For the Love of the Game


For the Love of the GameMy first basketball memory drifts back to the playground at Washington Elementary School. The paved playground, metal backboard and faded netless rim drew me like a moth to a flame. The challenge of shooting the ball through that hoop was one that grew quickly. I didn’t know much about the game, but I did know that I enjoyed it and wanted to learn more.

My second memory moved off the playground onto the hardwood floor. While shooting baskets during lunch time one day I was encouraged by Mr. Leonard, the elementary school basketball coach, to try out for the basketball team. To my surprise, I made the team. I remember receiving my uniform and wearing the yellow and blue warm up shirt to class all afternoon even though I was about to die from the heat. I didn’t take it off till I arrived home after school.

Basketball was my first love. Fortunately I had a coach who loved the game for the game itself. There was purity for the game that he instilled deep within me during those early days. Thanks again Mr. Leonard. I went on to play middle school, high school and college basketball, and those basic principles formed a prism through which I came to view all sports.

With March Madness having ended, a new NCAA national champion crowned, the NBA playoffs just over the horizon, basketball is fresh on many sports fans’ minds. Sports, in a way, are a snapshot of who we are. I know the good old days were never quite as good as our filtered minds remember, but I believe good old day principles never go out of style. Here are a few basketball principles that also play well in the game of life.

Good Sportsmanship – I remember hearing my coaches say the most important thing is not if you win or lose but how you play the game. We worked hard in practice and were taught to play hard and give it our all every minute of the game. We were also taught to appreciate the good play of our teammates and the opposing team. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a whole lot more fun winning than losing, and I’d much rather be at the top of the conference than in the cellar, but the emphasis on winning has become more important than appreciating the joy of the game. I’m troubled by those who try to take a shortcut to success by introducing performance enhancing drugs into the final score or those who try to get an advantage by unethically or illegally obtaining the other team’s plans. We were taught that we should be gracious winners and good losers.

Deportment – Deportment is an old word that deserves a new look. How you behaved on the court, how you looked and what you did off the court mattered. It’s a bit troubling to see the lack of good deportment on the court. You never chided or made light of your opponent’s mistakes (although you did your best to take advantage of them). Often you see jawing going on between players which sometimes escalates into open brawling. Once upon a time there was a warning then a technical foul if things like that persisted. If you played hard you or your opponent would eventually end up on the floor. You always helped an opponent to his feet, and you were concerned that he might be injured. In most college and pro games today, one only helps his teammate up from a fall and never an opponent. The goal seems now to dominate your opponent in every way. This is illustrated by what I call the Emancipation & Intimidation factor.

The look of the player matters. Many players now sport bookend tattoos covering most of both arms. The college players imitate the pro players. In my ever so humble opinion, I believe this is a statement by the individual player that it matters little what others think, he has freedom to do what he pleases. I think the goal is to try to intimidate the opposing players. This is America, and people are free to look and be whatever they want to be. However, I do think that since the emancipation & intimidation factor has entered the game, that the game has taken a step backwards.

Teamwork – Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Dr. J., Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan are only a few on a list too long to name who generate visions of champions and success. Although each man was very unique each made his team better. Our coaches taught us that you are never bigger than the team. There are some sports which focus on individual achievement, golf for instance. But isn’t it amazing when the Rider Cup matches with the Europeans roles around every other year, how individual performance is measured by team success. Those individuals like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods become part of something bigger than themselves. I learned to pass the ball to the open man who had the best chance to make the shot. I learned to wait for my teammates on a fast break when we didn’t have the numbers and to pull the ball out and until the odds evened up. Emphasis now is on the franchise player. Who is the guy who will win us a championship?

No man wins a championship. Teams win championships. A guy or gal should be careful about thinking the sun rises and sets on his/her ability as a player. A truly good player makes those around him better.

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