On April 12, 2023

Airing it out

I started playing competitive basketball when I was in the fifth grade. That was the first year where the elementary schools in my town (of which there were many) formed a league for intramural play. I competed for Dana School, which was located a few blocks up the road from where I lived. 

I started walking to and from school when I was in the second grade. Back then parents didn’t think twice about letting their children walk to school, but nowadays you’d be at risk of losing custody of your kids for something so neglectful. I used to think it was an oppressively long walk, but whenever I go back to my hometown and drive by that area, I’m shocked at what a short distance it actually was. 

Dana School had two of every class, from kindergarten up to sixth grade, which meant there were 12 classrooms in the three-story brick building. There was also a small gymnasium that doubled as the school lunchroom and assembly hall. The flooring was covered with synthetic tiles, which were perfect for rolling out lunch tables, but horrible for playing sports on.  

When the school announced that it was forming a team, I convinced my parents to sign me up. I was a rambunctious kid, so I was keen to get involved in an activity that kept me moving. I also had a basketball hoop in my driveway, which made me semi-skilled at the activity. 

I must have proven myself capable during preseason because I remember being thrilled that I was picked as one of the starters for our first game. I was confident, proud, and ready to compete.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I was not prepared for the spotlight.

For some reason, the intensity of a strange kid trying to take the ball away from me while my coach, father, and friend’s parents were on the sidelines yelling overwhelmed me.  

I must have lost or thrown the ball away several times because I remember deciding mid-game that being the guard who dribbled the ball up the court was suddenly not for me. I became obsessed with taking the ball out of bounds, because if I took the ball out of bounds, I was off the hook as the dribbler. 

The problem was that no one else on the team could dribble and since my coach had designated me to do it, he was perplexed at why I was suddenly bailing on my responsibility. He cajoled me to resume my role, but I wasn’t listening. 

During halftime, my coach pulled me aside and gave me a short lecture about my performance. I remember him being firm and direct, but also a bit confused. More than anything, he just wanted me to perform.

As I walked onto the court for the second half, I glanced at my father who was obviously waiting for me to make eye contact. In the split second I looked at him, he made a hand gesture that said, ‘Get your act together!’

At that point, I was coming unglued inside. I wanted to run out of the gym or hide under the bleachers, but instead, something inside of me got mad. 

The next time I touched the ball I dribbled with offensive intent instead of defensive fear. And it worked. I didn’t wait for the defender to corner me; I went at him with intensity and conviction. 

I’m not going to say I never turned the ball over again, but I did learn an important lesson about digging deep to overcome a fear.

Not long ago I was going through boxes of old photos and found an album from the 1970’s. I opened it up and flipped through the pages and eventually found eight or nine action shots from that fifth grade basketball team. I had forgotten that the photos existed so I studied them with careful attention. 

There were a couple with me shooting and a few team shots, but the one that really hit home was the image of me dribbling down the sideline with a look of purposeful intensity on my face – and my defender one step behind me. I smiled, knowing that the picture had captured a well-earned moment of success.

This week’s feature, “Air” starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, captured an epic and worthwhile moment of success in the history of the basketball sneaker.

You wouldn’t think a film about a college basketball player signing a sneaker deal in the 1980s would be worthy of two hours of your time, but it’s true. “Air” is a fantastic story, a well-crafted film, and a huge amount of fun to watch. Affleck and Damon are on-point throughout, with Affleck’s directing skills also being on full display. 

Check this one out if you love (or loved) the ’80s.  

A slam dunk “A-” for “Air,” now playing in theaters everywhere. Got a question or comment for Dom?  Email him at moviediary@att.net. 

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