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Why Nobody Will Ever Mistake Me For Michael Jordan

May 13, 2010 - John Whittaker

On Tuesday, the red team lost its final game of the season, 61-55, to the blue team in the Jamestown YMCA Men's B League. 

I'd been kicking around the idea of playing in a league for a couple of years, but was holding out for the over 35 league because I'm not nearly athletic enough to play with guys my age — and I'd get torched by guys younger than me. When the thought of starting a less competitive 'B' league for guy who wanted to play competitive games but who aren't great athletes was floated during our Sunday hoops game, I jumped at the chance. 
I enjoy playing, but other than the Gus Macker and college intramurals, haven't played much competitively because I was horrible in high school. I didn't bulk up enough until college to be even mediocre. I was interested to see how I stack up with people who play like I do — friendly games that stay competitive. It's a tougher line to walk than you would think. Some games have no defense and no effort — so it degenerates into a layup line or a chance for people to show off how awesome they are. 
Those games don't do much for me since I'm not athletic enough to pull off anything more complicated than a cross-over dribble and maybe dribbling between my legs with nobody near me. I can shoot the ball alright, but I can't jump over our Sunday paper. 
If I was relying on basketball to impress a girl, well, I'd still be single. Very single. 
I finished with eight points, about six rebounds, three assists and a turnover. For the season, I averaged around 10 points a game, didn't turn the ball over more than I helped us put it in the basket and wasn't abysmal defensively. 
I wasn't horrible, but the NBA isn't going to be knocking down my door anytime soon.
Only one problem — I'm more competitive than I thought I was, which, when you think about it, is a funny thing to learn about yourself in a "non-competitive" fun league.
When I was younger, I hated to lose — and we're not just talking about when I was playing and got beat. 
I hated it when my favorite teams lost. I cried when the Yankees were eliminated in the 1995 playoffs, and that was when I was a freshman in college. When Syracuse lost in the first round to Vermont a few years ago, I didn't watch the rest of the first two rounds of the tournament. And, I went on a Sportscenter/Internet blackout when the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. 
Ask anyone who knows me, and I can be "entertaining" to watch a game with. I talk to the players (especially if it's a Syracuse basketball game) and don't sit still if it's a big game.  But, after the game, I simmer down pretty quickly and life resumes as normal. It should be that way. I'm 33, looking to start a family with my lovely wife and maybe, eventually, buying a house with a white picket fence and garage. 
During our game Tuesday, though, I found myself getting annoyed with fouls not called, nutty violations being called in a non-competitive league, missed opportunities that we had nobody to blame but ourselves and the chances I had to positively affect the game that I missed. Tom Anderson, the guy I guarded most of the night, had about five buckets in the lane on balls I just missed stripping, hit shots over me that I can't believe he made and gave me situations offensively I didn't take advantage of. If I make those plays, we live to play another week. 
Our first game, I had two turnovers that I'm still ticked off I made. I'd have benched my seventh-graders for making those passes. In high school, in practice, we all would have been running suicides for those babies. 
A couple of weeks later, we lost a game by 16 points in which I missed eight contested layups I should have made (they weren't off much) and had two jump shots rattle in and out. I took that game home with me. I'm a little ashamed to say I didnt' sleep much that night, and was still thinking about those misses two days later. As I write this, a day after our final game ended, I'm still mulling opportunities to take shots that I probably should have taken, wondering if I did a good enough job getting my teammates involved in the offense and thinking that maybe I should have pushed the tempo a little more. 
It's a B league game that doesn't mean diddly in the grand scheme of things, but I can't get it out of my head. Why did we turn the ball over so much? Why didn't I take the ball stronger to the hole against the guy defending me? Why didn't I play the defensive boards better on a couple of possessions where I found myself flatfooted and ended up giving up a second shot? Why didn't I push the tempo when we had the other team outmanned and try to get some easier buckets?
Hang on a minute while I beat my head against a wall. ... It'll just be a second ... I promise ... I'm all better now.
I'll be playing in the Gus Macker with my brother in a few weeks, and probably with some guys from work in the sponsors tournament, too. And, since I've lost something like my last 43 games in that tournament (don't think I won't be thinking about that little statistic on June 4) I'd really like to play well. My brother is coming home, and we haven't gotten to play together in about two years, between him living 12 hours away and serving three tours in Iraq. Our friend Rick is playing with us too, for the first time in way too long. It'll be fun, if I don't let that competitive streak get the best of me. 
Problem is, if I don't play with that competitive streak, I stink. Seriously, I played my best basketball last night when I got hacked a couple of times, there was no call, I got ticked off and played like a ticked off teenager. There were more than a few times when, after a call didn't go our way, I bore down and made a stop on the defensive end. We got down 7-0 and I found my way into the lane for a layup to get us going offensively. 
Maybe someday, before I die, I'll find the proper balance between being non-competitive and setting a good example and being aggressive enough not to get my teeth kicked in. Something tells me I'll never like losing.  
For the guys I've played with this season — Bob, Lee, Chris, Keith and Tom — it's been a blast. I can't wait until our Sunday morning winter ball starts again (hopefully in November) for the exercise and the comraderie. For some reason, with that group of guys, the mood's just different than leagues and tournaments. We can all just play and goof around, but it's still a serious game. Everybody calls their own fouls, nobody whines and the games stay pretty competitive — and, when George is there, everybody's in stitches.
Michael Jordan I'm not - but it's only a game, right? 


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