Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pickup Basketball -- The One Cardinal Rule

If I'm taking time to reflect and say "thanks" this holiday season, one of the first people I want to make sure I recognize is you. Seriously, I mean that to whoever you might be that's reading this text on your screen.


There's plenty "out there." There's tons of good writing that's out on the Internet (pick any major periodical), there's tons of good writing that's Internet-specific (Slate), and there are a ton of blogs. In fact, there's way more out there than you could ever keep up with. So I take the fact that you're reading this right now as a sincere compliment -- on some level, you're saying it's worth your time.

Anyway, I throw this heartfelt thank you out there because a) I've had a lot of fun writing this and b) it's helped put some steam behind a long-held dream of mine to try freelance writing, which I'm going to start getting serious about once I'm officially over on the Natty Guard side, which is not *really* a full-time job, except when it is.

So as I'm sure you've figured out, this blog isn't really *about* anything...and isn't supposed to be. It's not really about Lowell or community, it's not really about the military, it's not really about politics, it's not really about social conventions, or trying to poke fun at them, or whether I felt a sudden onset of schizoprehenia during the Army-Navy game, or whatever. My only rule for myself is that I try to stay away from purely personal stuff -- not out of a need for privacy, but just going from an "if the shoe were on the other foot..." policy -- if there's no larger meaning or lesson to extract, I wouldn't expect you to care about my daily trivialities -- just as, rest assured, I don't care about yours.

All that having been said, today I'm going somewhere I've never gone before -- pickup basketball.

With an Admiral in charge who was once a star member of some late 1970s USNA basketball squads, we've taken to playing pickup ball three times a week as our command PT, or Physical Training. I've absolutely loved it -- it's a great way to work out, it's great team-building, and it brings out the competitive spirit in a totally fun way.

One of the unwritten rules of pickup basketball, of course, is that you call your own fouls and violations. Since there's no dedicated referee, that's really the only one way you can truly make things work. Of course, there are many different thresholds individuals hold for when to call a foul -- some will never call it, some will call it only if they're hit or knocked to the ground, and others will call so-called "heavy breathing" fouls -- in other words, they may not have been touched, but they'll blow the proverbial whistle to cover their own embarrassment for missing a shot inside the paint.

I get all that, and I accept it. However you want to call the fouls is fine with me. Same for violations -- travels, double dribbles, out-of-bounds, etc. However, I have one absolute redline as far as what a respectable human being should not do in a pickup game -- make a "sort of" call.

What's a 'sort of' call? Well, you go up for a shot, you clearly get hit, you call it, and then when the game stops so your team can check it up top, you say something to the effect of "No, man, it's cool...your ball" and insist the other team get possession. Same could apply to violations. You see someone on the other team obviously travel, you make the universal "c'mon baby, do the locomotion" sign, which is NBA-speak for "travel" but then when asked if you're making the call, you suddenly demur with a smirk that allows you to *sort of* acknowledge that something went wrong, but still remind everyone that you're the bigger man.

That's exactly what the *sort of* call is. You're basically saying, "You guys just did something wrong, and I want to announce that I saw it, but I also want to announce that I'm the *bigger man* and I'm going to still let it go and be a good sport."

Well, to me, that's not being a good sport, that's being highly passive-aggressive. You have two respectable courses of action -- either call it or don't. No middle ground. I'm not impressed that you're saying the ball was out on us, but really you're just so [take your pick of synonym for 'noble'] that you're willing to 'let it go' and give the universal knowing smirk as you head down the court on defense.

This also makes me think back to something once written by blogger Santosh Anagol, who is now about to wrap up an Economics Ph.D. down the road from here. Back as an undergraduate, he (rightly) called out the extreme lameness of people who sit in the back of large lecture halls, and, when the Professor asks a question out to the entire class, say it just loud enough so that the people around them can hear, but not loud enough so that the Professor (and everyone else) can.

This gives them the cover they'll need if they're unsure of themselves and possibly wrong (hey, not everyone heard, so I'm okay) but also gives them the cool-guy points in case they're right -- in that case, yes, they knew the answer to the question was indeed "Hawley-Smoot Tariff," and now everyone within earshot can see how smart they are, but still cool enough to not have to fully participate in the class.

Basically, just like the 'sort of' foul calls in pickup basketball, it's a halfway gesture. It's a lame way to say "I know better, but I'm too cool to care" and/or "I'm somehow *above* it" (and by implication, everyone else).

I'm sure you see the equivalent all the time at work, home, or school.

I'm sure you know someone who always knows why the boss is wrong, and has the guts to tell you, but never the boss.

I'm sure you know someone who knows we never should've stopped for ice cream just because the kids ask, but didn't really voice that at the time.

And I'm sure you know someone who knows the right answer was actually "Warren Christopher" and not "Madeleine Albright" but didn't seem to know it when it was first put out to the group.

These people are life's equivalent of backseat drivers.

For the most part, they can be ignored.


Because they don't count.


Chris said...

Oh, no . . . let me thank YOU for being thanked . . . I don't read all entries as they are written, but I periodically check in and catch up. I really enjoy reading your articles and the comments that follow. The insight is fascinating and the perspective is unique. This blog helps me stay connected to you and our mutual friends, even though we don't talk often anymore. I don't want to be one of your friends who "fades away" . . .
Annex boy forever!

The New Englander said...


Thanks, mate..and I'm with you on the last point..one of the neat but unexpected ancillary benefits of writing this is that it becomes a way for a lot of people to stay in touch in a way that's in some ways easier and less taxing than trying to maintain a back-and-forth e-mail or phone discussion (what I call the 'ping-pong' model of friendly communications).

The nice part of reading a blog is, like you said, you can sort of 'jump in' at any point, skim where it looks boring, read what looks good, and pipe up where you see fit.

I can tell from the number of hits at the bottom of the screen that the blog has gained some steam lately (thanks to the boston.com link and some local links, I think)but the comments are the best part, and things really come alive when there are comments-to-the-comments, like what we did for the Sarah Palin piece..

stay militant,