The Ultimate Summer Ballplayer

Remember back when it was okay to play ball for three or four hours every day? In the summer, you could wake up at 9 a.m. and hit the YMCA, or you could wait until the sun dipped behind the shadows and ball at 9 at night. It really didn’t matter. Basketball was all that mattered. Not bills. Not school. Not a job. Not cars or gas or clothes or girls or money or the future. Your entire life revolved around a 94 by 50 rectangle, a ball, a hoop and whoever else wanted to share it with you.

The essence.

Sunday nights during my first two years in college left me with sprained ankles, and even a concussion at one point. We went that hard. The school’s gym always became infested with locals. And we loved that. My roommate and I would stroll in, usually around 7, and find ourselves waiting to get on. Two full-court runs, with perhaps a dozen people waiting on both sides – some shooting at empty baskets, others sprawled out, leaning above the bleachers – and yet we were the only two people who actually went to school there. We had to laugh about it, still chuckle about it.

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There were college players hooping, people fighting over everything, teenagers who weren’t even good enough to make their high school’s jayvee and one kid in particular – 5-5, 150 pounds with an ugly jump shot, and with the body and face of someone who aged twice as quickly – who told everyone he was the best point guard in the city (That’s how he started conversations: “What’s up? I’m the best PG in the city.”). Of course, we didn’t have anyone like Brandon Jennings. There also wasn’t any lockout going on either.

If you haven’t checked out the article wrote on Jennings’ summer barnstorming tour, here are some highlights:

-he’s one of the very few gym rats you’ll ever find walk into a gym with a shirt that has his name on the back

-he rolls to random gyms with his crew – Alwayz Into Something (no N.W.A.) – and sometimes waits 30 minutes to get on the court

-he doesn’t fantasize about women, money or fame… he thinks about taking over the blacktop in Boston or hitting a YMCA in Houston

-he plays one-on-one against any Under Armour employee who wants it

-he’s offered a free dinner at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles for any crew who can beat him

There are a lot of NBA players who like to think – and hopefully, make you agree – that they’re basketball junkies. But Jennings is on another level. He IS basketball. He lives it. He walks it. Remember how Bob Costas once said that if Michael Jordan walked into a room, and you didn’t have any clue about basketball, you’d still say, “That’s somebody. That’s gotta be somebody.” Jennings is the same way, except with Jennings, you simply see a dude who loves basketball. He’s not the greatest player. He just has some of the greatest love for it.

Jennings is the type of cat who when he’s 55 years old, hair either graying or fading, will tell someone he’s a ballplayer. As Robert Horry said recently, “Once a player, always a player.”

In a sense, this summer has allowed us to see that. We don’t have the NBA to look forward to right now, but at least give us this. With a lockout and no real news (especially after last summer when we spent more time analyzing free agency than we spent sleeping), that’s all we have. There’s no real defense. But there’s the love of the game. The ultimate summer ballplayer doesn’t have to be the greatest. They just have to love it the most.

[Related: Dime’s (Pickup) Basketball Diaries]

The question remains: will all of this affect the NBA at all? Will we remember this summer as the point when Jennings career was jump started? Will the bad seeds of playground ball seep into the real game, and give us another ugly shortened season like we had in 1999? Maybe this whole summer will be forgotten once the NBA actually starts.

I think we are all ready for the lockout to end, and most are probably sick of talking about these “celebrity” games (I know I’m almost there). But as wrote, players will play. They will always find a way. As fans (and as players), we should be thankful for that.

Will you remember this offseason for the games or the lockout?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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