I got into football around 10, but didn’t pick up the NBA until much later. I was a diehard Eagles fan for more than a decade and I was nine in 2004. Watching my team lose to the Patriots in the Superbowl is one of my first significant sports memories. When they played each other again 13 years later, I couldn’t believe the serendipity. You see, my brother had been a Patriots fan for as long as I had been an Eagles fan. We used to get heated, and watching Nick Foles catch a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl — while sitting right next to my brother — was truly something else. I loved the Eagles; I loved watching them with my dad, fighting with my brother about whether Desean Jackson was faster than Randy Moss, and wearing a jersey to school on Monday to let everyone know when they’d won. But part of me knew this love was dwindling, and before long it stopped being a big deal to me if I missed a game. I never loved football, but I did love the Eagles.
When I say I love the game of basketball… I don’t think of my favorite team (it’s the Sixers, no surprise there), or even memories I have attached to specific games. I think of the amazing individuals who routinely do things I could never dream of. I recently watched Joe Harris take a fast break catch-and-shoot three — he was sprinting down the court and had to stop on a dime. He made a shot I couldn’t have made with a thousand chances. Let me be clear, I’m 5’10” and can’t shoot for shit, so you’ll never see me ballin’ out at the gym — you may have seen me juke out kids twice my size when I was younger, but that was a long time ago. My inability to do the things the average NBA player makes look effortless only increases my love for the game. I’m not talking about Lebron, KD, or Dame either. I’m talking about guys like Joe Harris and JJ Redick. Guys you’d see on the street and think: “Hey, he’s pretty tall” or maybe “Hey, he’s got a lot of tattoos.” Despite looking like regular people, these players have honed their craft to such an extent that they are among the very best in the world at what they do. There are around 450 players in the NBA; the very “worst” of them are still otherworldly athletes. They’ve spent tens of thousands of hours practicing footwork, taking care of their bodies, and shooting the same shot over and over… and over.
A fitting anecdote comes from Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, with the Spurs up 3-2. Lebron takes a three from the wing — down by three with 12 seconds left — and misses. Chris Bosh stretches over two Spurs to snag the offensive rebound and quickly passes it to Ray Allen who takes a step back beyond the three point line and nails the game tying shot (if you haven’t seen it, come out from under that rock and go watch it). In an interview with Bill Simmons, Bosh talks about this play and how he felt about it. Taking a shower after the game, Bosh asks Ray Allen a question:
“You practiced that?” Allen responds: “Yeah, I practiced that.”
There are three things about that play I find remarkable. First off, Lebron James — in many people’s eyes the greatest player in NBA history — misses what would have been a career defining shot. Second, Chris Bosh grabs a board that Bill Simmons called “one of the great rebounds of all time,” and it’s the second most impressive part of the play. Finally, take a look at where Ray Allen is standing when Bosh gets the rebound. He’s all the way in the paint. In less than 1.5 seconds, Allen does the only thing he knows he can do to tie up the game. He effortlessly back peddles 15 feet and prepares for the inevitable pass from Bosh. What’s so impressive, and frankly inspiring, about this series of events is not that Ray Allen hits that shot; it’s that he had the courage and audacity to take that shot. Watch it one more time. Lebron is standing at the top of the key calling for the ball with 7 seconds left on the clock when Allen initiates his shot. He had plenty of time to dish the ball to James, but he chose not to. In less than 3 seconds, he makes a series of decisions that created one of the greatest plays in NBA history — knowing full-well that missing that shot means losing the Finals. Ray Allen could have opted out of such a high stakes situation and passed the ball, but he wasn’t afraid to put the team on his back. Honestly, how many of us are that brave?
I love NBA basketball because, for whatever reason, it seems to attract a certain kind of individual. Genuine, intelligent, and courageous — the kind of people that build schools for the children of their hometown, donate millions to make sure kids can get an education, or help fight malaria by gifting the people of impoverished countries mosquito nets and beds. Maybe the NBA attracts these kinds of men because so many of them started with absolutely nothing. My favorite illustration of this fact comes from Kevin Durant’s 2014 Most Valuable Player Acceptance Speech, in which Durant speaks directly to his mother — excuse the length of the quote; shortening it any further would be an injustice.
You had my brother when you were 18 years old. Three years later, I came out. The odds were stacked against us. Single parent with two boys by the time you were 21 years old. Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be there. We moved from apartment to apartment, by ourselves. One of the best memories I had is when we moved into our first apartment – no bed, no furniture, and we just all sat in the living room and just hugged each other. We thought we made it… You made us believe, you kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.
People often try to minimize sports and, by association, athletes. They don’t understand what these games — for me it’s basketball — mean to so many of us. I’ve probably read KD’s speech a dozen times over the years. It chokes me up every time because you can hear in the man’s voice just how grateful he is to have made it so far. Not only is the Slim Reaper one of the best shooters of all-time, he’s an incredibly articulate and thoughtful man, and clearly a loving son. It’s easy for me to fall in love with NBA players like this because it’s easy for me to believe that they are genuine individuals who feel, who love, who experience happiness, excitement and joy, and pain, and regret, and anger. I love the game of basketball for so many reasons, but I’m running out of space to continue. Simply put, I love this game because it’s players inspire us, entertain us, and make the world a better place.