October 18, 2018

My introduction to the barest fundamentals of the game was in the driveway in front of our split-level house, surrounded by red dirt and cotton bolls where my family lived just north of Lubbock, Texas.

My dad, an honest-to-goodness milkman, kept excess milk crates in the garage that we were not to touch. But, as is the case for most adolescent boys, boredom is the mother of invention. So one lazy spring afternoon a buddy of mine and I precariously stacked two sets of crates five-high on opposite ends of the dusty driveway. With a worn, neon orange soccer ball, I played my first ever game of pick-up basketball.

It was in that moment that the game became for me both a strong sinew that binds together lifelong memories and an ethereal thread that ties me to others that appreciate the game’s beauty. So on the 125th anniversary of Dr. Naismith’s glorious invention, in the midst of swirling trade rumors in the NBA, and on the week of Michael Jordan’s birthday, I thought it a worthy exercise to explore what the game means to a few of those that love it most.

My brother and I found an old rim and nailed it to a piece of plywood on a telephone pole in the alley. We would mimic our favorite players and could play all day long. Today, I love watching a play come together in a game after seeing the girls work hard during practice to make it work.

     – Josh Gonzales, High School Teacher and Girls’ Summer League Basketball Coach

Eventual participation in sanctioned Little-Dribbler leagues meant that any actual practice of the game would require more than throwing a soccer ball at a stack of milk crates, so I set about fashioning a more legitimate basket. We found an old telephone pole and I dug the hole for it to be cemented, just off the edge of the driveway on the side of the house. Ever frugal, my parents convinced me that we didn’t need to purchase an expensive backboard. Or any backboard at all.

Faced with the prospect of essentially shooting a ball at a would-be eagle’s nest for the duration of my pending puberty, I made a compromise. We had an old wooden spool used to wrap and store electrical wire out back. Removing one of the circular edges and affixing a newly purchased rim to its bottom was sufficient and nailing the spool’s edge to the telephone poll was a proud moment. The diameter of the spool’s edge couldn’t have been more than 24 inches, and the dense wood deadened any bank-shot, but it worked well enough. It was my home-brew basketball goal, and I was proud of it.

There’s a weightless feel to the game of basketball. The problems and worries of your life seem to fade in its presence. When my first girlfriend broke up with me I went to the court. When my dog died I went to the court. An outlet like no other.

     -Josh Eberley, Freelance NBA Writer, Contributor Hoops Habit and Hoop.NBA.com

My parents married too young. Sure, either could list any myriad reasons why it didn’t work in the end, but the bottom line is their marriage didn’t last. I was in 6th grade at the time and the transition during their divorce was the first real upheaval in our otherwise uneventful upbringing. I don’t remember shedding many tears when my dad moved out, but I do remember playing a lot of late night basketball in the dimly lit driveway. Avoiding the reality of a suddenly much emptier house by trying to make 100 shots in a row every night was my way to of coping.

Basketball is team dinners, bus rides across Texas, the three-man weave and seeing family in the crowd. It’s beyond the game.

     -Michael McDonald, Engineer, Son of a Cotton Farmer

In high school we’d travel by bus to the tiny farming towns that seem to orbit Lubbock in frozen motion for regular Tuesday and Friday night games. Each gym was seemingly darker; each venue a more perfect spot to film a scene from Hoosiers than the last. The worn hardwood, slate grey locker rooms and double doors that opened to a hallway with impressive trophy cases and concession stands selling big green pickles were in tiny towns like Ralls and Crosbyton; Idalou and Tahoka.

But regrettably I never gave the respect or dedication it deserved. Instead of all consuming, basketball was merely a season. Football was fall, baseball was spring and summer was a chance to rest and get ready to start all over. Basketball was always just winter, for me.

My father, a Mexican immigrant, is somehow a diehard Larry Bird fan, and even though my Pops’ athletic ability skipped a generation, watching and playing hoops has always been a connection point for us. Basketball, particularly the Spurs’ brand, finds its way into family conversations and arguments and not even the elderly in our clan can avoid its pull.

     -Caleb Saenz, Worship Pastor, Writer

Early on my daughter showed an affinity for the game. Every year we trudge to different schools throughout San Antonio for games and practices. Fortunately, she started learning the game much sooner in life than me, so her learning curve has been much flatter, much more even. And last winter her little brother, Cade, started his first full basketball season as a first grader. He scored four points in his debut season and his team was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend–devastating him for most of Saturday. But there will always be next year, and their baby brother Cash will follow them both onto the court in the seasons ahead.

The game of basketball has been everything to me. My place of refuge, place I’ve always gone where I needed comfort and peace. It’s been the site of intense pain and the most intense feelings of joy and satisfaction. It’s a relationship that has evolved over time, given me the greatest respect and love for the game.

     -Michael Jordan, GOAT

My kids’ early passion for the game has made us a full-blown basketball family. When we’re not at practice or at a tournament, we’re watching the NBA on TV or dribbling on the tile floor in the hallway. My son fights for every last second of game watching nightly and, like a President in crisis, immediately wants results from the contests he missed when I wake him in the morning. Their love for the game is ever growing, but we are just five in a sea of millions that feel the same. On blacktops in Brooklyn, the beaches in Southern California, in Germany, Argentina and all around the world kids are discovering the game and making their own connections and memories.

(Basketball is) everything. The best game ever invented where five players, connected, play offense and defense in a position-less contest.

     -Jay Bilas, Attorney and ESPN Basketball Analyst

During the 2013-2014 NBA season, I had the good fortune and rare opportunity to cover the San Antonio Spurs. It was all so surreal: Because I’d proven capable of stringing together a few coherent sentences, I found myself a front-row spectator as the Spurs marched undaunted toward a redemptive fifth title. On full display during the spring and summer of 2014 was a brand of beautiful basketball that dazzled fans and buried opponents. I watched it all with a sense of awe, and soaked in every minute, loving the game more by the day. And surprisingly I felt occasional pangs of guilt and regret, knowing that I would never be able to do anything that well; I would never do anything that close to perfect.

But it was also during that time that I found a voice to express my passion for the game. And at the risk of someday facing Daryl Morey’s ire, basketball, for me, has never been about advanced stats or win shares. Basketball is feel. Basketball is not merely a season.

I am more than just a serious basketball fan. I am a lifelong addict. I was addicted from birth, in fact, because I was born in Kentucky.

     -Hunter S. Thompson, Writer, Basketball Fan

With love in the air it was fitting that we’d be in a gym on Valentine’s Day. My daughter had been invited to practice with a new group looking to form a team in advance of the approaching summer season. With the faintest sparks of playing college basketball beginning to flicker in the distance for her, my wife and I want to make sure that she is best positioned if the opportunity arises. We want to make sure that basketball is never just winter for her; we want to make sure basketball is always the season.

So on Sunday, while the young coach ran the group through a variety of drills, I stood off in a far corner of the gym, occasionally dribbling a ball I found. There was a dead spot in the hardwood in the floor in front of me. If I hit it just right with a slight cross-over from my right to left hand, the rhythm from the ball hitting the hardwood would vibrate first in my foot, then to my leg, and up through my body. The feeling is wholly unique, yet comforting and familiar: Basketball.

Basketball is the best sport and it’s great because we have a basketball life.

     -Cade Hale, First Grader, Son

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