Is life a fast break, man-to-man, or a zone defense?
The other morning I pondered this question as I pulled myself from a warm bed at 4:30 a.m. to go play basketball. Three mornings a week I head to the local gym to play Community Education basketball. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years.
On this particularly frigid morning as I stumbled in the dark to find my gym bag, I wondered what makes me trade the soft bed for the hardcourt?
As in Robert Fulghum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, maybe basketball is my metaphor for life.
Gather around midcourt, while I put this ball in play...
Most of the time you don’t have the ball.
With 10 players on the court at a time, even if every player touched the ball an equal number of minutes, 90% of the time you do not have the ball!
For mediocre players, the only minutes that count are when you are holding the ball. The rest of the time, they stand around.
But good players know that most of basketball happens when you don’t have the ball. On offense, that means you set screens, act as a decoy, get yourself open to receive a pass. On defense, you call screens, block out, rebound, double team, and dive for loose balls. Go back and watch the great players like Larry Bird, or a hustler like Bruce Bowen, and just focus on what they do without the ball. You will see an entire game within the game. As in life, what we do when we don’t have the ball wins games.
When you pass, it comes back.
The secret of basketball is so simple, yet the hardest one for people to grasp - you must share the ball. At all levels, from street ball to the pros, the hardest move to make is to let go of that ball. But if you look the winning teams through the ages, the champions are always the team that spreads the ball around the most. Even the great Michael Jordan could not win until he understood that fact.
On a good team, players hand off the ball. On a great team, the ball comes back. The old give and go is still the most effective play in the game.
Basketball builds (and saves) relationships.
I was sharing this insight with teammate who brought up another point - a basketball game is a great place to work through personal problems. I am convinced that basketball saved several marriages over the years; those that it didn’t save, it at least helped the husbands work through the divorce by giving them an outlet for their anger and frustration. I suffered my share of bruises and sprained ankles in the service of marriage counseling.
You have to make the team.
Whenever a new player walks into our games, I don’t bother to even learn their name until I know two things about them: Do they pass the ball? Can they hit the open layup?
Show me those two skills, and you can play on my team.
Sure it’s a flimsy metaphor. But the point is that what may appear to some as frivolous play or an escape from responsibility, may actually be a serious tool for dealing with the realities of life. After all, every civilization has created and played games. If games served no purpose, they would not exist as they consume energy, attention, and resources that could be better used in hunting, gathering, and courting mates.
This is a rambling way to give everyone an excuse to sign up for a class, start a hobby, or get in the game.
Because playing may be the most important work you ever do.