I went to a basketball camp for a week back when I was in 8th or 9th grade. I really liked playing basketball back then. I never practiced it enough on my own to get very good at it. Despite having small hands and small feet and not being particularly quick I think I could have been alright if I really worked at it everyday the way I did with other stuff. The camp lasted a week. It was set up by an old NBA player. It certainly wasn’t Magic. Maybe James Worthy. We practiced everyday, got to sleep in random Pepperdine dorms and when we were lucky enough, even see the girls from some other camp nearby.
We practiced a lot, we ran a lot, we went through shooting drills and passing drills, we learned how to squat when playing defense and how to space the floor when on a fast break. Despite being tall I was one of the worst players (looking back I realize I simply hadn’t built up the lungs for the game. I could play good defense but then I would get tired. I could run the floor but then I would get tired. The lungs did me in and I never got past it) and so it’s possible that sucking so badly is what stopped me from really playing basketball more as I got older. I certainly liked it more than football–which I played as a freshman–and track–which I ran as a sophomore or Junior.
Though we learned a lot, 15 years later I really only remember one thing they taught us. The pick and roll. If you don’t know the pick and roll it goes like this. The ball handler (player A) dribbles up to the top of the key. Player B or player C runs up to player A’s defender and stands in his way. Player A dribbles around player B, freeing up space and forcing the two defensive players to make a decision. Player B rolls to the basket and player A–depending on what the defense does–passes to player B for an easy layup or shoots an open jump shot. The Utah Jazz during the 90’s, with Karl Malone and John Stockton, essentially ran an offense that was as simple as that.
So at camp we played these 3 on 3 tournament style games. Team that wins moves on. The team I was on had me, another guy like me, and someone who I remember being pretty good but not someone who could dominate. None of us could dunk. And nobody under 15 can really shoot a jump shot. All we did was run pick and rolls. I don’t think we ran a single isolation play. We just didn’t have it in us. We didn’t win the tournament but we did win three games against teams with better players but who refused to do anything other than isolate. We eventually lost to the team who won the tournament. They had guys who could dunk. But they also passed the ball.
Reading Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball, I came across this quote by Bill Bradley from his book, Life on the Run:
I believe that basketball…can serve as a kind of metaphor for ultimate cooperation. It is a sport where success…requires that the dictates of the community prevail over the selfish personal impulses. An exceptional player is simply one point on a five-pointed star. Stats–such as points, rebounds, or assists per game–can never explain the remarkable interaction that takes place on a successful pro team.
Now we weren’t pros. Just scrawny unathletic 8th graders who didn’t know one another. But we sacrificed and we worked together and perhaps because we had no choice we tapped into that “remarkable interaction” and won some games. I don’t know if the other two guys felt it, but I did. We were connected. Setting a pick that led to one of the other guys scoring felt good. It felt good not because HE scored, but because WE scored. I get this feeling at work too when I’m working produce and my partner and I have to sync up in order to make the whole operation flow.
It feels good to work together doesn’t it? In a relationship, at your job, in a sport. It’s a truer American value than self-reliance and individualism–values often trumped as all-American. By myself I wasn’t very good, but with my teammates I was better. I like the sound of that.
© 2013 Christopher Dart