I started playing ball when I was 13 and have had the fortune of playing with some of the best players of the game I know (in Pune). These guys have at some time or other said things which would stick in my head for many many years. Some were just incidents. These were simple but great lessons. This will be a rather boring post in comparison to some of the other stuff I’ve written. But it’s my blog and I feel this should have been one of my earliest entries. This is how it’ll flow – I write about the incident and then the lesson I was taught. À la Aesop’s fables.
At age 14 I was playing in what I called my home court. The AFMC. After a couple years I could beat most people at a 3 pointer contest on this court. No, I wasn’t that good by then, it was the practice there. A senior team called the 101 (one-o-one) battalion was playing against the AFMC team while I sat along the sides and watched. The 101 team would always be one of the greatest teams I’d watched playing the game. They were like synchronized dancers. They played the game with the grace of ballet dancers.
When they fell a player short and when a guy from the team asked me if I wanted to join them. I looked at him as if he’d asked me out and nodded my head affirmatively (my heart wanted to say no). Clifford was the probably the best among the team. I played with them for the next 30 minutes or so and I wasn’t even bad. The game was won and we sat down along the side-lines when Cliff turned to me and said, “I’ve seen you play on the other side with those kids – you play well. If you want to be better never play with people of your standard or below. Find better players”. That was lesson 1.
The year was 1998. I was playing in the school team at Pune region. This is where I would meet my most unlikely basketball partner. He and I played on the same team for 5 years. 2 years in school and 3 years in college. Amrit – the baby faced assassin. It was strange – I did not even know his name when we started playing and by the end of it between the both of us we had torn apart the defense of several teams. What I loved about playing alongside him was his ability to sense an improvisation by reading my expressions. We made an awesome two-some (at basketball).
Two years later – Amrit and I joined college together. A personal minor tragedy in the 12th standard results made us thick friends. We walked into the college court with two guys called Anand and Sarang playing 1 on 1. They asked if we “knew” how to play and wanted to join them in a 2 on 2 half court. Race to 20 baskets. We won 20 – 2. Anand and Sarang were the college team captain and vice-captain respectively. We found this out after we’d thrashed them and their ego. “Ignorance is bliss”. That was lesson 2.
I left this one to be the last but this was certainly the most important lesson. Lynell and I were played football with a team called Genesis. The guys decided to play at a local district level basketball tournament the following weekend. This was the summer of 1999. We were 5 guys who were to play the tournament with 2 more people from AFMC. In all a team of 7 to play a “dawn to dusk”. Anyone with any knowledge of the game will tell you having just 7 people, is a very bad idea. The main guys in that team were Sandesh and Suraj. These guys have been friend since they were like kids. They’re about 13 or 14 years older than me and carried the reputation of Stockton and Malone.
I’m going to cut this one short (realizing it is in fact very boring). So we reached the semi-finals of this tournament where we played 101. Sandesh sat by the side eating bananas before the game and asked me to chill. “Marange” is what is he said. This was a team of demi gods he was talking about. Sure enough we beat them by 1 point. I’d meet Clifford the next day and he told me Sandesh taught him and almost everyone else on the team how to play when they were kids. “Don’t teach daddy (respect the experience)”. That was lesson 3.
I can’t say I apply any of these to my everyday life. The game taught me a lot of things. The most important ones being to never give up and always have a strategy.
To think about it – basketball as a game teaches you not to use your strengths so much as to use your opponent’s weakness to win. Strange - it never occurred to me in all these years.