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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Basketball - The Early Years

I was going to title this essay, “Basketball – My First 50 Years” but I got caught up reliving the glory of high school basketball and so I decided to stop there, for now. I’ll revisit the subject later.

Basketball is my favorite sport. As a kid I loved playing baseball—it was a great way to spend lazy summer days. When I was in high school, there was nothing that could compare with football. Organized, sanctioned violence—could there be a better sport for teenage boys? But basketball is the one sport I’ve been able to play regularly for my whole life.

The first trophy I ever won was for 2nd place in a free-throw shooting contest at the old Canandaigua YMCA. I was eight years old and the trophy was a small silverized plastic cup mounted on a little black plastic stand. Inserted into the base of the stand was a black plastic tab. Written with silver ink on the tab were the words, “Second Place.” That was of course, totally redundant. We all knew that the first place trophies were made of gold plastic. I really wanted one of those, but I still cherished that award.

I grew early. I was six feet tall by seventh grade. On our junior high Y team I was the center, usually surrounded by five footers with squeaky voices. I learned to play in the post position, back to the basket, never venturing more than eight feet from the rim. I was all ready for that next growth spurt that I was going to get in high school. The one that would catapult me to six-three or even taller. But it never happened. I stopped at six feet and one half inch (that half inch was important as it distinguished me from all those 5’11” wannabee six footers who rounded up.)

Some times we get typecast. I was considered the “big man,” even though by sophomore year most of the squeaky-voiced guys were taller than me. All that meant was that they could launch their shots from twenty feet with impunity, but if I ever took a shot past the foul line I’d get benched.

We didn’t have a great basketball program at Canandaigua Academy in those years. My sophomore year the Varsity got off to a slow start and was 1-5. They brought me up from the Junior Varsity to help them out (they needed a big man.) We lost the next twelve games and finished 1-17. The next year we had a new coach, and in his first meeting he vowed that we would not go 1-17 again. After twelve games it looked like he might be right, because we were 0-12. Then we won a game. By one point. Then we lost the next five to finish, once more, 1-17.

I've endured tough times as a business owner, been married for decades and survived the turbulence of three teenagers, but the only time I’ve had trouble sleeping was after each of those twenty-nine losses during those two torturous seasons.

My senior year, our coach, after an offseason of careful study, concluded that the one common element in both losing seasons was me. So I didn’t start as a senior and we won eight games. I didn’t mind not starting. I just wanted to be on a winning team.

Losing does not build character. At least it didn't build my character.Whatever character I have was built elsewhere. The one thing those two awful seasons taught me was that losing all the time totally sucks. Especially when you’re sixteen years old and (with the exception of girls) winning a game is the most important thing in your life.

But I got over it.

Sort of.

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