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How Basketball Has Been My Medicine

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Stars of Summer Basketball TeamPHOTO: JORDAN KRAVITZ

It was the summer of 2003, and we were playing in the championship game of the Stars of Summer basketball tournament at Hampstead Park in Montreal. With about five minutes left in the game, my buddy Trey, a former NCAA Division II star, did what he arguably does best on a basketball court – he stripped a jump-shooter down low on the defensive end, and took off like a locomotive for a fast break layup down the left side of the court. The only man back for the other team was a long-armed, capable defender, and by no means was this scoring opportunity a given for Trey. As I saw Trey bolt down the court, I did what comes naturally to any player in my position in that situation – I took off as well to fill the lane down the right side of the court.

That summer, I went through the peaks and valleys of dealing with, what seemed like at the time, a slew of seemingly unrelated health symptoms. I wanted so badly to get to the bottom of what was going on, and so I thought about, analyzed, Googled, and tried anything and everything imaginable. I tried so many things that I thought could be “it.” And by “it,” I mean my smoking gun. I tried foods, herbs, supplements, meditation, chanting, intense medications… you name it. None of it worked, and it was discouraging.

I can’t possibly express enough how grateful I was, and still am to this day, for the game of basketball. Furthermore, I have a lot of gratitude for the mere fact that even during the toughest of times, I was able to employ effective enough techniques to get myself to the point where I could compete at what one would call a very high level of play. The basketball court has long been my sanctuary – a place where I could be one of the guys, and forget about any health woes that I was experiencing. And it was a place that provided a certain something to me – a very particular value that I couldn’t find in other areas of my life.

As I filled the right lane, I made brief eye contact with Trey. The one defender back was a player with whom Trey had a long-standing rivalry, and knowing that Trey was an absolute Einstein on the basketball court, I knew that he knew that this player would take the challenge of stopping him very personally – to the point where he might perhaps even ignore someone else filling the lane. In team sports, especially basketball, the trust that you develop with your teammates can literally make or break your chances of success.

I was by no stretch the best player on our team. In fact, I wasn’t even our second or third best player. And if memory serves me correctly, I’d made only two of my six or seven shots up until that point. But I had one thing going for me on the basketball court that day – I didn’t over-analyze or allow myself to get into my own head. I did so much over-analyzing and second-guessing off the court, that I simply didn’t have the capacity to be that way on it. I could miss a wide-open layup or airball a jump-shot, and come back down on the next possession and unconsciously shoot again.

To the point about trust however, I felt as though I had Trey’s at all times – in fact, we all did. Trey was our version of Lebron James, in that he insisted on always making the correct basketball play. I could only imagine if he were in the NBA, how basketball pundits would have given him flak for not being selfish enough at times.

Trey drew his defender as close as he could, and in the most fluid of motions, bounced the most perfect pass to me between his legs. I caught the ball and extended to go up for the game-tying layup. At 6’0, I could slap the backboard while making a layup, but I’d been around the game long enough to feel that this defender, at 6’5, would adjust quickly and attempt to swat the ball away. I released the ball quicker than I normally would, and felt his hand slap my wrist a quarter of a second after the ball left my hand.

The two sweetest sounds in basketball then filled my ear drums – the referee’s whistle – indicating a foul, and the glorious steel swish of a basketball hitting metal mesh. As soon as I turned around, Trey was there to greet me with a high-five and a slap on the ass that was commensurate with his obvious level of excitement.

Years later when I would finally begin to listen to the messages that my body was sending me, I couldn’t help but think about basketball plays just like this one. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to feel. There’s a feeling inside of you that tells you exactly what must be done in a given moment. It’s how I knew to release the basketball a split-second earlier than I normally would on that fast-break play. It’s also how I knew when a certain food didn’t agree with me, or when a relationship wasn’t quite right.

It can be incredibly valuable to research and educate yourself on your situation, so that you know the options available to you, but sometimes you have to just let yourself feel. Over-analysis leads to paralysis, and the last thing you need in your journey to incredible health is to be frozen in place by thoughts that go against what you feel in your heart and in your gut.

In case you’re wondering, we lost the game and the championship that day. But for 48 minutes I did nothing but feel. And the feeling I felt most was alive.

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