With all of this madness surrounding March, I can’t help but be reminded of my unsuccessful venture into the world of basketball. Although the result wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for, I taught myself to use it as a learning experience. Like Charlie Sheen getting divorced, I had to learn to look on the bright side. (Hey, at least he got to see Denise Richards naked, right?) Even though I endured more emotional stress than a Bachelorette rose ceremony, I still managed to find the silver lining.
I grew up with an unconditional love for the game of basketball. Not because I was ever really good at it, but because I was in awe at the skill and grace of players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Kurt Rambis. OK, maybe not Rambis, but his glasses and mustache were the epitome of awesomeness. I spent hours practicing after school and, like every other adolescent of my era, would sink the fade-away baseline jumper while exclaiming, “Jordan!” However, my oft-attempted slam dunk from the free throw line would usually come up short. I guess that’s why God invented trampolines. With all these hours of practice under my belt, I felt I was ready for some high school ball.
As the whitest and skinniest high school freshman my town had ever seen, I arrived on the first day of tryouts with my eyes on the prize. Of course, basketball tryouts are nothing like you see on TV. We didn’t put on those oversized mesh jerseys and play a pickup game while the coaches chewed gum and held clipboards, judging us like the rich folks at a fancy steakhouse when a poor family walks in. We ran. Far. Five miles, I believe it was. For a kid who had never run more than 60 feet without doubling over with a side cramp, this was exhausting. I ended up walking more than half that distance. What I loved most was the obese head coach who would drive around in his golf cart telling us to pick up the pace. Sure, coach. I’ll pick up the pace as soon as you put down the doughnut.
After two weeks of logging more miles than a trucker on meth, I was barely able to complete the five-mile run without walking or vomiting. Unfortunately, the coaches decided to make the first round of cuts immediately following this conditioning session. As you might guess, I was cut. If I wanted to make the squad as a sophomore, I had some work to do.
I spent the summer between freshman and sophomore year training like a madman. I ran hills, sprints and long distances. My body felt like a well-oiled machine, if that machine was bone white with an acne problem. Though my exterior looked like Screech, I had the physical prowess of Slater.
I showed up to the first day of sophomore tryouts with a swagger no Axe commercial could ever match. For the next two weeks, I was at the head of the pack. No amount of running was too much . Even though the coaches didn’t know my name and referred to me as “Hey you,” I could tell I was making an impression. And I did. I made it through the conditioning cuts. I felt like I had just made it to the next round on MTV’s “Singled Out” (remember that show, kids?). Now came the important part: showing off my skills. I gave a slow look around the court to compare myself to the competition who had made it this far and, although some of them looked like they came straight out of a Coolio video, I thought I had a pretty good chance this year.
For two weeks, I played ball. I hit threes. I made swift no-look passes. I played shutdown defense. I did everything to the best of my ability and figured this was my year. Only an overweight, inattentive, golf-cart riding, doughnut-eating coach would … uh-oh. You guessed it. I was cut like a ribbon at a Quiznos opening. I was devastated. I had worked so hard all summer trying not to make the same mistakes I made when I was a freshman and it still wasn’t enough to make the team. My body was in great condition and my skills were adequate, but the coach still failed to notice me. Maybe I should have dressed like a doughnut.
After that heartbreaking experience, I hung up my high-tops for good. I just couldn’t enjoy a sport that had rejected me twice. Basketball is still fun to watch, but I just can’t play it anymore. But even though all that hard work ended up for nothing, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Once I shifted my focus away from playing basketball, I was able to focus on the important things in life. Namely, writing humor columns about overweight coaches who don’t know true talent when they see it.
At least I’m not bitter.