It Was All a Dream
SLAM writers can ball? WE didn’t say that.
I’m better than SI’s Hall of Fame writer Jack McCallum.
A commonly heard refrain is: Writers wish they were the subjects that they cover. Applied to basketball writers, we all wish we were the ones playing ball and not the ones writing about ballplayers.
I don’t know if that generalization is true or not. I haven’t taken a survey. All I can tell you is about me.
Coming up, I had two dreams: I wanted to play pro ball and I wanted to write about it.
I’m sure it wasn’t always this way, but ever since I can remember, I balled at a manic rate. Between the ages of six and 18 I can’t think of a two day stretch where I didn’t steal a few minutes to shoot or dribble. School. Friends. Girls. Everything took a backseat to hoops.
I did alright at it, too. I made my first all-star team in sixth grade; I started on my high school team; I won a few plastic trophies that were painted gold; and I enjoyed every minute of it. The way things were going, the way my game was progressing, I may have even been able to play some small college ball. But I didn’t try to.
I didn’t try because Malcom Gladwell is incorrect. In Outliers he writes, if you put in 10,000 hours of work in a specific pursuit, you can emerge as a master in that field. My basketball career is living proof that he made that stat up. (Or maybe I just wasn’t practicing the right way. Either way…)
After high school, if I kept playing ball, it was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going anywhere. At best, I would’ve been an okay DIII player. At worst, the last man off the bench. Either way, that would’ve been the end of it for me. So I ended it myself, on my own terms, deferring to dream number two.
My previously deferred dream, writing about ball, made sense to me for a few reasons: I love the game too much to step away from it completely; I enjoy writing; and my math and science skills leave much to be desired.
So I backed off my bball game, and started focusing on my pen game. I wrote often, and read constantly. Albom. Berkow. Halberstam. Talese. Ben. Lang. Russ. Ryan. Scoop. McCallum. These men joined Bird, Johnson, Jordan, Russell, Wilt and the rest of the game’s greats as my heroes. But more than that, they joined players as my teachers and inspirations.
Five years later, in honor of Chris Ballard’s new book The Art of a Beautiful Game, a game of hoops was hosted at Chelsea Piers. Not just any game, though, a game featuring writers from various publications.
Ballard played, along with SI colleagues, Chris Mannix and Jack McCallum. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop fame played. Jason from The Big Lead was there. As was Jonathan Abrams from the NY Times. Sean Gregory from Time, but more importantly from the Princeton team that upset UCLA, played. Amos Barshad of NY Mag was there, too, as were a handful of others who I’m no doubt forgetting.
And Adam F. and I were there repping SLAM.
Even though I gave the game up on a serious level, ball is ball, so throwing on some shorts and kicks and hitting a beautiful court was a great change of pace from sitting in front of a computer screen while watching others sweat a game out.
More than that, though, this game was a synthesis of my two dreams. Though I never will play ball with the players I modeled my game after, this was my chance to ball with the guys who, unknowingly, influenced my pen game.
It was a solid Thursday night run. Serious but not too serious. Some writers surprised me with their game; some didn’t; and all 6-2 of Adam F. did his thing in the post. Me? My game’s regressed a lot in a little time, but I got a good sweat, and I’ll take that any day nowadays.
Yesterday, after attending a shooting clinic—as a reporter—I headed back to the SLAM Dome. That’s when I was bombarded by texts, emails and chats, the first of which came from Susan.
The impetus behind my sudden popularity? Apparently Amos Barshad, one of the ballers/writers who I met at Chelsea Piers, posted something about that event.
Titled “Which NBA Writers Can Actually Play Basketball,” he broke down that night and the game of the writers who played. Included in that breakdown was yours truly.
Though I’m sure many people were more deserving, Barshad hit me up with a nice scouting report and image.
I haven’t been written about in half a decade, and by now I’m used to writing about the news and not being a (miniscule) part of the news. But it was a great look—for me and SLAM.
No doubt in my mind, SLAM writers can ball. Adam. Aggrey. Cub. Caputo. Jake. Konate. Ryne. These guys are just the tip of the iceberg. Getting recognition for that—and not whatever else people say about us—is a nice change of pace.
For me, an undersized, slow-footed, athletically challenged individual who once dreamed of balling in crowded gyms, it was better than a nice change of pace or a good look. It was as close as my first dream will ever come to fruition. And though I like flying under the radar, it was a good look, and I was convinced by people that I had to write some kind of post about it.
So here it is: I’m better than Jack McCallum…at basketball. I’m also almost 40 years younger, and worse at everything else. But I’m working on everything else.
I know one of my dreams is dead. The other sits on your screen.