When the ball meets the pavement, when that asphalt echo reverberates throughout my neighborhood and I know that somewhere a young boy or girl is dribbling down a sidewalk or working on their jump-shot despite the frigid winter winds, that familiar twinge of nostalgia and the innocent love of the game always hits me. Sometimes it’s potent and overwhelming, like when I’m playing 21 with my buddies in a concrete driveway and for whatever reason I realize what that moment really means and I tell myself to mark it and appreciate it, cling to it before it passes. But other times it’s subtle, perhaps even imperceptible, silently stirring up an ancient ache to grab my worn smooth basketball and head to the playgrounds for an impromptu five-on-five game in the middle of whatever I’m doing.
With each bounce, with every ringing echo of the sweet pavement ping or the warm hardwood drum some sentimental string inside me resonates as well, reawakening that childlike love for a game that is simple and direct, yet complex and far-reaching in its impact.
And with another year behind us and the next year peeking over the horizon, I can’t help but return again to a thought that continually draws me back to the game of basketball and a conversation that I’m not certain fans or even players and coaches know how to put into words or contextualize.
But we do recognize it. Appreciate it. Even if we don’t know how to verbalize it or even understand it, we feel it. And we take it for granted ninety-nine times out of a hundred but the beauty is that no matter how often we overlook it, disregard it or deconstruct it and cast it aside as something quaint but ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of the business of the National Basketball Association, that one time out of a hundred is all it takes. And we feel it once again.
To remind us of what we’ve known all along, that it might just be a game, a simple sport involving a ball and a hoop, but that the effects of what takes place on that court and within a team overwhelm the game itself and transform what is in essence a meaningless game into something that we as individuals so desperately long for and find meaning in: a bond.
I’m not talking about the bond we feel towards individual players that we may feel as if we know but more so, the bond that the game itself engenders. Generation across generation, conquering social divides and bridging all who have ever heard that sweet swish of the net or held their breath as the flight of the ball coincides with the ringing buzzer in the ears together like few things can anymore. The bond between all of us who simply put, can’t help but love the game of basketball.
The camaraderie, the understanding that one person can’t accomplish or reach great heights on their own, the desire to be a part of something harrowing and worthwhile, to endure the struggles and setbacks for the hope of achieving something tremendous in the future, these are all things that we all yearn to feel, to experience. And yet it is so rare in this day and age to find something that is not more exclusive and divisive than inclusive and uniting. But the bond that basketball, that a child’s game is built upon is a very common ground that requires only one thing from you, from me, from any of us: appreciation.
Appreciation not for the people who make the league possible (although certainly they are to be appreciated) or even the coaches and players themselves, but for what the game stands for. What all sports are meant to be: Pillars of pure and equal competition. Where not every athlete is equal in terms of skill or athleticism, but equal in opportunity to make the most of their hard work and talent and further equal within the context of a team. The game allows us to appreciate the grace and awe of human athleticism, the beauty and potential that teamwork and hardwork possess and the almost limitless strength that unity and heart hold if we could just somehow grasp them.
My brother never played organized basketball. My father did but his fondest memories growing up were watching Pistol Pete Maravich. So to say there is a disconnect between the three of us is putting it lightly in terms of basketball knowledge and basketball eras. But none of that mattered the night after Christmas as we were all gathered together in front of the television, urging Durant to take that three and put away the Bobcats and then reminiscing about how we used to stay outside well into the summer nights playing H-O-R-S-E, just spending time with each other while my mom lounged in her chair offering insights and jokes about our shooting forms or the ridiculousness of trying an over the shoulder hook shot from behind the back board.
I know that if you’re here, reading this article that I probably don’t need to highlight how powerful of a community the game of basketball can make… or how wonderful it is to be able to share a bond, any bond, with your loved ones and sometimes even complete strangers because we all know how rare that is today. Maybe it’s the purity of our childhood love of playing games that allows us to momentarily drop all pretense and just high-five the stranger next to us after an amazing dunk or game winning shot—-or maybe it’s the knowledge that we share a common interest, a common love for something with them that elicits a comfort and excitement to share that moment with someone, anyone.
But whatever it is, I know that one day very soon my daughter will place her tiny hands around a basketball, look at me with a smile, and try to bounce the ball in our driveway.
And I’ll wish for ninety-nine more moments just like that one.