Growing up I was an awesome baseball player. I ate, slept breathed the game. Most times my talents were head and shoulders above any other player on the field. Those who know me you know I don’t say these words lightly or to brag. Certainly there is a much larger point to this story. Hitting, fielding and strategy came easy for me and my passion caused me to work really hard at it.
I wanted to be a professional baseball player. A series of unfortunate events made that a challenge I did not overcome. As an adult I took up the game of basketball. There were two reasons for this.
1) I wanted to compete like I did in baseball.
2) It was easier to get 2-20 guys to play hoops than it was 18 to play baseball on any given day.
I’d played hoops growing up on the playgrounds or in gym class. But I never went out for the team. I pretty much started from scratch. The guys I hung out with played often. In the summer, we played 5 nights a week. Some of those guys were pretty damn good too. Most were better than me. I hung around getting ‘next’ or lobbied to get myself on a team. Most times I came early to make sure I played before the well known ballers got to the court. If my team didn’t win, my other four teammates would get picked up but that may have been the end of my night. Having that feeling of desperation, I had to figure things out pretty quickly.
I started with what I had. I was fast, intelligent and fiercely competitive. Scoring wise I had a quick first step and got to the hoop at will with only a right hand. But that wasn’t my focus. I worked on my defense, passing and setting picks. Furthermore, I did what nobody else wanted to do, took on the best offensive player on the other team. I took plenty of licks too. Sometimes the game was over with before it even got started. As time went on I got better at it though. I became that guy that no offensive juggernaut my size or slightly above wanted to see. They knew I would be on them like white on rice. My goal was to shut them down. For the upper echelon players, my goal was to bide my time, play my role and make an impact at a critical point before the final score was decided. For example; if the game went to 12, even if my man scored 8, my goal was to make him miss or make a mistake at 10 or 11. If the game was close my team still had a chance to win.
This happened more times than I can say. And yet, as my game grew my status seemed stifled. A playground full of guys can see me dominate defensively, hit a few jump shots and still leave me standing on the sidelines if my previous team lost.
After a while, my intensity and almost hatred of sporting perceptions of disrespect increased. Since I wasn’t from the area that I lived in at the time, some of the guys would pick lesser players than me just because they knew them better. Being picked last when I wasn’t the 10th best player on the court drove me harder. My quiet yet burning mantra would be: “I know my own captain don’t respect me. But I ended up with this team. So fine. YOU (the other team captain) on the other hand are going to regret that you didn’t pick me. I’m going to make your life hell! And most of the time I did just that. Nothing gave me more joy and inner satisfaction that winning those games.
Fast forward 20 some years later, that chip never left my shoulder. Among ‘serious hoopers,’ talent wise I was a serviceable basketball player. I never tried to be Jordan but I knew my role and I knew how to win. By this time I could score too. I spent years in high level competition and seldom had my confidence shaken. At this time, my mindset was to take on whatever role I sensed my team needed to help us win. In my late 30s I started going to this gym on Monday and Wednesday nights. There were many hoopers and wanna-be-hoopers. Most of them at least a decade younger than me. The games were intense. One of my most memorable hoops moments happened as a result of me getting my lunch handed to me. In this particular game I was matched against a local legend. He was major in college and played in the pros too. I competed against this dude as hard and as smart as I could. He shook me loose once and after that he never took an open shot against me. I was all but in his shorts. None of that mattered. He ate me for lunch. Tore my ass to pieces scoring at will. I may have been in his mix, but he disposed of me like a professional assassin. I walked away feeling good. I knew he earned every basket he got. I was beaten by a much better man that night. Charge it to the game…it happens.
But what happened the next time out is what surprised me. The same player that busted my ass two nights before picked me on his team. Me! Of all the guys on the court I was the FIRST one he picked. Not only that, I brought that same intensity and confidence with me and we rolled off 6 straight games that night closing the gym undefeated! Every time I shot the ball, my nemeses from two nights ago would yell, “BUCKET” or “That’s Three!” and start running back to play defense before the ball even went in the goal. And he was right. I was on fire. I still played the same level of defense and brought the intensity the whole night. I’m thinking to myself; ‘Now that this guy had showed me respect, I couldn’t let him think he was wrong about me.’ He laid back and managed his game. Scored when he felt like it which wasn’t much. He had fun watching me do my thing. It was a night I’ll never forget.
The point of this entire story is this: Sports are often a reflection of life. Sometimes it’s not about the Xs and O’s. Its about NUTS! Who’s got them, who doesn’t. Playing basketball this way served as one measurement of my manhood. Basketball in itself is just a game. But it wasn’t about the game or whether I won or lost. It was about testing my abilities and my will to overcome challenges and shortcomings. It’s survival of the fittest. Like rams butting heads or a pack of lions in a pit duking it out for respect and pissing all over to claim a piece of territory. I’ve played lesser and greater players than myself over the years. But my most satisfying victories came against guys that on paper I had no business being able to compete with. For them, perhaps it was just another game. For me, it showed me that I had what it takes to make it in the world. That meant I could survive competition and adversity in the workplace. That one day, I could be happy and live my dreams in life. I too can be a winner! I don’t think as men, we really know who we are and what we have within till we get into that den and see what we are made of. My parents weren’t able to instill a winning attitude in me growing up. Playing sports was partially how I gained that extra inner confidence. I never saw myself owning my own business, but now I do. And I am just getting started.
To have skill and expertise is great! Education is priceless! Connections are essential. However, we can never underestimate the basic qualities of sheer effort, heart, desire, determination. There is a difference between winning and being a winner, losing and being a loser.
A man who won’t quit, cannot be stopped! He’s just going to keep on coming till he get’s what he came for!