06 May 2011

Basketball jones

Sacha has always been obsessed with basketball.

It began when he was barely walking, and I asked him to put his dirty diaper in the trash. As he threw it in, I said, “He shoots, he scores!”, and unknowingly unleashed an enduring passion. From that day forward, every diaper change became a basketball game.

The the height of the hoop continues to progress as he grows; he went from one suitable for crawlers, then toddlers, and now he insists on a full-sized backboard. Like a bloodhound, he sniffs out backboards, and begs to be hoisted up to take shots. When he became too big for me to hold over head, he would seek out any available adult, stranger or not, and demand to climb on their shoulders. If we are out for a walk and we pass a pick-up game, we must stop to watch. When he gets home from school, he drops his backpack and heads straight to the our disgusting basement, to work on his game. David regularly takes him to the Y to shoot hoops.

This is especially funny because mine is not a sports loving family. My father is something of a sports neanderthal, and one of the things that attracted me to David was his complete lack of interest in organized sports.

I find baseball dull, and although I pretend to watch the Super Bowl in an attempt to conform to social norms, I find football brutal and clumsy. But of all sports, I’ve always felt basketball has the most potential; it is fast paced and graceful, and I can appreciate it as an art form, even if I had no interest in watching an actual game.

When he was younger I used to DVR games for Sacha to watch when I needed to keep him occupied, and because he was unaware of the larger world, he had no idea that by the time he watched them, the games were ancient history.

This sort of thing will no longer do, because this year we introduced him to March Madness. I used it as a very effective behavior modification tool while getting him ready for bed, when he is generally batshit crazy. At first, I would sit with him, reading while he watched, but he would climb into my lap, making reading impossible, and then I had no choice but to watch the game. By the end of the series, our entire family was gathering to watch the games, and I found myself beginning to look forward to this ritual.  

From the Final Four, we quickly proceeded to the NBA playoffs, and somewhere along the line, I I found myself watching the Knicks versus the Celtics, not just as an opportunity to spend time with my son, but as a pleasure in and of itself. I started off simply appreciating the mechanics of the game — how can one be unmoved by a basketball player’s balletic form, the beauty of their arms — but not really caring who won. By the end of the play-offs though, I was heavily invested in the Knicks.

Although these things are elementary, here are a few of the things I now understand:
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • A’mare Stoudemayer
  • give and go
  • fast break
  • back court vs front court
  • center line, free throw lane, 3-point line
  • shot clock
  • bank shot
  • offensive vs defensive rebound
  • feint
  • field goal vs free throw
  • the distinction between one, two and three-point shots
  • flagrant vs offensive vs personal foul
  • floor violation
  • running out the clock

Then there are the things I know about, but haven’t quite figured out. I know that a team consists of a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center, but cannot yet recognize which player plays which position. I know there are different strategies, such as man-to-man defense, low percentage shots, keepaway games, and full-court press.

In short, I am beginning to know what I am talking about. Before the end of the series, I found myself two doors down at my sports loving neighbor’s house, talking about Friday night’s game, and anticipating what I was feared would be the final game of the series on Sunday afternoon. When David came in from a day of gardening, I brought us each a beer, and we sat down by ourselves, to watch the game. 
The second half was tense and exciting, and by the end of the third quarter the Knicks were only down by ten points, and I could  feel the energy on the court palpably shifting, as the Celtics began getting sloppy and the Knicks hungry with the possibility that the could actually win the game, and thus, prolong the series. When David left for the market, in the fourth quarter, I found formerly sports indifferent self on the edge of my seat, excitedly texting him updates.

What started as a labor of love is quickly becoming a passion of my own. I find myself looking forward to next season, and feeling a bit sad that we cannot afford the even the cheap seats for a family of five. But I’ve made a promise to myself that someday, we will take Sacha myself to a Knicks game, and I will thoroughly enjoy watching him (hopefully just metaphorically) pee himself with excitement.

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