Hey, how are ya?
Growing up, playing sports meant everything to me. Football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse—I did it all. Yet, while other kids kept getting bigger, faster, and better as they grew, I seemed to peak in seventh grade. It felt like I went from one of the better players to one of the worst. Oddly, one of my most memorable moments was when I was a benchwarmer.
It was right around seventh grade when I learned that my coordination and strength were weakening because I had Friedreich’s Ataxia (“FA”). Since I wasn’t excelling at the pace of my teammates, I had convinced myself that I needed more practice, or that I hadn’t yet hit my growth spurt. After learning about FA, I now had a concrete reason that made sense. This allowed me to begin adapting to my physical limitations. My mindset shifted. Instead of playing basketball like the white Kobe Bryant, which I had always dreamed of, I focused on having fun and playing like Brian “Scal” Scalabrine.
Scal was one of the best bench players ever to play in the NBA. He was most definitely a locker room guy, and I loved watching him play for the Celtics from 2005-2010. He brought humor and enjoyment to his teammates and fans through his comical antics on and off of the court. The few minutes of an occasional game that he played, Scal made and missed three-point shots. No matter the result, his bold attempts got teammates roaring from the bench and fans cheering like crazy in the stands. Scal didn’t care about how little he played, or what his minutes looked like. He always made the most of his time on the court.
After learning that I had FA, I continued playing organized basketball for two more years. I played with my brother and our best buddies on our travel team. However, my role changed. I accepted my place on the team, just like Scal, as a hardworking teammate and morale booster.
At the beginning of our season, we played in the biggest basketball showcase for our age group. We were facing the best competition in the state of Massachusetts. Even Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics GM, was there watching his son’s talented team. I knew I wasn’t going to see any playing time. I also knew that my teammates wanted badly to win, so I took a break from my usual clowning around and put on a serious act for them.
As a benchwarmer, the showcase wasn’t as exciting to me as it was to my teammates. But, in our last game we were ahead by eleven points. “You’re in,” my coach said to me, patting me on the back. I was confused. I hadn’t prepared for playing time. Yet, when I got off the bench and went to check in, I channeled my inner Scal.
My normal anxiousness about losing balance or falling was replaced with my new game plan: Get the ball far away from the hoop, hold it with strength, and don’t mess up. I had practiced this game plan as I figured out how to adapt my skill set to my current abilities. The idea was that if I didn’t dribble or move, I wouldn’t turn the ball over or get called for traveling.
PLOT TWIST. Suddenly I had the ball miles behind the three-point line with two seconds left on the shot clock. I didn’t want to shoot, but my teammates were yelling at me, “SHOOT IT!”
So, I launched it. In the process of shooting, I lost control of my body, fell back, and hit the floor.
Nailed it. The crowd and my teammates went berserk. The decibel level in the gym made it feel like I just hit a game winning shot to win the championship of the basketball world.
The three points were memorable, but I cared more about having the courage to take the shot. During that time, I was still dealing with the news of my FA and was still uncomfortable. I was afraid falling on the court. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of my family, coaches, teammates, classmates, and, of course, the pretty gurls.
At that point in time, I could not have anticipated the major physical and emotional changes that were coming my way, or the challenges and setbacks that would come to me. Whenever a difficult situation hit me head on, I remembered that day I shot the ball. In the moment, I was certainly afraid to shoot. But with the encouragement of my teammates, I stopped thinking and just shot. It turned out to be one of the best moments of my life.
Since that game, there have been many fearful moments in which I decided to shoot: my high school graduation speech; leaving home for college without my twin by my side; rushing and joining a fraternity; running for student body president; and now writing this blog. Telling my story is nerve racking, and required me to let it all out. Yet, after every blog I read through the comments section and get reminded why I am doing this. I hear your cheers and positive feedback after each post, indicating that I’m making shots. The cheers are really because I decided to shoot in the first place.
Some say that life is about the journey, not the destination. I feel the same way about that three-pointer. Even if I had missed, going for the shot is what I remember and is what keeps me going to this day. You don’t have to have an illness to know that unexpected stuff happens. When life throws you wrinkles, adapt and change up your game. Face whatever challenges come up, and when you are bound to take a spill, shoot anyway. Trust me, missing the shot won’t feel as bad as not going for it in the first place.
“I would go 0-30 before I would go 0-9. 0-9 means you beat yourself, you psyched yourself out of the game…you’ve just lost confidence in yourself.” – Kobe Bryant
Shooters shoot, and they don’t stop shooting when they miss; they keep shooting.