The love of my life is basketball.
I have had many successes and disappointments in life, many loves that have come and gone, but the one true love that has stuck around has been the game of basketball. Basketball to me is life, it’s an escape, an art, a passion; but mostly its love.
It is unlike any other sport, a true reflection of life.
Like the 24 hours in each day, every possession in the game has 24 seconds, be it on offense or defense. I was first introduced to the game around the age of nine or 10, on the concrete court of the Ismaili Jamat Khane (Mosque) parking lot in Atlanta, Georgia.
You see, my family had moved from India when I was eight years old. Fitting into the American culture of the 90s, where Tommy Hilfiger, Dockers, Nike and the number of buddies on your AIM Buddy List defined adolescent boy’s social status.
It was not easy.
I was raised in an Alpha male environment, where cliques served as warring social countries.
Every so often, we had to fight the “cool” kids (I literally mean fight) to be accepted in some way.
Even the girls had chosen sides due to allegiances formed through childhood friendships, romantic relationships, or family ties. So, for me, coming from a family where my mother and father worked blue collar jobs, such as a gas station clerks and taxi driver, fitting in was not going to be easy.
Enter the love of my life, my saving grace: basketball.
In the back parking lot of our religious center were two 10-foot basketball hoops, where all of the boys, regardless of age, clique, social status and skill played together.
This is where I felt safe, I felt I belonged.
Not because I was good (though I am pretty average) but because the sport brought about acceptance, brotherhood and inclusiveness.
It was really simple: become relatively good at one aspect of the game and no one would be able to tell if you could actually play. I honestly don’t recall what my forte was at that point. This inclusiveness however, was the genesis of my love and it continues to evolve along with my life.
A big part of my life from the ages of about nine to 13 is a big blur, mostly due to the death of my father.
My few vivid memories of that time revolve around basketball. During my adolescence my relationship with my father was just that of a young boy’s admiration for the male figure in his life.
However, my relationship with my mother is and was very different and has also evolved over time.
These vivid fragments of memory are of the 1996 and 1997 Chicago Bulls teams.
I remember very clearly, my mother and I watching game six and the final seconds when Toni Kucoh picked up the loose ball—that Scottie Pippen had managed to strip from one of the Jazz players—and dunking it in to seal the victory and the fifth Championship.
That Bulls team was my true introduction to basketball.
What an introduction!
I recall watching the Bulls game with my mother a few years later after Jordan had retired, when she made the following comment
“Doesn’t the Bulls offense just seem out of order now that Jordan is gone, and Phil Jackson isn’t whistling?” (translated to English)
My mom loved it when Jackson whistled; it was a very acceptable act in India for one to whistle in public.
Her seamless comment opened my eyes to the deeper order and connection of the game of basketball. This is when the basketball went from just a sport to becoming the ultimate reflection of life for me.
Basketball became an art.
Basketball, like life, is not brutal; it’s fineness.
Even the suffering we see around us has a soulIn the Holy Quran,
God says: “Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere.” Verse 2:155—Pickthall
Now, I am not comparing human suffering to the game of basketball—I am saying there is a soul behind it that makes it refined.
Basketball, unlike football, is a dance.
Football is scripted, timed. I still find beauty in football, but it is not as free-flowing as basketball is. Once the ball is hiked in football you follow a scripted route or run and hope that the defense bites. I would compare football to a movie, classic or flop. It’s all about acting.
Basketball is much more abstract, it is about intuitive communication and the chemistry in basketball takes years, if not decades, to form.
Think about some of the great interpretative dances that exist and how they are performed; the dancers are in sync with each other, their subtle movements in the background add great subconscious detail to the observer.
The speed, fluidity of movement, the endurance of the physique, all work hand in hand.
This is the same with basketball.
Once the ball is brought down the court, the motion is set. Everyone has to work in tandem in order for a play to work, be it as simple as giving the ball to the best player and getting out of his way.
In his book, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, Phil Jackson talks about various different approaches he has taken to the game of basketball, from his playing days to tenures as a coach.
A large part of his approach is based on mindful meditation, which focuses on living in the moment in order to achieve “peak experiences.”
This peak experience is the stuff that life is made of.
The moment you fall in love with someone, or seeing your child being born, acing a test, intense orgasm during sex, connecting to nature, or that “ah ha” moment when you have realized something.
All these experiences are a culmination of the interconnection of mass. spirit, and energy.
As a basketball player, there have been many occasions where I have had these “peak experiences.” I can struggle the whole game, where I am not making a shot, have no energy, am the smallest on the court, the slowest, or whatever it maybe, but as long as I hold true to my natural skills, I always know that I will hit the big shot when needed.
For me these experiences have become a channel for letting go of my life, my thoughts, my worries and my burdens.
I connect so deeply with the game of basketball that I cannot go more than a week without feeling the touch of a basketball.
Ever since I moved to Chicago, I have been playing basketball on a regular basis. For me this escape has become my prayer.
Though I may not play every possession with the same intensity, the joy is never any less. A switch is flipped in me when I am on the court and I am instantly zoned in.
Like prayer or meditation, the game has days where it tests you with many ups and downs, but in the end never leaves your side. It beckons you to trust in yourself and your natural abilities regardless of how awful things maybe going. It requires that you think of the team and put aside your ego. It teaches you unity and loyalty. It forces you to accept nature and gives you the ultimate happiness once you have accepted your natural role.
You can relate this to family, love, natural selection, what ever you want but in the end, the game is about happiness through acceptance and understanding, not passive aggression.
Basketball as a sport, is the ultimate medium to connect with the divine.
Anyone who has played the game with intensity and passion over a routine period of time will tell you that there are days and moments of clarity that the game provides you. As if someone or something else was working through you. These are active out of body experiences that players experience.
As in life, basketball too, changes you as you get older.
Whether you are a player or an observer, the appeal of the game changes from aesthetic to poetic. You learn to appreciate the deeper sense of the game.
The struggle that a player goes through to win or to just keep his career alive is more translatable. Be it as simple as relating your diminishing skills to that of an older player or growing into an adult with your favorite player.
It reminds you over time, just how limited youth is.
With every win or loss it reminds you just how short lived joy and pain are. It reminds you that every possession, like every moment of the day, must be lived and played.
Over the years I have found that the essence of the game: transcendence, is the most beautiful aspect.
Isn’t this after all what life is about? Learning how to play your role in love, family, work, and other relationships with joy and true happiness?
Transcending ego to reach the ultimate.
Basketball is many things. Basketball is hurt. Basketball is struggle. Basketball is love. Basketball is work. Basketball is joy.
Most of all, basketball is love!
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Imtiaz Kalani
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
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