Wednesday, February 25, 2009

fun-da-mentals (clap clap - clap clap clap)

One of Slate’s writers finally added his voice to the much read and discussed Shane Battier story in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine from a few weekends ago. The kinfolk from Vermont were down visiting for Second Christmas when one of our late night rap sessions slipped toward sport and superstars. It’s happened in the past, and I’m probably the cause of the jumps, but there are some sports happenings that equate well to various real-life situations – I don’t remember the source of this particular foray. Oddly enough, the morning after our chat the Battier piece shows up on our doorstep as if called from the beyond. I also broached the subject of the article with my resident Sabermetrician and he assured me that the article “was all the talk” in and around the community over the weekend. I felt a bit nerdy knowing that something I found interesting was the “talk” of the Sabermetrician community; they’re a strange breed.

The piece struck me in two different ways: first, it confirmed my long-held suspicions that there are many aspects of team athletic endeavors that go unnoticed. As X pointed out while reading the article, why have we chosen to only accept (and pay athletes) by the defined box score numbers we see in the paper? Second, I wanted to believe that I was Shane Battier – and I’m also apparently the guy who could be writing the Slate piece. Hey, I lived in Arlington until this year and I have prescription Rec Specs! Secondly, my final season of playing organized basketball was way back in 1995 as I was finishing up my first tour in England and a lot of the story rings true for a mid-level player. I finally gave up playing after that year because when you hit 30 it all becomes too much. Well, that and the fact that I have a very low threshold of pain and blowing out a knee didn’t seem like anything I might be interested in experiencing. And, if I may let you know, most military bases have regular basketball leagues and over-30 leagues: I was barely interested enough in playing with 18- and 19-year-olds heaving up twenty-five footers and dressing like MJ – there was no way I was showing up to play with the old guys. My retirement at 30 had long been on the table and that Spring it was formally announced and reported to my rearview mirror on my drive home through the English fens. Those last two seasons were spent doing the same junk I'd always done: rebounding, blocking out, playing defense, setting picks, moving without the ball, and hoping that the *Kevin Johnson-wannabe point guard would somehow manage to not turn the ball over or possibly figure out how to use a pick. Two things quickly became evident way back then: the point guard would never figure out the pick and I was getting way too old and tired to play with the kids. It was also during that final season that I was ejected from a game for the first time. Oddly enough, it wasn’t because I was hanging 30 points on the opposition or yanking down 20 rebounds and the other team was targeting me; it was because of a beautiful blindside pick set on the point guard’s defender as they were hurtling down the court. For some reason, or more likely simple luck, the point ran his man right into the pick. I had the benefit of seeing it coming (don’t think I wasn’t smiling….) and had time to brace for impact. The poor defender was simply de-cleated, if you will, and he was pissed at everything. No foul was called but chucklehead was none too happy when he got up off the ground and threw a punch. I ducked – I’m a lover, you know – and the ref ejected us both: he for being a jerk, me for being too good. Or being Shane Battier, had we known.

I pulled off my Rec Specs, wiped the sweat away, and headed home. A good night, indeed.


*I had to dig through my dusty brain to come up with a 1995 era point guard. I was going to throw out Steve Nash or Allen Iverson but that would have taken my readers outside the picture I was creating. I would have had all kinds of feedback about how Steve Nash wasn’t yet an NBA MVP so how could that kid in 1995 have wanted to be Steve Nash? Was he Canadian? Nevermind.

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