Any accomplished explorer will give travelers to a foreign land the same counsel: learn the language. It’s good advice, whether you’re crossing national borders or sailing to the shores of a new discipline. Of course, with some languages, that’s easier said than done.
The English language and the language of basketball have as much in common as a hair dryer and a hot air balloon. Something like one can be found in the other, but any real similarities are half-imagined. And as someone new to the realms of basketball, this failure to communicate is more than a little frustrating.
Within an hour of scouring the internet in my first attempts to learn the sport–or at least learn enough to not feel completely out of my element–I realized that without some kind of Rosetta Stone I didn’t have a prayer of cracking the codes being tossed around.
Terms like post play, the key, and the head-scratching pseudo-synonyms “pick” and “screen,” left me understanding less than 50 percent of every article I read.
“The hell with this,” I said. “When the going gets tough, the tough buy a book.”
Ten minutes later I had downloaded Basketball for Dummies, feeling only a little ashamed of myself for doing so. Unfortunately, “for Dummies” or not, after reading half of the thing I still feel like I’m wandering the streets of a foreign city with a dog-eared phrasebook missing most of its pages.
All of this is to say, my efforts to learn about basketball are not going well.
I did buy a basketball though, taking the advice of several hoops fans. “Playing is the best way to learn and appreciate basketball,” they said. Since picking it up, my daughter and I have hit a nearby court every day. We dribble, I try to shoot, she chases the ball a country mile and brings it back to me.
“You’re not very good at basketball,” she says.
I say nothing because she’s too young and cute for those sorts of words.
Truth be told, playing with the basketball has helped kindle my interest in the sport more than anything I’ve read. There’s something about the feel of the thing, the act of passing it from hand to hand, and hearing the hard PANG when it hits the pavement.
I make around 15 percent from the free throw line, and every successful shot feels good. I grabbed nothing but net on two of them and found myself smiling.
And maybe that’s the take-away for this first week: not my near total failure to communicate with the natives, but my discovering the first bit of something which makes me feel like I can enjoy the trip.