Besides being one of the best movies of all time (no joke), I didn’t realize how integral basketball was to my life until I received an email from the basketball group I play/coach with in Bangalore, reminding me that they were playing this Sunday. And then it hit me: since I’m moving to Bangalore, I can play/coach with them EVERY WEEKEND. I felt this surge of unadulterated happiness that I can’t describe. And then it made me think about my relationship with basketball which started, actually, since birth ( my mom prayed that I wouldn’t be born on June 14, 1987 because that was the Lakers Game 7 championship game and she REALLY wanted to watch it- I was born on June 15 while the victory parade was going on). Technically, I have been in a relationship with basketball for the past 26 years.
My favorite childhood memories are waking up on Sunday mornings, watching the Eastern Conference NBA games on NBC at 9am with my dad (while begging him to take me to the mall to buy me…it didn’t really matter I just liked going to the mall on general principle). And when the Lakers games came on, the rest of my family would come over, or we’d usually be at my aunt’s house in Anaheim and we’d all watch the Lakers. My first distinct memory was watching Hakeem Olajuwon lead the Houston Rockets to win their second NBA championship in 1995 against Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic (I remember because my cousin was a die hard Orlando fan and he was devastated when they lost, but my aunt was ecstatic because she loved Hakeem).
I think I was always a weird kid. But I was nice, and I think that’s what carried me through, pretty much all my youth, without being picked on (at least that I know of). I can honestly say I have been happy the entire time (now that I watch all these high school movies, I realize I was probably one of the lucky ones). I mean, I always knew I was different (I remember trying to explain how sex was a natural process to my second grade class, and being really confused as to why the teacher put me in time out, I was just explaining biology!) but the only time I really felt “normal” was when I was playing basketball. I started playing basketball in 4th grade, and I was terrible. I went back to my elementary school a few years ago, and the teachers remembered me as the girl “who was really terrible at basketball, but she played anyway.” I guess it helped that I didn’t know how terrible I was- I just figured the boys didn’t pass it to me because I was a girl and I already thought they were a little on the illogical side (I mean, the STILL believed in cooties) so I was ok with that.
Fast forward to college, and my relationship with basketball was still going strong. It got to the point where people used to joke about my “boyfriend” (i.e. the gym) and to give him their regards. I used to spend 10-20 hours per week there, but most of that was spent on the courts, playing pickup games, or watching pickup games. The only reason I started working out/lifting, was so that I could get better at basketball. To me, the basketball court was the one safe space on the campus where it didn’t matter who I was, or what I did, or how old I was, if I could prove myself, people would accept me. I was terrible at school, so this was the only place where the harder I worked, the better I got. It was pretty straightforward. You produce results, you get to play. And I loved how I could actually see myself getting better, and being rewarded for that. I moved from the terrible courts my Freshman year, to the best courts by senior year. I had an interesting relationship with the people I played basketball with. I didn’t know half their names (they probably didn’t know mine either), but we’d definitely say what’s up. It’s interesting, but small talk with people you know, but don’t know, is incredibly therapeutic. I loved the prospect of meeting new people too- you never know who’s going to show up. And the best part was that you’re just judged on how you play- nothing else. You could talk all you wanted, but if you were terrible, you were terrible. If you were good, you were good. I liked that.
Whenever things were tough, I’d go to the courts. Whenever life didn’t make sense, I’d go to the courts. Whenever I just wanted to get away, get a new perspective on life, I’d go to the courts. And it was ALWAYS there for me. Always. I don’t think I’ve ever gone there and NOT felt better about life. It has helped me through so many life situations, starting from elementary school, all the way through college (and grad school)
Where am I going with this? I was recently talking with one of my best friends from high school, and we were talking about men and relationship (me discussing straight men, him discussing gay men) We both have really big dreams, and our dreams are our primary motivator in life, which makes us really different from most people. But I loved what he had to say about it:
In the past year I’ve come to the conclusion and have been saying this to people, that if you want to be with someone, the size of their dreams needs to match yours. I know that sounds all mushy and melodramatic, but really, I know I won’t be happy unless I find someone who challenges and expands my vision for myself and the world, and vice versa. Basically we need to meet our match, like even in a somewhat competitive sense. My opinion is that nothing kills both dreams and relationships faster than when you feel you’ve resigned yourself to someone. I want to be excited by someone, I want to feel like I can do more for the world having them with me, and I think I deserve that.
But I think we reached an interesting conclusion: we both realized that we have been incredibly lucky and have an amazing support group in our friends and family, who are always there to make sure our dreams come true. They fill our lives with so much love we don’t even know what to do with the surplus. And since our dreams are probably the most important thing to us, the worst thing we can do is have something (or someone) hold us back- even if that means not having significant others in our lives. We agreed that the lack of relationship would be infinitely better than someone who even remotely held us back in any way. Everyone is different, but I think it was the first time I had talked with someone who seemed to put words to what I was feeling.
And then I began to think: maybe, just maybe, I have already found the relationship I needed to be in, the one that has always been there for me, for the past 26 years, helping make my dreams come true. Are there room for others? I can’t really answer that question. I feel like that can only be answered on a case by case basis, using the above criteria.
But all I do know is that I love basketball, and I am so thankful it has been there for me throughout the years. I hope our relationship only grows in the years to come.
Welcome back into my life basketball. Thanks for always being there for me- I love you.