By Joe Torosian
“Mom or Dad could have had terminal cancer, terrorists could have been blowing up New York, flesh eating zombies could have been eating people in the parking lot, but it wouldn’t have mattered. The only priority was the football game, and everything after the game was a decade away.”—Dale Andrade, Tangent Dreams
In 1984—I believe the day after Thanksgiving at my church—I was in a place where nothing else mattered. Not the before, not the after, not even the location. I was playing three-on-three basketball.
The game turned into an end of the world affair. We were in the “Win by 2” phase. The ball was rolling loose, one guy dove and missed it. I dove over him, and it went off my fingertips out of bounds…And I detonated an F-bomb.
It wasn’t an F-bomb whispered under my breath. It wasn’t an F-bomb that came out in the form of an exhale. It was an F-bomb equivalent to the Tunguska Blast. I mean, I let it fly with no regards to befores, afters, location, or present company.
I was 20, and by that time, that particular word was no longer in my vocabulary. But it launched like a missile and exploded big and loud. And I shouldn’t have done it, but I did.
Outside of two friends, who enjoy humbling and reminding me of this event, not one person has mentioned it to me. In fact, when it happened none of the five other people in the gym said a word, no one took a pause, no one said, “Dude, you shouldn’t be cussing like that…especially at church.”
You know why? Because we really weren’t in church, we weren’t even in this world. We were in the game. And all that mattered was the game.
I marvel at the person who talks trash about sports but never played. They make remarks about it being a stupid waste of time. As if work, art, academic competition, and the drive to one-up our neighbors (to name a few) are all righteous, holy, and pure in intent.
This stems from a lack of exposure to one of the most amazing but overlooked aspects of sports. If you haven’t played, you’ll never understand it. If you’ve only casually observed but never invested, you’ll never get it.
What is this amazing/overlooked thing?
Is it winning? Nice, but no.
Individual achievement? Tempting, but no.
Character and lessons on selflessness? The goal, the desire, but no.
The most desired place in sports, the place my old muscles and fragile bones long for most? The most blissful thing I can remember about playing sports…was disappearing into the game. Like a conscious sleep. I was awake, my eyes were open, I felt the pain in my left knee, the sweat running down my arms, and the joy of rubbing off a pick to nail a trey from the wing.
Inside the game, I was aware of everything around me. I knew the faces and tendencies of my opponent. I knew how, with a look, a turn of the shoulder, I could—with little speed—beat them backdoor to the basket. I could hear the sounds of the gym and distinguish the voices that were speaking. I could hear other players talking about what they were going to do the next time they got the ball.
Everything connected to the game was connected to me…But everything away from the game vanished. Everything. Work struggles, girl struggles, school struggles…all of it disappeared. I was in the game, the game was in me, life totally, entirely, became boxed into the happenings on the court.
The desire to win was there, the desire to achieve was there, and it all pointed to character and doing what the team needed. It was pure thought, it was absolute focus, and it was total joy to be so single-minded.
This joy was enhanced by knowing the fundamentals—in this case, basketball—and utilizing them at both ends of the court, on every shot, and on every box-out.
The fundamentals allowed me to keep focus when my outside shot was off or if the guy I was guarding was too big. The fundamentals kept me grounded in the game because there was always something to do. And there was no fatigue, no gasping for air, no running out of gas.
An outsider can’t understand this because either they’ve never played or never invested any time or emotion into something sports-related. So they criticize all of it as being pointless and childish.
What they never understand is that the person has lost himself/herself to the game. They are in a different world, and if you try to enter that world by telling them, there is something else to do, they’ll snap at you. If you try to interrupt what is going on in that world by discussing something regarding a date on the calendar…they’ll tell you to get lost.
Why? Because you are interrupting the only thing that matters.
Call a marathon runner during mile seven and see the reaction you’ll get on the phone. While they’re in this zone, this conscious sleep, you want them to talk to you about groceries or a news item? Think again. These things are as foreign to them as zoology on Mars.
Is all of this healthy? Maybe not, but is it natural? Of course.
Sports is just another outlet for passion.
How awful would life be without passion?
Passion brings challenge, and challenge brings obstacles to overcome. That passion can be for your family, art, work, finance, or God…or all of them. Passion can also be sports.
Should we always live in the other realm, should we always be guided by our passions? No, but we can learn from them and apply them to our everyday walk.
Can you imagine not having any passion at all? Can you imagine only a couch, a TV, and the “hardest” choice being what to have for dinner?
Give me passion, give me a little bit of the childish, let me go someplace else for a little while…let me be invested in something other than me…maybe even bigger than me…And let me learn.
The Dude abides…
Joe T. is the author of “Tangent Dreams: A High School Football Novel” … “Temple City & The Company of The Ages” … “The Dead Bug Tales” … “The Dark Norm” & “FaithViews for Storm Riders”…all five available through Amazon.com.
Follow Joe on Twitter @joet13b