Friday, February 27, 2009

Prison Uniforms, Basketball & Writing

Do you have an addiction to sports that keeps you from working on your latest masterpiece? I have had in the past, not basketball, but hey! watching sports can take you out of the loop in your writing.

See, it's basketball season again, and I just don't get what all the hoop-la is about. When I get the newspaper, it is filled with basketball news, so I toss it on top of the pile reserved for the Humane Society.

When the leaves turn and the weather gets cold, the sports section whoops and hollers it up about grown men running around a gym in shorts and sleeveless shirts. They divide into two teams of five men, tall and skinny, and start the game off by butting chests and flailing arms in a who-rah of masculine demonstration. Their teammates eagerly chase after a round, orange ball, and slap it rhythmically on the slick floor.

Fans show up by the thousands, eager to watch these crazy men growl at each other, shout profanities, step on each others feet, bulldoze members of the opposite team, and so forth.

The players seem to find extreme pleasure in running wind sprints from one end of the gym to the other. The red team trips the white team. The white team elbows the red team. The red team pushes the white team out-of-bounds; the white team breaks a leg. The fans scream!

The referee, that distinguished fellow running around in a prison uniform, blows his whistle, sticks his arm up in the air (did he forget to use deodorant?) and points his other arm at a player. The player scowls, the coach shouts, the fans roar.

The team members deliberately drip sweat onto the floor, making it slicker than ever, as they wait for the offended fellow to toss the ball towards a circle suspended in mid-air. Fans wave their hands, they wave funny, snake-like things. The ball misses. The fans roar some more.

More wind sprints to see who can run the fastest while bouncing the ball up and down, up and down. Beating everyone to the end of the gym, the winner with the ball gives a wicked grin. In a demonstration of extreme athletic prowess, he jumps eight feet in the air, and slams the ball through a bunch of strings tied together. The fans scream.

Coaches pace the sidelines, gesturing wildly, wiping perspiration from their brow, and shout themselves hoarse in order to be heard. Every so often, a coach steps onto the court. Then, the prisoners with whistles grin, and are quick to call a foul on the poor fellow whose real problem is a bad case of laryngitis.

The fans continue to scream.

The game winds down in the fourth quarter, according to the scoreboard, flashing its stop and go colors. A point for the white team! A point for the red team! No, the white team's leading wind sprinter fouls out. The red team grins. The fans scream some more.

A loud buzz rips through the coliseum. The players stop running. The coaches stop shouting. The ref's stop whistling. But the fans still scream.

Game over. No writing done.


Mark Phillips said...

I used to watch pro-basketball religiously and have since drifted away as players became more and more immersed in cults of personality and selfish play.

I use the word "religiously" in a near literal sense. I am as thoroughgoing an atheist as one could imagine, but I occasionally see something in basketball that religious people occasionally feel in their churches or while praying. I don't mean to belittle religion at all by comparing it to basketball. What I see occasionally is something that the religious are well familiar with, and it is something glorious. It is transcendence.

When I used to watch the old Lakers team with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Kurt Rambis, etc. I would see individuals playing at the very top of their individual skills. And then, for a few moments or even minutes on end, they would transcend their individual abilities. They would perform blind passes simply knowing their team members would be there. They became a pure team elevating their game into something of awesome beauty far beyond what any of them would be capable of doing with any other set of individuals.

Basketball players call such a feeling of transcendence "being in the zone." It is what Pirsig calls "Quality" in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenanceit is quite simply a momentary revelation of divinity shining forth during a silly, pointless game. And the true fans see it and worship with just as profound a sense of seeing something unique and special as any witness to some higher, less prosaic miracle.

Morgan Mandel said...

I hate watching all sports and the DH loves them all, so he usually goes in the other room and indulges while I listen to country music and write.

Morgan Mandel

Joy said...

Love your description of the game! I used to watch basketball, then the players heads started to get to big and their example to the youth deteriorated as well.

We are soccer fans, big time. We also like colleg footbal. GO GATORS!

Joy Delgado
Illustrator and publisher of bilingual children’s books

Charlotte Phillips said...


You described perfectly what I see when I watch basketball! I don't understand all the fuss either.