1989 – I am 6. I start to understand that basketball is something tall people do. Dad plays in a league in Princeton, NJ. He seems to take this more seriously than the games we play at home: hide and seek, Sorry, and checkers. The men are all taller than me and wear short shorts. There is lots of yelling, sweating, and long, hairy legs.
1994 – I play games of horse and one-on-one with dad at my elementary. The courts are small, with basketball keys five feet wide and 3-point arcs closer to the hoop than they should be. We play full court games. He takes it easy on me, but not too easy. Some of my shots still get swatted away.
1995 – My parents photograph me in the backyard wearing Shaq’s brand new Reebok Shaq Attaq shoe with the Pump. I rep Duke with a new Starter, pullover jacket. I stretch my arms out as long and as straight as possible, mimicking Jordan’s famous Wings poster by Nike.
1997 – I try out for and make a club basketball squad, but the coach doesn’t play me that much. He plays his son a lot. His son’s friends play a lot too. At the end of one game in particular, I remember Dad giving the coaches a piece of his mind. Maybe I was a little embarrassed or surprised, but I remember feeling proud. I had the most potential of any player on the team and my dad knew that. He stood up for that.
1999 – Longmont High School. Spent my junior year on the JV squad. My coach was a horrible, bitter man because he was short, among other things, and he had a temper without any basketball knowledge. After a loss he threw a shoe at a locker and dented it. A teammate had some peculiar scratches on his back and we all learned in the locker room that his girlfriend had scratched him there during sex. My jaw dropped.
1999 – The last game of the season was in Greeley. My coach decides to play me for most of the game, a welcome change. I play my heart out and make it clear to him that he doesn’t know what he is doing. It felt amazing.
2000 – I do not go out for basketball my senior year. This is when I put it together that I don’t have to play this sport. I excel at swimming and devote the year to that. I am happy to leave the politics and drama of team games. I finally feel free of the expectations to be amazing at basketball because I am tall.
2004 – I make it to the University of Wyoming as an NCAA DI athlete in the sport that was for a long time, option B, swimming. Not bad. In the off season we play pickup basketball games. What I have athletically lacked up to this point, I now finally have after three years at Wyoming, a budding confidence in my athletic ability, an attitude shifting from I can to I will. I see the potential my dad saw in 1997 when he confronted my coaches after that game. During one pickup game in particular, a swimming teammate told me after I drilled another three-pointer in his face, “You should be playing basketball for us.” Heard five years ago, I would have laughed and forgotten about it, but now I agreed with him.
2010 – I coach NCAA DI swimming in Milwaukee. In the spring I play basketball games with the men’s team. I get far too heated during one game and yell at a swimmer of mine for not playing basketball well enough. I feel awful and embarrassed. I apologize, but I can tell I hurt him.
2010 – What I realize now is that I am extremely blessed to have the talent to have potentially played a different sport at the DI level. In another life, it would be amazing to prioritize basketball and to see what happens. These swimmers of mine, although very talented in swimming, some far faster than me, likely could not say the same thing. Of course, they aren’t 6’9″, but to this day I believe what set me apart on the court during those rare basketball games throughout my life were the games against Dad. He’d play. He’d coach. He’d praise. He’d criticize. He believed in me so that I would eventually believe in myself. That’s a rare gift, rarer than reaching 6 foot 9 inches.