My high school boyfriend played basketball. He was a team captain, part of the starting lineup, and a skilled defensive player. Or so I was told — I never actually saw him play.
Well, that's not technically true; after two years of dating, I went to one game and dutifully cheered him on from the stands until halftime, at which point I slipped away to do something I considered much more worthy of my precious time (which, knowing my 17-year-old self, was most likely driving in circles around my rural hometown with Late Registration reverberating through my decrepit Toyota Corolla). Needless to say, ours was not a relationship that could survive a 200-mile expanse between colleges.
But let me be clear — I didn't avoid the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School gymnasium because I was callous or uncaring. I avoided his basketball games for a very specific, important reason: Basketball is boring. With the constant running — always at the same pace, the dribbling ball's thump thump thump lulling me into a near-comatose state — in a monotonous back-and-forth across the claustrophobic court, basketball had none of the rise and fall or steady build I could appreciate in football and baseball. How could basketball, with its running and shooting, running and shooting, and occasional, annoying breaks in the "action" to shoot free throws, hold a candle to the suspense of two outs, bases loaded, with a full count at the bottom of the ninth? It couldn't.
So, despite my basketball-playing boyfriend and my die-hard Celtics fan father, I spent most of my formative years leaving the room when channel surfing settled on a basketball game.
Then, after college — during which time I attended exactly 1.5 basketball games — I met a guy. For our first date, he took me to a bespoke cocktail bar in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. For our second, we saw The Social Network and then grabbed a beer while we discussed Freedom (the Jonathan Franzen novel, not the concept) and his imminent LSAT. Round about our sixth date, he asked me if I wanted to come watch him play basketball.
You've got to be fucking kidding me.
Could it really be possible that this bespectacled, well-read, law school-bound Brooklynite played in an urban basketball league? It could. And furthermore, he never missed a Knicks game — indeed, there seemed to be a direct correlation between his happiness and their record. Worse yet, I was really, really starting to like this guy.
And with one urban league game at a Gramercy high school, basketball had entered my life, for the first time in earnest. And so, even while I protested and explained how the metronome-like dribbling put me to sleep, I would watch NBA games with my guy. (And college games, too; he didn't discriminate.)
I'm not exactly sure when the switch was flipped, when I stopped leaving the room at halftime or dozing off on the couch next to him, but at some point I began to ask questions. What's a pick and roll? A double bonus? A zone defense? Why does everyone start fouling willy-nilly at the end of a close game? I began to remember the names of the players and the teams that they played for. I began to actually watch the game. And, sometimes, I even cared about who won. One night recently, I decided to make a list of all the NBA players I could think of off the top of my head — and the final tally was a surprising 36 (when you included such monikers as "Eyebrow Guy" and "Bad Hair Russian"). Had I accidentally become a basketball fan? How the heck did this happen?
Despite my many boyfriend-centric anecdotes, my basketball change of heart isn't a metaphor for forging my first adult relationship (although some parallels can certainly be drawn… ) It's not about communication skills or finding shared interests or prioritizing another's desires before your own. Not really. It's about me.
In order to unearth my affinity for basketball, I first had to eschew my self-consciousness and ask questions. I had to put aside the embarrassment of not knowing and confront my own ignorance. It wasn't until I understood the game's complexity and began to respect not only the skill involved in playing but also the mental capacity needed to remember all the rules (You're telling me there's a field goal in basketball and it's not always for three points?) that I was able to really engage with the game.
Turns out, basketball is a lot less boring when you actually know what's going on. Imagine that.