I love basketball. Not as in, I love Neil Diamond,I hum along when he's on the radio. No.
More like, when I know my team is playing and I'mnot watching, I get the agitated look of a kid with chicken pox onHalloween. During basketball season, my life is scheduled aroundgames; people look at me askance when I grab the sports section andleave the rest of the paper.
In high school, my brother was a star athlete,building camaraderie with his peers, figuring out how to losegracefully, how to compete, how to snatch victory from the jaws ofdefeat -- and generally manifest all other inspiring sportsclichés. Meanwhile, I took ballet lessons, a one-way ticket tosapped self-esteem and bad feet. The most lasting message from thatritual abuse was: "Hips and breasts sure get in the way! Stand in astraight line and avoid all facial expressions! Mesomorphs to theback, please."
Now, I'm making up for lost time. With every gameI watch, I'm trying to learn the things I missed out on during mysports-free childhood. What's most compelling for me is not theathletic prowess I see but the mental fortitude, the lack of fear,the drive to win, the player who never chokes, who always makes freethrows during crunch time, who actually wants to take the lastshot.
When I start to lose in life, I tend to throw inthe proverbial towel. It never dawned on me to fight my way back froma deficit. I don't like to think of myself as a "loser," but whenfaced with a challenge, what comes most naturally to me is to take tomy bed with a box of Pop Tarts or just have a good, old fashionedanxiety attack. Basketball is changing that by modeling the oppositebehavior: It's Michael Jordan dominating a playoff game with the flu;it's Muggsy Bogues becoming a point guard at 5-foot-3; it's MahmoudAbdul-Rauf being a sharpshooter despite the fact that he hasTourette's syndrome.
My fascination with basketball was born when I sawthe documentary "Hoop Dreams." I wanted to find out how the two highschool players featured in the film were doing in college. A coupleof months later, I was a full-fledged fan, fluent in basketball'sparticular argot and easily tossing off phrases such as "shootingfrom downtown," "going coast to coast" and the advanced "Come on,that was a ticky-tack foul!"
Men test me. They think I'm faking it, as if I'veread some directive from Cosmo that tells me to learn about sports sothat I can "relate" to them. Loving basketball has nothing to do withwanting to impress men. Still, I can't help but derive pleasure whenI prove that my sports knowledge is both complete andimpassioned.
As a Jewish woman, it's even more satisfying. Irelish flying in the face of the prissy Private Benjamin stereotypeby yelling things such as "If you're gonna foul him, foul him hard,Shaq!" I've even purchased my own basketball, which I doggedlyattempt to dribble and shoot for hours on end when the good playershave vacated the local blacktop. Someday, maybe I'll be good enoughto join a pickup game, or even earn the right to trash talk. (Ballettrash-talking just doesn't work. "Hey, Mikhail, get those plies outof my kitchen. Your pas de deux is more like a pas de don't." Seewhat I mean.)
It may sound absurd, but basketball has given mean opening to converse with legions of people I ordinarily wouldn't-- most notably, my brother. Before, our most richly huedconversation sounded like a scene from "The Ice Storm." Now, we can'tget off the phone, trying to figure out what has gone so terriblyawry for the Golden State Warriors.
For those who have never really watched a game,especially women, I can't recommend it enough. Like anything, themore you learn, the more you see. Ask a sports fan to watch a gamewith you, to explain how to decipher a team's box scores in thepaper, to fill you in on any team scandals or personality conflicts.At the very least, you'll become versed in another slice of the humanexperience. You haven't got much to lose.
After all, you always miss the shots you don'ttake.
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething
contributing writer for The JewishJournal.