A love letter to basketball

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In my mind, the seasons are synonymous with falling leaves and four-leaf clovers and early sunsets. They remind me of love and poetry, pomegranate seeds and beautiful things. I want them to be impermanent, fleeting moments that leave me dreaming, wanting, romanticizing. Let me lose them too soon, so I can love them even more.

It’s hard to romanticize a season that spans the duration of a pregnancy. It’s hard to watch the same 15 people dance around 82 games, spinning and twirling toward the basket for an audience that only cares about acrobatics like some cruel circus act.

This is why I never really liked basketball. The months that layer on top of months render individual games insignificant; what’s a single win if there are 81 more opportunities for loss? What is the point of running up and down the court, if the outcome always comes down to a missed free throw, an oversized foot, an incorrect foul call? I hate that play is entrenched in politics — whose loyalties lie where, how much money someone deserves, whose legacy will become the greatest. I hate that skill and strategy have been dumbed down to drawing fouls, and I hate that analysts will sit down and call it art.

I never really liked basketball. Everything seems so tiring, tedious and trivial.

I am the worst type of hypocrite though, and I am always drawn to large crowds, sparkling lights and the hype. This season, my boredom morphed into desperation, and I found myself courted by the NBA playoffs. And in the days I spent parked in front of the television, despite my worst intentions, I found love and poetry and other beautiful things.

It began as an inkling of interest spurred on by the names I became accustomed to hearing in the background of our living room: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Jayson Tatum. It began as the rediscovery of a player and a team I once wrote a poem for when I was 16. It began as a commitment because commitment is my pathway to love.

Call it what you want — bandwagoning, stupidity, naivety — but I committed to the Portland Trail Blazers. I like to think I made my selection arbitrarily and therefore honestly, but I am as impressionable as the next person, and I loved the tragedy of a ringless Damian Lillard. So I gave Portland my time, my attention and my loyalty, and the entire tournament was redefined in relation to the team’s success. I wanted the Blazers to win it all. I wanted Lillard to hold a chip on his shoulder and trash talk and drink champagne looking like he just got back from a ski trip. I wanted his historic 12 three-pointers and 55 points to represent something more than just a single legendary night.

He shoots like he knows he’ll make it. He is brave. I want to be brave like him.

I want to be fearless in the face of elimination. I want to learn how to lose with grace. I want my play to raise others along with me. I want the brotherhood that comes with “thank you for saving me.”

I admit: I am quick to judge and even quicker to critique. It was easy for me to focus on the clinical, bureaucratic, ugly side of basketball and completely miss the poetry, the story, the art behind the game. It is not aimless cardio — they are running toward something: a championship, a contract, a legacy. It might just be back and forth movement, but at least they have direction. I can resent it, but dirty play is merely attention to detail. Brothers play alongside brothers. People get dunked on every game. Boys dream of this their entire life.

“This is a spiritual experience.”

This season truly was.

I want to love basketball, and I think I’m already halfway there.

I love that Madison Square Garden lights up in the playoffs once every decade. I love that fans from the opposing side will hold space for a fallen player. I love that free throws are airballed on the biggest stages.

I love that this summer — the summer I felt lonely, restless, untethered, confused — basketball kept me company, and I love that when it all ends, I’ll be looking forward to next season.

Cynthia Ge covers men’s swim and dive. Contact her at [email protected].