Why I Never Made it in the NBA

Not me

Not me

Different people have different talents. Michelangelo chiseled marble better than just about anybody. Lennon and McCartney were geniuses at composing hit songs. I am good at coming up with grossly misleading blog-post titles.

I discovered I would never be an NBA star in ninth-grade gym class. A several boys, including me, were given basketballs and told to practice jump shots and lay-ups. A few shots went in, some bounced off the rim, and most rebounded off the backboard. Except mine. Mine were off by 10 feet. I was throwing ‘em over the backboard, under the backboard, into the bleachers… everything but net. There was something about the timing of jumping and throwing that I couldn’t quite get.

After about three minutes of this mayhem, the gym teacher (a barrel-chested little bulldog of a man whose name I can’t recall) pulled me aside to have a chat.

“Eric,” he said. “I want to get you some help. I know it’s tough being a kid these days with all the temptations and everything. But we’re going to get you cleaned up.”

I stared at him, baffled. What the hell was he talking about?

He went on. “It’ll just be between you, me, the school nurse, and the guidance counselor. So what are you on? Quaaludes? Percocet? Meth?”

My face expression must have been like that of a nun being asked her favorite sexual position. “But I don’t take–”

“Now, don’t worry. We aren’t going to tell your parents. We just want to get you some help.”

“I don’t take drugs!” I said. I’d never even smoked a cigarette.

“Look, son, no one can be that bad at basketball naturally.”

I had two choices at this point. I could quit basketball, or I could practice my butt off, every day after school, to prove to that gym teacher and the world that I wasn’t the world’s worst basketball player, sober or otherwise. What do you think I did?

I certainly didn’t stay after school to practice basketball, that’s for sure. I suck at it. Why should I torture myself just so I can move up a notch or two on the spazmo scale and force some other poor shmuck to be the worst? I’d rather spend that time doing something I’m good at, like writing.

The moral of my story is that showing determination is great, but not if my reason for doing so is because I’m comparing myself to someone else. Had I loved basketball but been bad at it, I might have stuck with it. Eventually I would have been OK. But I really don’t care if I suck at that sport. Let someone else be good.

Writing, on the other hand, I love. I want to keep improving so I can tell better stories that are more exciting and emotionally powerful for my readers. I’m probably a more skilled writer than any of those kids in my ninth-grade gym class turned out to be, considering the time and effort I’ve put into the craft. But who cares if I’m not? I can only be the best I can be.

So the moral of the moral of this story is, “Comparing yourself against the achievements of others will only make you irritable and more likely to eat too many potato chips.”

[Special thanks to Phil’s Misadventures in Fiction for partially inspiring this post]


Today’s theme-appropriate music selection is from Annie get Your Gun



33 responses to “Why I Never Made it in the NBA

  • MotherJam

    I have always yearned to be cool. Since the cool don’t yearn, you can understand my difficulty here. Thanks for showing me an alternative way.

  • Jill Weatherholt

    That was hilarious, Eric! I’m happy you stuck with writing, you certainly have the gift of storytelling.

  • feminineocean

    Now that was a good story and have me laughing out loud.

  • Janna G. Noelle

    Wow, they had way different drugs when you were in high school – the only one of those I’m familiar with is meth. (Sorry – not really the moral of the story, but the detail that immediately jumped out at me. That and your funny analogy of a nun being asked her favourite sexual position.)

  • nrhatch

    Being on drugs helps in sports . . . it’s easier to “be the ball.” :mrgreen:

  • Dirk Porsche

    Well I’m not untalented at sports, especially with a ball involved, but I came soon to the realization that I’m far away from being talented enough to be a professional, too.

    It’s quite sad to watch those very-determined mid 30s to mid 40s ruining their health to win a pointless match in the amateurs league.

    I do sports for fun, and to improve my health. Hopefully I find some more time for it, soon. Cause my back kills me …

    Nice post.

    • ericjbaker

      Some people never get over childish competitiveness and end up making fools of themselves because of it.

      Ha, back pain… the gift from our prehistoric ancestors that keeps on giving. I went for a long hike yesterday morning and that was the best my back felt for weeks. Now I’m once again sitting in an office chair and screwin git up all over again.

  • Arkenaten

    When I began playing guitar all I ever wanted was to be like Jimi Hendrix.
    It was a difficult pill to swallow having to acknowledge that I would never be like him. Not in a million years and not least of all because he and I are not the same colour.

    We do what we do…and hopefully we’ll enjoy it enough that others will enjoy what we do do as well.
    Great post.

    • ericjbaker

      My guitaring fingers can only shift so many gears. No lightning-fast solos for me. On the plus side, my inability to copy the players I admire has accidently resulted in me having my own style, such as it is.

      Sometimes being original is better than being brilliant, at least to readers and listeners.

    • nmartinez1938

      Wasn’t Bob Bobbit like the cream in the the Motown sound, I can smell the Oreo’s again…

      • ericjbaker

        Studio musicians never get enough credit, but we’ve talking about that before. If a cong with words can stand up as an instrumental, you know you’ve got the right backing band.

  • Richard Leonard

    Hey, you didn’t have to hang back at school to be better than one other poor shmuck at basketball. That shmuck is writing a comment on your post right now. I was also crap at table tennis, AFL footy, soccer, Judo, badminton, cricket, cross country running and anything involving hand and power tools. I never enter my shed or work in the garden without taking skin off from somewhere.
    But, like you it’s the writing I love doing so that’s what keeps me going.
    Great post.

  • fictionalpenguin

    I had a similar experience with tennis, and I learned it wasn’t the sport for me (I mean, no sport was the sport for me, but that’s not what I’m getting at here) when I was on the delivering and receiving end of several blunt-force traumas to the head.

    Realistically, it’s always interesting to see where you stand in comparison to others, but so long as it’s not some debilitating thing pulling you down and telling you you’re not good enough or whatever. Then you need to take that thing outside, tell it you’re very sorry for what you’re about to do, make sure you’re not actually sorry, and then run it over with a very large vehicle.

    • ericjbaker

      We’d all be much happier humans if we looked toward others’ success for inspiration. Resentment never got a story published or improved a backhand.

      My problem with tennis is the court is too small. I want to wack the hell out of that ball, but apparently the judges and your opponent do not have much tolerance for “home runs.”

  • Tuesday

    That was the funniest story I’ve read in a looong time!! Sorry to laugh at your lack of…er…talent (?), but that was hysterical! You did, however, learn a great lesson about being yourself…and why the Just Say No program failed – they obviously directed it at the wrong kids. It’s those other kids that should have been getting some help…they would be future members of Steroid Users of America.

    • ericjbaker

      Laugh at my pain, will you!

      Seriously, about the Just Say No program. The entire concept operated from the false assumption that no one wants to do drugs and they only reason they do is peer pressure. Come on. There are all kinds of reasons to do drugs: To escape boredom, to escape misery, because you are a thrill seeker, because the experience is initially pleasurable. I’ve never been a user, but I have been in the emergency room a bunch of times and had morphine injected into me. I totally get why people do heroin. It’s a damn happy place you go to.

      It would have been much more effective to show people what a junkie looks like. Pretty pathetic. I was never a drug user because drug users seem weak and out of control, and that turns me off. It had nothing to do with Nancy Reagan’s good intentions.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Bob Rodrick

    Eric, since you and I graduated from the same high school, by any chance, was the gym teacher’s name Mr. Leta?

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