Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Flickr.
Nothing quite compares to following the day-to-day rhythms of a sport, save for following it so closely that the events, musings and ensuing “adjustments” of any given season feel overwhelmingly predictable. For fans and analysts, this process can become tiresome. Often, we watch sports to escape the mundane drudgery of our realistic lives with realistic goals and realistic setbacks but 65 games into an 82-game regular season, much of the once-magical narrative that fused an ebbing and flowing connection between our minds and our television screens turns into just that: mundane drivel.
You’ll often hear people say that sports are a metaphor for life. The NBA; that prodigal, apt product with no regard for the bothersome nature of back-to-back’s and holiday matchups, has mastered this fine truth in-so-far that it anticipates and mimics the boredom that haunts our lives even more effectively than it does our triumphs. For most of us, real-life victories are rarely, if ever, delivered with the same sense of menacing, instantaneous euphoria and jaw-clenching supremacy of a last-second block or a game-winning shot. Ours is a long-awaited, cerebral, calming success — the kind that, since it’s expected, simply soothes our souls and does away with our worries. On the other hand, in the sports world, success and failure are abstractions created for the purpose of being overblown and exacerbated.
Instead, boredom — even under the lights of the Garden — creeps in like a decidedly human beast. It teaches us that even in a subworld dominated by LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Kobe Bryant’s snark and Kevin Durant, anything with a circadian regularity feels menial after a period. We learn that it’s necessary to remind ourselves, really force ourselves, to do what we love. More importantly, we learn that doing so doesn’t undermine our love but that what we love is just another part of life and that life, in spite of what the #inspirational quotes tell you, is supposed to feel meaningless sometimes. Here’s the thing. Sports really are a metaphor for life. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read that sentence and moaned since the first time I saw it but it’s true. 82 games remind us that the key to having a good game is to pick your spots. Let the game come to you. Don’t burn out too early in the season. Keep shooting, JJ. Keep going inside, LeBron. More than anything, it reminds us that the evidence provided by 82 games is really just the summation of one grand lesson: if you have even a fraction of a choice, play the long game.
So, this is a little crazy: it’s midnight in a foreign city and I’m only a few beats away from completely freaking out. Sure, there are triggers, but you don’t really get to choose a convenient time for this kind of thing to happen. Anxiety leaves me vulnerable to even the most weightless fear so it’s not often that anything can keep me calm in moments like these but today, by some means, basketball has that power.
“Regression to the mean. Regression to the mean. Regression to the me…”
“Defense wins championships. Defense wins championships. Defense wins ch…”
“There’s no such thing is an extended miracle. There’s no such thing as…”
Really, what the logical part of my mind is trying to tell the other parts is that no matter what happens, no matter what I think about for the next 20 minutes, “everything is going to be alright.” It’s hard to communicate that sort of a phrase in a way that resonates, however. Bubbling under the graceless, oversaturated use of clichés is an unsought truth: the phrases we’ve run dry through mockery and ill-use remain talismanic thanks to their necessity. Simply put, clichés, because we focus on the fact that they sound lame over how necessary they are, never really have an effect past semi-thoughtful, mostly hazy tweets at 3 AM, if that. It doesn’t matter what your favourite sport is (unless your favourite sport is going through articles and editing my Canadian spelling because that sport sucks and so do you, Jared). Every sport is nothing more than just a game. It’s unimportant. It’s menial. At the core, it’s super-human specimens dedicating their lives to arbitrary rules based on arbitrary boundaries for the sake of our entertainment. Writing about these things is fun. It allows me the means for creativity provided by a news cycle without the pressure of reporting real news, and sometimes it — wrongly, I might add — fuels a sense of worthlessness I feel within myself that compels me to attach that worthlessness to everything I do, including the words I create. That works, right? Sports aren’t mundane, just worthless. Unfortunately, that line of thinking is troublesome as well. Basketball is a metaphor for life and in being such a thing, it forces us to consider and take heed to the adages we so often take for granted. Keep shooting, JJ. Keep going inside, LeBron. Stay true. Try. Try harder. Just keep on keepin’ on. Sports are important, so much so that each inconsequential reaction is worthy of every gut-wrenching, mind-draining emotion or word I’ll ever spend on it.
The everlasting rhythmic qualities of a season are as such: to begin, a sense of hope prospered by the enchanting glow of two zero’s and with a dash in between them; in the middle, obscurity in the face of unanswered narratives, tiresome dialogues and diminished consequences and lastly, the end; that insatiably immortalizing answer to all prior questions, dangerously simplifying the frenzy and gleeful confusion of eight months past. That’s where sports and life differ the most. We never really get to see the end. Rather, we see the end of certain phases. And even then, we mock the seemingly trivial concerns of the past; adults disparaging adolescence, seniors offering their sage advice to those same 40-something’s. Still, there’s something to be learned here, like maybe we should take a step back in order to avoid overreacting to every waking moment. “In the grand scheme of things, does this really change anything?” “It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over.” Again, it’s impossible to drill quotes from the internet into your head, useful and wise as they may be. Especially when you’re 19 and every mistake feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s a funny age to be, 19. We’re relaxed but at the same time, we’re constantly rushing for no reason. We want to feel a sense of achievement, often before we’ve felt the sweat and blood of real, damning work. We’re lost; consuming information more often than we’re actually learning anything and we’re overwhelmed. Luckily, over the course of countless two-and-half-hour intervals and hundreds of meaningless final scores, the clichés become easier to fundamentally understand. 82 games reminds me that one doesn’t matter and that no matter what I think about for the next 20 minutes, the sun will still rise the next day. We all pine for a deeper, omniscient kind of success — immortality in some form or another — 82 games reminds me that even in the world of sports, where literal immortality is an achievable end, the journey, despite what people tell you, holds the highest esteem in our memories.
My problem is I’m always sifting through things, compiling lists and looking forward to finishing them — trying to induce myself to reach the end. My mind races; I become very caught up in this stuff and it sucks because a to-do list is never really finished in that it never runs out of ways to discombobulate and speed up your thoughts. 82 games reminds me the journey is the part worth remembering and the end is just a conceptualized vision I have for a final, conclusive intersection between satisfaction and joy (or something to that effect) that’s never existed and never will. And it’s probably a good thing. The twists and toils of real life, while maddening, deafening and ultimately, tiresome will always be accompanied by greater rewards.
Slowly, you begin to realize that these games reinforce every cliché you’ve quenched with the same irony to which you eagerly retreat every time you’ve had to feel the brunt of being tested, although sincere deliberation could have saved your life. Because sports are a metaphor for everything. If you allow it to, a sporting match can put life’s most burdensome topics — death, war, love and struggle — into simplified, more finalized and answerable terms. As long as you remember these things aren’t exactly the same; that sports are still primarily entertainment and real life will always be accompanied by complications while bereft of endings, there’s a lot to take away when you’re paying attention for 82 games.
You learn what you like and what you believe in so you develop a certain value system. Some of these philosophies stay with you throughout your life, always stubbornly, while others make a quicker exit than the Nietzche-driven existential crisis you picked up during your first semester at the liberal arts institution of your choosing. You’ve learned that you have to make a few tough adjustments along the way — maybe trading a fan favorite — or else you’ll perish.
You learn that sometimes you have to shut your mind off and do what feels right; throw caution to the wind, consequences be damned. Just shut up and play. You learn that you have to let some things go because while games have final scores, life doesn’t. You learn that it’s okay, because some things are meant to be open-ended and some stories are better left unanswered. More importantly, you learn that life doesn’t provide you with a clear game plan for winning because life has no clear winners and no clear losers.
You learn that it’s important to be innovative and fearless in the eye of a challenge but that recklessness rarely leads to overblown triumph like the climaxes of movies would have you believe. Most of the time, the shot that starts the engine for Tracy McGrady’s 13-points-33-second’s marvel clangs off the rim and seals a victory for the other team. You learn that sometimes the climax becomes a crippling aftermath, all for the sake of decisions you never really wanted to make. You learn that history’s conquering acts of heroism often involve allowing someone else to take the role of the hero. You learn that Kobe usually won’t hit that shot. You learn that progress requires a fine balance between creativity, carelessness and predictability that no one ever really masters.
You learn that the whole of life is just a gigantic struggle between deciding when to be selfish and when to be unselfish. When to shoot and when to pass. When to drive the lane with reckless abandon and when to set the offense. You learn that these things are as simple as they are impossible. It takes experience, it takes a cerebral, Chris Paul-esque sense of everything that’s happening around you. It takes the skillful ability and willingness to do both at the blink of an eye.
You learn that it takes a lot more than what 99 percent of us are given. You learn that you’re supposed to fail. Statistics suggest that on a yearly basis, 29 out of every 30 people fail. If you’re not failing, you’re probably not even playing the game. You learn that sometimes the things you love force you to think about the final score, so you have to learn how to push back and force yourself to continue doing the things you love despite the unlikeliness of your dreams. Again, you learn that this doesn’t diminish your love but that this is simply the nature of things and that in life, even when it comes to matters of love, you create your own silver linings.
All in all, you learn.