There’s something about stepping onto the hardwood that makes you forget about everything else going on in the world.
You see that when Steph Curry goes into heat-check mode, pulling up and knocking down triples from the other side of the San Francisco Bay. You see it when J.R. Smith takes shot after ill-advised shot, strategy and game situation be damned. Though the court can be a place of respite for paid professionals, who face trade rumors and scrutiny on a daily basis, it can also be a haven for everyday citizens.
If you happen to be a resident of the East Coast, chances are you’ve been blitzed by snow this winter. Mother Nature has been especially cruel this year, complicating work commutes and generally making life miserable.
No time was this more evident in my home state of Pennsylvania than earlier this month, when an early-week coating was followed up by an ice storm that devastated the southeastern region. Hundreds of thousands of people were left without power, forcing many to take refuge at various impromptu shelters during the state of emergency.
As someone who lives and breathes the NBA, it wasn’t the typical laundry list of utilities that I missed the most. Forget having heat or being able to light up a room on command–I missed League Pass, the lively chatter of my Twitter feed, and the voices of Marv Albert and Steve Kerr. Without devolving into an extended list of “first-world problems,” being disconnected from all the basketball-related resources that have become a part of my daily routine put me off-kilter, to say the least.
I realized this as I lay awake one Thursday morning, staring at the ceiling, more curious about the results of the previous night’s Heat-Clippers game than the temperature inside my house. With what little juice was left in my cellphone, I dialed up my gym and got the best news of the week: their power was on.
The sight of a lit-up L.A. Fitness was almost comical in contrast to the surrounding area. It was positively Vegas-like, a shining beacon in the middle of an otherwise dusty desert. Streets were littered with splintered trees and poles, shrouded in darkness without the usual glow emitted from businesses and lampposts.
Dodging all the debris seemed pretty silly until I was on the court, surrounded by the familiar sounds that fill gyms worldwide. The squeak of my sneakers, pounding of the rock, and the beautiful swish sound after a made shot filled my eardrums, taking me from a winter warzone to the “happy place” Adam Sandler retreats to in Happy Gilmore. (We’ll just pretend that there wasn’t an onslaught of back-rimming thuds to go along with all that goodness.)
Unlike on a usual Thursday morning, the gym was packed with people, each eager to share their tales of how the storm had impacted their lives. Coolers of food and drinks resting in the snow? Check. Restless pets tearing up the house? Check. All had their war stories, and were out and about hoping to find a momentary respite from the cold on the same 94-foot stretch of wood paneling.
Those stories quickly devolved into the chatter that populates basketball courts from the inner city to the ‘burbs. Rather than worrying about my dog and the state of the items in my refrigerator, I was calling out screeners and looking for outlet passes after grabbing rebounds. I became lost in a game, having a blast simply by running up and down the floor with people I had never met.
Hours later, I was replaying on-court moments in my head, oblivious to the predicaments facing me out in the cold. It wasn’t until I reentered my house, the same frigid air trailing me inside, that I remembered why I left in the first place.
Sometimes we get lost in basketball’s web of narratives. Whether it’s the (unintelligent) argument over LeBron James‘ clutch-ness, dissecting what the word “superstar” really means, or debating the merits of tanking, fans of the sport take the discussion seriously. Try to tell the legions of Kobe fans why Michael Jordan was a far superior player to the Lakers star, and wait for the vitriol that flies back at you.
But at their core, sports–particularly basketball–are an escape from what can be an unforgiving world. It’s fitting that it’s one of the few sports where the competitors aren’t shrouded in body armor, putting their strengths and flaws in plain sight.
In a 24-hour news cycle, it’s easy to underestimate basketball’s impact when we’re constantly surrounded by news and minutiae about it. Just don’t downplay its importance for our collective psyche. As the nine guys on the court with me will tell you, it’s much more than just a game. Sometimes it just takes an ice storm to remind you.
What does basketball mean to you?
Follow Kyle on Twitter at @NeubeckNBA.
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