you. This pre-knowledge automatically creates an unspoken agreement between people shooting around. So without even knowing the guys I was shooting with, I already had a relationship of sorts. And it was a peaceful shoot around even though I was admonished by one of the Hall’s employees for stepping to the half-court line and taking a few dribbles in preparation of a half court heave, “No half-court shots!” he shouted from the sideline. I laughed a bit realizing that I’m a 31-year-old man who was about to fire up a half-court shot at the BHoF. If that’s not enough evidence that basketball and the BHoF specifically can bring the little boy out of the grown man, then this exchange I witnessed as I was walking off the court should do the job: A man in his late 20s or early 30s was enthusiastically chucking up jumpers. Like me, he wasn’t wearing something like jeans and a button down and as I passed, I heard a woman standing near him (she was clearly his significant other) say in jokingly motherly tone, “OK, one more shot and then we’re leaving.” But he wasn’t ready to go, because we never are.
Here I am now, just over a week later watching a recording of the BHoF speeches from a few days ago. Reggie Miller’s speaking and referencing inside jokes that I kind of get. He calls Magic “Buck” and jabs him in the ribs about teaching him how to “lie and cheat” (at which point my thoughts uncomfortably jump to Magic’s legendary promiscuity that led to HIV)—that’s the backhand; the compliment comes when he articulates that lying and cheating are actually virtues of a “win by any means necessary” attitude. We get it because we’re on the inside and have read or heard about Magic’s compulsive competiveness in books and interviews, blogs and podcasts. Reggie gave a genuine, if not brotherly, credit to his sister Cheryl for raising the level of his family’s name and his basketball game. For the basketballiteratti, we already knew this and can judge and assess whether or not Reggie or Cheryl was the more relevant or greater Miller. We’ve heard the famous story about Reggie coming home from a high school game, pumped up because he scored 30 or 40 points and then he asked Cheryl how her game went and she’s all modest, “I scored 105 points.” We’re in the interpretive inner-circle; we know and nod or shake our heads.
And so many of these feelings of inclusion, of being a part of the inside joke or reference, were on display at the BHoF. I walked through the halls of the hall with my wife and pointed out random facts, stats and moments. I showed off out of childish enthusiasm: This is my area of expertise, this is what I know. Watching this induction ceremony with a sense of the physical space and history binds me into the knots of the game that continues to give and teach me so much. As I consider the infinite reach of basketball, I connect the aforementioned history to weekly pickup games with co-workers at Denny Park in Seattle where the quality of play falls in the bottom 50% globally (that’s not a good thing); I play with fellow cubicle dwellers shooting 35% from the field and averaging something like 13 turnovers per-36 minutes. We blame the shabby performances on things like age, ethnic and genetic athletic limitations and of course those impossibly sturdy symbols of American industry: The Double Rim. But excuses aside, we play and participate in a massive global community that was celebrated in Springfield, Massachusetts less than a week ago. We celebrate our physical possibilities, not our limitations, through our participation in this great, Naismith-given game. Our games at Denny Park on Fridays are tiny threads in the fabric of global basketball and at some level come with an awareness in all of us of the history that inspired and motivated us to step onto the court in the first place and continues to do so, week after week, year after year, in Seattle, Springfield and all points in between.