Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Sports Fraternity

While there are other opportunities to “network” with other people outside sports, my husband the jock introduced me to the largest fraternity out there.  Yes, sports.  It was how we found our real estate broker (Lisa Owens with Reality Trust – she’s awesome, by the way), how he found contractors, and how he got some job interviews.  Other interest/obsession – based or profession-based fraternities seem wan in comparison to the sports fraternity.  Somehow, weekly knitting groups or even annual science fiction conventions don’t provide the same degree of camaraderie or scope of networking opportunities sports do.

My husband, who tends to serve as my example to illustrate everything I know about sports, plays both pick-up and organized basketball in the community and through his work, playing with both people he’s known for years and an ever revolving and evolving list of others.  He’s been doing this for all his life, basically.  He tells me there’s always people interested in shooting hoops, and he’s living proof of it.  The people he plays with span a large swath of the populace in different professions, different walks of life.  And they all bond over basketball.

Even as a boy, sports was my husband’s key to surviving a lot of new schools; he and his family moved around a lot when he was growing up, but he was able to circumvent a lot of new-kid hazing; he tells me his first question when he showed up at a new school was, “When are try-outs for *blank – fill in sport currently in season*, and who do I speak to?”  Once he joined a team he became part of the “fraternity”.  It helped that he was a good at sports.

Over the years, he’s also been able to gauge other people by playing team sports with them.  Playing basketball with co-workers at his job has provided a lot of relevant information regarding how they play with each other in the cubicles.  The analogy is straightforward: do they buckle or fade out under pressure, hog the ball, take ill-advised shots, commit hard fouls, dispute referee calls, or are they unselfish with the ball, aware of their own ball-handling strength and limitations, have good court vision, rising up to the occasion with “ice-water in their veins” under pressure?

Certainly businesses have business-speak versions of being a good team player, so it shouldn't be surprising that there’s correlation between competitive team sports and a functioning business; and, while the ostensible talk in business is all about cooperating, as in allowing the company to make money, get ahead of its competitors, provide some product or service, keep employees relatively happy, in that order, the reality is that there will always be competition amidst the employees as each must show how he/she is contributing to making money, getting ahead of the competitors, providing outstanding product or service, and being relatively happy.

Arguably, competitive sports are an accurate analogy to a lot of other aspects of life in this dog-eat-dog, dog-play-with-dog world.

So where does that leave, well, me?  Still here, with not-so-great eye-hand coordination.  My husband tells me that sports is an inclusive rather than exclusive fraternity, however.  Although my main skill would be bench-warming, he assures me that if I were genuinely interested (a big “if”) I would be welcomed.  And I would even get contractor referrals if I asked.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Some Rules are meant to be Broken (or, Playing by Some of the Rules)

I suppose it should have been a job for Captain Obvious that part of team sports strategy – and a successful one - is intentional violation of rules in order to gain an advantage over the opponent.

I was under the mistaken impression that rules in a game were meant to be followed.

I’ve consulted with my in-house expert (my husband, the sports fanatic and jock) and he explained this universally applied strategy as it pertains to basketball.

For the first five minutes of the game, the players’ job is to scope out the officiating referees, see what fouls they call and what the players can get away with.

Then they play the game accordingly, getting away with what they can.

This can include moving screens, hip checks, holding in the key, among other strange terminology my in-house expert rattled off quickly, and which I could research more if I were really interested.

Of course, officials will call some of them, a number of them, but with enough infrequency to make the effort pay off.

The closest analogy I can think of is that competitive game of commuter traffic.  Drivers racing to get to work will speed, not come to a complete stop, make an illegal turn, etc., so they can beat everyone else to work, but only if they deem it unlikely that they’ll get caught by police.  This is not behavior I endorse, of course.

I’ve been impressed with the acting ability of some basketball players, who, after committing some foul, looked shocked and indignant that the referee even thought them guilty.  I’ve also been awed by the “flopping” players (eulogized outside sports in This American Life in a 2010 story,“Crybabies”), who could consider a second career in Hollywood, as they didtheir best to draw referees’ attention to real or imagined fouls.

On a side note, although Shaquille O’Neal does not have the reputation to be a flopper, I’m glad that for the most part that he kept his day job rather than pursue a more earnest career in acting (his role in Kazaam is illuminating).  He did humanity a great favor.

Of course, I have to mention a famous quote of his (but would I know of it if my husband wasn’t a sports fanatic?): when asked if he visited the Parthenon during a visit to Greece, O’Neal reportedly said, “I can’t really remember the names of the clubs that we went to.”

Interestingly, the rule-breaking strategy changes when it’s pick-up basketball, which is self-refereed.  In pick-up basketball, the player calls his/her own fouls, and the unspoken, ingrained code is to call judiciously, sparingly.  If the player calls fouls for all but the hard ones, the ones that can or already did do physical damage, the player may be perceived as, basically, a loser, and no one will want to play with him/her anymore.  The overall consequence is that pick-up basketball is very rough, very physical compared to a refereed game.  More rules are broken, and with more regularity.

Pick-up basketball is similar to what commuter traffic would be like without any police enforcement.

I would go so far as to say that the game of basketball expects players to bend or break rules (I don’t think this would surprise anyone), and its system of counting fouls, implementing penalties to the team a means of both allowing them and providing rational consequences.  On the whole, an individual “personal” foul costs a lot less than a speeding ticket.

While the unwritten sportsmanship code also expects and endorses some rule-bending and breaking, my expert emphasized that flagrant (i.e., high risk for causing injury to others) are not considered proper basketball etiquette.  Aside from physical dangers they may incur, as far as I can tell they convey no further advantage to the performance of the player or his/her team.  Players who regularly engage in this type of behavior are looked upon more as a liability.

My husband has a gruesome story about retinal detachment and having his orbital bone chipped during pick-up basketball.  That was a flagrant foul.

So I think it’s safe to say that the rules about rules in competitive teams sports like basketball are a lot more complicated than, say, a board game like Monopoly, though perhaps one of my young nieces would disagree.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sports Commentary from Wife of a Sports Junkie

Welcome to my writing blog.

I’ll begin this with a review of my credentials as wife of a sports junkie.

I don’t play competitive sports and never will, unless forced to.  The last time I participated in competitive sports was when I was around twelve.  I swam in the city swim team because my older brother swam.  He was really good.  I sucked.

I was further traumatized by junior high school physical education.  Not only was I lousy at everything and shocked by others exulting in things like batting basketballs away from me, but the forced communal showering reminded me of being in a concentration camp.  Did I mention I hated PE?

I was one of the geeky Asian-American kids usually found in the library studying or reading, or practicing violin or piano.  By the time I was in high school I discovered Doctor Who (the Tom Baker era) and started wearing a very long scarf and an old wool coat to show my geeky enthusiasm for the Fourth Doctor.  I might have just gotten a tattoo on my forehead reading, “GEEK".  (To my fellow geeks, there's this cool site on the Doctor Who scarf, with instructions and everything.  But you probably know about it already).

Needless to say, my interest and awareness of competitive sports at any level was minimal to nonexistent.

My husband, on the other hand, discovered basketball, in addition to baseball and football, when he was about six or seven years old, began playing all of these in and out of school, and also started playing tennis when he was thirteen. He was and always will be a confirmed jock.

When we first began dating, I was aware that he still loved playing basketball and tennis.  Or maybe I should say he was obsessed.  He played basketball in his work and the city league (he proudly reminds me he won city league championships one year), and pick-up ball at the community center.  When he wasn’t playing basketball he was playing tennis.

He also watched a great deal of sports, though he kept the extent from me until it was too late.

I also noticed he spoke what sounded like English but was filled with strange phrases, things like “missing the bunny,” being in “someone’s poster,” shooting “from the parking lot,” and filled with references to certain historic sports events and athletes I was completely unaware of.

How we managed to even tolerate each other and eventually marry might seem far-fetched, but I have to add that, despite being a jock, my husband was also an English-History double major in college and quoted Sartre on one of our early dates.  That won my heart.

The longer I have been with my husband, spending quality time with him, me knitting, him beside me watching ESPN or some sporting event, the more I’ve come to appreciate that he belongs to a subculture that I can only partially comprehend, but which I find rather fascinating, much like an anthropologist might.  That is the world of competitive sports.  He’s been my window into this strange, often baffling world.  He patiently listens to my observations and commentary, and answers my questions.  Of course, I’m often seeing things he doesn’t, like the fact the ESPN commentator, Digger Phelps, always holds a highlighter pen that matches his tie, or the fact that Tim Legler carries a passing resemblance to the rapper, Vanilla Ice (“Ice Ice Baby”).  His response to these things is typically, “I didn’t notice.  I – uh – don’t really care.”

I find that even though I’ve now watched a good deal of sports with my husband, learned a great deal about basketball and tennis in particular, as well as begin to understand, and, God help me, use, sports vernacular, I still feel like an outsider, never quite getting the accent right, as it were.  I think this is because I still don’t play competitive sports, and, if my husband isn’t around, I’m watching a period drama, not ESPN.  The incongruity between my non-sports way of thinking and the sports junkie, though, continues to fascinate me.

So my credentials include my ignorance and geekiness, and having a husband with expertise as both jock and sports junkie.  I thought it would be fun to post some of my observations and commentaries on sports.  To be continued...