It is one one of my favorite past times; a perk of the job, so to speak.
Every Summer, I go up to the high school that I work at and let myself in to the gym. I unlock the door and turn on the lights. Sometimes I have to lower the baskets since the cheerleading team or volleyball team was in there last and I start to shoot around. Other times I have had to shut off the security system so the police don't come thinking someone broke in. I play games of "Around the World", I work on the post game that hasn't changed a ton since I last really practiced in high school. I launch three point shots, I run fast breaks. I even do a Marc Gasol impression with a few elbow jumpers while shooting with the Karl Malone-esque high release my Dad taught me. To paraphrase...
You can't jump son, shoot like this.- Jeff Mullinax
It feels right, being in the gym. Basketball was my first love after all. It was left behind once I realized not many 6'3" Centers make college basketball, much less the NBA. I have done this, going to gyms alone, since I was a kid and my Dad would let me in to schools when he was working his side job for the Park Authority. Don't get me wrong, I spent many days playing with friends, running the courts some days and getting run off of them on others. But the solitude, the ability to leave the world behind and it's just you and the ball...I love that. The shape of the basket, the smell of the gym and the reflection of light off the hardwood floor. The swish of the net (or the ball flying by the rim without contact), the clanks, the bounces and steps as I run. Just me, playing the game that I learned from my Dad, who learned it from his Dad.
It takes me back to when life was not necessarily better, but simpler. And it is a great way to get exercise and pass time while waiting for a workout.
A lot of this part of the year feels like "killing time" for Memphis Grizzlies' fans. The big moves of the off-season have been completed for the most part. Barring a trade (a possibility as has been outlined here and elsewhere but not a likelihood) or a veteran minimum signing, this is the team that will head in to camp in early October. The team has settled in to its long Summer's nap; players are vacationing (thank you for live-tweeting yours Tony Allen) and getting Team USA invites (Mike Conley for the win.) They are playing in the first ever game in Africa; Marc Gasol and Jeff Green are two great representatives for the World in that contest as they are men with both talent and character, life experience and skill.
The Summer League is over, and the young bulls did Grizz Nation proud. The Orlando champions showed some glimpses of a future that perhaps is a little less murky than some think. Marc Gasol re-signed, Brandan Wright and Matt Barnes joined the ball club and all of these moves lead to anticipation. For some, it's anticipation of another season in contention in the vicious Western Conference, which may have just gotten more vicious with the Houston Rockets adding Ty Lawson to the fold. For others, it is dread. Dread of another season of first and second round exits. Another season of a team still lacking offensive creativity and shooting. An off-season not loading up when other Western contenders like the Clippers and Rockets are leading the arms race.
All of us have in common the fact that we are waiting for whatever we perceive to be inevitable. Success or failure? It's coming, you'll see in a few months. Debates are held over conference standing in July (I am guilty of this futile exercise myself.) Waiting is just so damn hard, though. We live in an instant gratification society, a world where news hits the Twitterverse in minutes, not the days of the 19th Century or the hours of the 20th Century. This is 2015, and we want to know who is right and who is wrong right now. What is going on with the front office? Will Jeff Green be moved? Will Vince Carter take time from Jordan Adams...again?
And all the while, the team we are arguing about is enjoying their off-season.
These debates are valid, of course. The Memphis Grizzlies are entering the sixth year of this "Grit and Grind" era without a divisional title, much less an NBA one, to show for it. Sustained regular season success and playoff appearances are great, but Memphis and the Grizzlies' fan base is hungry for that next step. That difficult situation was described in my article last week; on one hand, a beloved core of players who have led the golden era of this young NBA franchise. On the other hand, it is a core that leads a roster that is "old" both in terms of literal age and style of play in the changing, run-and-gun, traditional position-blurred NBA.
We wait for that era to end, in a way. Not in the hope of it flying by, necessarily (although there are some who would not weep if it ended tomorrow.) Memphis Grizzlies fans are not dumb; those who have been around a while know that this team has had more lean years than mean years, and that those times will come back some day. Marc Gasol's re-signing and the likely return of Mike Conley for another contract likely postpone that downturn for the next four to five seasons. This particular era at least will likely end in 2017 when the contracts of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph expire (unless they both take pay cuts relative to the increasing cap.)
And even if they do, they can't possibly be expected to lead the way they have into their late 30's. Even the most hopeful Grit and Grinder knows that this run of "milking horses" and yearly Growl Towel appearances is closer to winding down than picking up. That leads to anxious tension, which leads to a sense of urgency, which hopefully leads to that greater level that I and others have written and spoken about so much. Have they done enough? What is "enough" to you? How will this end?
And all the while, the team whose potential demise is debated about in July is enjoying their off-season.
I don't make it into the gym as much as I used to. Life happens, you know? Nurseries to paint and prep for Baby Mullinax, work to do, priorities shift. When I do get to shoot around, at the end of every workout in the gym, me and my basketball go through a routine my Dad taught me. Call it a habit, I suppose. I have to make two lay-ups, one right-handed on the right side of the basket, one left-handed on the left side. Then, I have to make three free-throws in a row- he and my Grandpa HATED missed free throws...
"Here's a multi-millionaire who can't make a free throw- he should be embarrassed"- Eugene "Grandpa" Mullinax
Once I have done all of that without missing, I have to make a three-pointer. If I miss? I have to start all over again with lay-ups.
Of course, this was my Dad's way of keeping me in the gym a little longer so that I
A. Get better and
B. Stay away a little longer to get exercise or tired out before going home.
The joke was often on him, though. Because sometimes I would make the shot and take another, miss and then start over again anyway. I loved doing this; why would I want to stop? When I was younger my Dad would come back in and yell it was time to go. Of course, my response was one probably familiar to most kids and former kids...
C'mon, five more minutes
These are some of my best memories and favorite times to this day, just me and my basketball.
Just five more minutes. The world can wait.
The NBA off-season is a chance for the players who make up the Association to get time for themselves and their families, to get back to their worlds outside of basketball that waited during a grind of a season. The Golden State Warriors played 103 basketball games counting the postseason in the 2014-2015 campaign, and the Cleveland Cavaliers played 102. The Memphis Grizzlies played 93 themselves, and could likely use a break. They are using their time to get healthy, to mentor (Vince Carter with the Summer League guys in Orlando), to make a difference for themselves and for others. They are enjoying themselves and the time away. While as fans we are going to poke and prod every choice and move because that is what fans do, we would be wise to follow suit, even if it is just a little more often. Whether it's in a gym or on a beach...
The season, and world, will be there when we are done spending some brief time disconnected. I, for one, need to do a better job remembering that.
Should we stop debating? Of course not. Tweet, discuss, continue to frequent this blog for content and stay involved in Grizz Nation. As the Summer grinds along, things will continue to happen and advance. The social media interaction and online aspect is a big part of fandom in 2015. There are, however, about two and a half months between now and training camp. Who the Grizzlies are as a team won't come into full focus until December at the earliest. Talk it out, predict, but know no answers are needed right away. No need to rush to judgment; enjoy the ride.
So, while we prognosticate and talk basketball this off-season? Join me in trying to keep perspective and find some time to step away as well. Vacation, read, try to take a break from Twitter ( it can be difficult, I know.) Take in a baseball game, volunteer in your community, go on a walk with your significant other. Call your folks. Enjoy the break, Grizzlies fans. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it will be time to grind again before you know it.
And hey, if you're ever in Northern Virginia let me know. I know a gym where we can shoot around whenever we want.