by October 03, 2010

by Jeremy Bauman /@JBauman13

“21 questions,” I thought to myself.

After all, for my 21st birthday, what could possibly be better than having a feature column on SLAMonline dedicated to the upcoming NBA season.

Just a few months ago, as I returned from Barcelona, Spain (where I spent more time studying Ricky Rubio’s game than actually studying abroad), I hardly thought that I would have been a featured author in SLAM Magazine and a blogger for SLAMonline. I was just trying to keep myself involved in basketball—just as I’ve been doing since my senior season at New Rochelle High School (NY) came to an abrupt end. The best way for me to stay involved in basketball at the present moment is through discussing it on this amazing website. I am majoring in Sports Marketing and Management at Indiana University and have profoundly connected with the ability to keep my mind sharp by talking, playing, watching, discussing and writing about the game of basketball at almost every turn in my life. Anybody who knows me knows one thing: I love basketball first and foremost—before anything—and for many, many reasons.

So as I thought about writing 21 questions about the NBA season over the days leading up to my most meaningful birthday yet, I thought of an even better idea: Why not come up with 21 reasons about why I love the game of basketball? I mean, if I can’t come up with 21 reasons as to why I love the game of basketball, there is just something out of kilter—I have been breathing the game since I was a youngster, and, although my competitive playing days are over, the game continues to deeply impact my life. It has helped to define me at each stage of my development.

Thanks, SLAM—everybody that has made this magazine into what it is today—for allowing me the opportunity to share such a special day with so many people that appreciate the game of basketball just as I do. This is a toast to my 21st, but much more importantly a toast to why we all watch, love and live the game of basketball each and every day.

Competitive Edge: Who doesn’t like to compete? Back in high school there was nothing like playing in an actual game. A part of me resents that I didn’t get to play college ball because of the competitive nature involved in the game. Playing in pick-up games on a regular basis is one way that I have been able to keep my competitive fire burning throughout college.

The Open Runs: Whether it be biking to a pick-up game in Belize as a sixth grader, the times at Lincoln Park or Iona College in New Rochelle, games at the HPER at Indiana University, or on the playground in Barcelona, Spain—playing with a diverse array of people and learning as much about the game and the way different people play has always fascinated me. It always will.

Working Out: Staying in shape has always been a priority of mine and my favorite way to stay in shape is by playin’ ball. Basketball and running have become much higher priorities on my to-do list lately, and I am sure a lot of people out there feel the same way.

Traveling: When I played AAU traveling was a big part of it—it almost made you feel like you were out on the road to get business done. Playing with teams such as the New York Gauchos, Westchester Hawks, and New York Ravens (note: I moved around a bit during AAU) coming back with anything short of a 1st place finish was always disappointing, but there was still an upside.

Going to tournaments like the AAU Nationals and Boo Williams, amongst others, helped me to get a head start on scouting. I didn’t write about their games like I have learned to, but just meeting, watching and paying attention to so many players helped me learn about the game in an invaluable way and I am thankful that I participated for so long. I always talk about how the traveling and playing in AAU is much too demanding (it is), but at the same time it is great that so many kids get to see so many different parts of the country and the world because they ball. It can help to prepare for experiences that happen later in life, like flying and communicating with their peers.

Great Coaches: Not everybody is fortunate enough to have great coaching. In my time playing competitive basketball I had enough great coaching and mentoring to impact my life in amazing ways, and I will forever be thankful for it. Don’t know where I’d be without it. When a coach really cares, it can have a profound impact on a kid for the rest of their life, no matter what level it is on.

Playing Against Great Players: Every baller loves to hate their greatest competition. As a normal, unranked kid, getting ready to suit up against “superstar” kids from around the country and trying to prove myself as a worthy opponent, there was always a sense of urgency in my mind to compete at the highest level against the best competition. In some ways it was no different than somebody like undrafted Wes Matthews, playing—and more than holding his own—against top shooting guards in the League. At every level, there are people at the top and people fighting to get there. Showcasing yourself against the best players consistently is the only way to do it.

Playing Against Inferior Players: It is tough as hell to prove yourself against great players. So you gotta enjoy it when you’re playing against weaker competition and capitalize on it. You can also benefit from it by working on things to get better at the same time. That is one of the most rudimentary, yet effective ways to deal with lesser competition at any level of the game.

Love to watch NBA Basketball: The pinnacle of all basketball; where everybody yearns to end up but in actuality only the upper echelon of ballers actually make it. The NBA is such a skilled performance of basketball on the grandest scale. Back in the day as a Stockton and Malone fan I rooted against Jordan and there was nothing like it. Even as an 8-year old, there was something in the back of my head that told me Jordan would come out on top, maybe it was just that the Mailman couldn’t make free throws or deliver fully on Sundays. But that’s where I got my start and I haven’t looked back since. The NBA hasn’t been the same since those days—everybody knows it—but with all of the young talent in the L right now and the moves that have been happening, things appear to be getting better and better. Slowly but surely.

Love to watch College Basketball: All those high school rankings are thrown out the window and here’s where you really have to make a name for yourself if you want to make it to the League in any capacity or to prove yourself worthy of a career on the other side of the Atlantic. As a student at Indiana University, I have seen a prestigious basketball school get knocked down (hard), however the fan base is still very supportive and eager to bring the program back. It’s that pride—both within and outside of the college programs—that make these games so enjoyable to watch, along with Dick Vitale screaming into the microphone on ESPN.

Love to watch High School Basketball: My favorite. There’s nothing like watching kids in their clash for respect on the court. This is where it all begins. This is where one game can make or break your reputation, impact your college recruitment and your future (What up, Lenny Cooke). It’s the purest form of basketball (competition wise, not business) because kids are playing to prove themselves in every game they play.

Developing my own mind—on and off the court: Through all of the time being around the game of basketball—time that I have chosen to spend around the game—I have learned a lot about myself, but nothing more important than to just play my game no matter who’s around. Just like each player has his own style, I have developed into my own person on and off the court.

Mentoring Kids: Ever since the summer of my freshman year in college I have helped kids that try to reach their goals through the game of basketball. I have trained players (mostly with shooting) and tried to give them good advice with regards to life and school. Just as coaches used to do with me, I have tried to do for them. In the future I hope to coach my own team.

Watching Players Develop: As a sophomore in high school, my coach asked me to help another kid with shooting in the months leading up to the season. I worked with him almost every day, teaching him things I had been doing my whole life. His jumper improved dramatically and watching him start that entire season made me feel amazing. There really is nothing like helping somebody get where they desire to be, both on and away from the court.

Looking for that Defining Play: When watching a high school, college, or pro game I love looking for plays that define players on the court. For instance, when Erving Walker was in middle school and high school he just flat out hated to lose and, along with being incredibly skilled, did whatever it took to walk away with a W. Walker sensed when it was crunch time and made plays. He knew exactly when he had to assert himself—and made it look easy. While watching a kid do that, sometimes you know that they have the guts to be special and I love looking for these types of players.

Making That Extra Pass: Is there any better feeling than making that extra pass to somebody even though your open and watching them knock down the jumper? Having that trust in between players is what this game is all about and even at the highest level, making that extra pass makes everybody look good. Just check out John Paxson’s NBA Title clinching shot in the 1993 Finals.

Basketball Bond: When you lace ‘em up and know that the person on the other end is somebody you love to compete with, but also have respect for as a person, there is a sense of comfort that exists in few other forms. It’s nice to share something in common with another person and amazing to care about basketball just as somebody else does.

Networking: Since a young age I learned the true value and importance of networking. As so many of my professors in college have told me, you simply need to know people to advance in life. From a young age I always loved introducing myself to others in the basketball world—not because I had to but rather because I wanted to. The diverse collection of people that I have met and gotten to know throughout the years has been one of my favorite things that the game has brought me and I cannot display my affection for every single one of these people enough. Networking has been a crucial factor just in getting to the point in my life that I’m at now—there is still hopefully a lot to be done from here on out.

Sinking that game-winning jumper: Ain’t nothin’ like it. Whether it’s an intramural playoff game in college, an AAU game, a game in March Madness, or the shot that Jordan hit to seal the 1998 NBA Finals, there’s nothing like it. Untouchable, if only for a moment, is how you feel and you want to feel that way again and again. I’ve hit a few in my day—it’s the only way to understand.

Shooting free-throws: Over and over again. I used to wake up at 6 AM as a sixth grader, as I was attempting to beat the school record of 14 consecutive made free throws. I trumped it, making 32 in a row but that was just the beginning of the addiction. In high school I set out to make a hundred in a row and made 107 later that night. I still haven’t eclipsed it. When I step to the line I can make at least 90-100 consistently.

Parental Support: Even when I hated it most, my mother would come up and take pictures of my teammates and I in the huddles during the games. It was embarrassing, but looking back that’s just a mother trying to support her child. My father, an endocrinologist at the Bronx VA, didn’t even know there was a Sports section in the New York Times before I came along. Without his relentless support, I never would have beaten that free throw record. He drove me to the gym every single morning that I wanted to and rebounded for me. I’m very lucky and thankful to have such good parents who supported me while growing up.

One For Good Luck: JRAD—Today is for you. Did everything in my power to do it as you would tonight. Love you. RIP.

Rudy Gay and Jeremy Bauman.