It’s the feeling that enables me to fall asleep.
The kinesthetic memory of the dimpled leather, the seams spaced across the leather ball, feeling it roll up my fingertips toward the rim. And then the swish–the perfect swish, no rattling iron, 15 feet of perfection.
It’s my meditation, the meditation of a kid who spent hour after hour developing his shot, my unique defining shot, similar to a million kids’ free throw motions, yet imprinted with my singular DNA.
Winter, spring, summer, fall, it’s always basketball season when you have it in your blood like I do. I’ve been reminded of the hypnotic attraction of the game while watching Swagger, the series currently playing on Apple TV, co-produced by Kevin Durant, the NBA star.
I was a nice player back in the day. Sweet shot, good size for a white boy, with sloppy hands and slow feet. A high school player who could score, but not much else.
But how I adored the game. And I still do, even if just to hallucinate and dream about the swishes and the perfect angle off the backboard.
I watch the game on TV. I am into the NBA again because the Chicago Bulls have put together an entertaining team after years of dullness. A general manager who understands how to win in the league, a coach who has the respect of the players, and a group of guys who just love playing the game, not just collecting a big salary and pulling in shoe money, have changed the team.
The NBA has players from all over the world–Senegal, Finland, Poland, Greece, Serbia–but especially from the ghettos of America. Yet they can play together, make real teams that are always changing, and on good nights truly mesh in a beautiful way.
Like no other professional sports league, the NBA is influenced by the families of its players. Swagger tells a story of a domineering mother who pushes her son to dream and believe he’s going to make it to the top. She demands that he do the extra push-ups. She finds the ideal coach for him, not necessarily the one with the best connections.
When I watch the Chicago Bulls play, I see their new point guard, Lonzo Ball, whose father dreamed big for him and his two brothers. Lonzo and his brother LaMelo are in the NBA currently, and their brother LiAngelo is in the G League. He has less natural talent than his brothers, but will ultimately make it to the NBA because his father will almost will him there.
I also love to watch the NBA because it defies the stereotypes of Woke America. The League is dominated by black players, yet many of the coaches are white and the favorite for MVP this year is Luka Dončić, a white player from Slovenia playing for Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks. If he doesn’t win, Steph Curry probably will. Steph’s father played in the League and his brother Seth is a solid player for Philly.
When you watch the new Chicago Bulls, you see one player who some nights doesn’t score points, yet has made them into a top team. I think he is a reflection of the hard-working gritty American that makes this country special. He is Alex Caruso from College Station, Texas, who hung around his hometown to go to Texas A&M.
When Caruso was in Los Angeles Sunday night, his former teammates on the Lakers, including LeBron James, embraced him and the LA fans cheered for him. He did not score that night, but his defense and tenacity led Chicago to victory. Caruso is a “baller.” He has swagger. He plays with passion and joy.
When I imagine the feel of the basketball rising from my fingertips in bed at night, Alex Caruso is the kind of player I wish I could have been. The game still puts a smile on my face.
Questions: Who is the greatest basketball player of all time?
Who is your favorite basketball player of all time?