If it pleases the court
Today we're going to talk about basketball. I know, I know. The fat, white horror writer fast approaching his 40s is going to try and talk about sport. Not just any sport. Basketball. The fast paced, money spinning game that has millions of people all over the world shouting at their TVs over the squeaking sound of trainers on wood.
Now, don’t worry, folks. I’m not about to lecture you on the rules or the history of the game. I’m not even sure how many teams I could name if I tried. The only full game I’ve ever really watched was in Space Jam. Oh, and that one in Futurama.
The reason I'm bringing up basketball is because I went to high school in the early 90s. Don’t laugh. It was one of those retro decades, that began with a 19. They're very in now. Just like all the sleek, relatable, intelligent decades that came before it. Before the smartphone plague. Before reality TV ruined real TV. Before millennial meant anything other than a threat to our computers. Which were larger and slower, back then. All the great decades with a little character and class started with a 19. The 60s, the 70s. Erm…the 80s. I’m sure the first half of that century had its moments as well, but there were so many world wars and other issues to contend with before Grace Slick asked us if we wanted someone to love.
Anyway, there was a bit of an obsession with looking American back the in 90s. To be fair, it wasn't new. It'd been going on since the 50s, but there was a strong vein of it back in my high school days. The fashions were leaning towards expensive US brands. Hip hop was starting to feel less like a novelty and more like a way of saying something. Big hair, big anthem stadium rock was mutating into grunge and metal on our radios and t shirts. American TV was dominating what we talked about and middle class, white kids wanted to play basketball instead of football. Maybe just to justify the fortune their tamed Mummy and Daddy had spent on their latest pair of Nike Airs.
I can’t remember exactly how it came about, but our high school PE teachers (or torturers, to give them their correct job title) asked what sports we wanted to play every week. Cricket wasn’t impressing anyone. Hockey just armed us and made us run at each other. Football was for the football team and rugby was for the kids who wanted to hurt the football team and could get away with it. There was a skein of kids who didn’t fit into those groups. Kids who assumed they were also cool. Maybe it was all the beatings and psychological punishment they handed out. Which was their sport, really. The sweet smell of success (and cheap aftershave applied liberally) must’ve gone to their gel topped heads…as their fists and feet went to our throats. They wanted basketball.
Unsurprisingly, these splendid little darlings got their way and we started playing. Badly, I might add. They ran. Their squeaked their trainers. They missed the basket over and over and over again. They shouted at each other. It was as boring as any other form of physical exercise school made us go through week after week. I did my best to get out of it, but the forged notes didn’t always fool my torture teachers. Sometimes I was dragged in and I loathed it. Rugby, I could wait near the back and watch the more enthusiastic kids get used as target practice. Hockey, I wasn’t actually that bad in goal. It turned out flinching reflexes could pay off rather nicely when you were defending the line. Basketball, though, was running and aiming. Two things that are very much not in my wheelhouse. My comfortable wheelhouse, with the large library and an assortment of comfy sofas facing the home cinema. I have a steakhouse in my wheelhouse, but no one there is talking about co-ordination or dribbling. It took me time to understand something, though. There is a loophole hidden in basketball. In 90s, British high school basketball, anyway. If you simply stay in the middle of the court and change direction whenever the gaggle of players run past you, you look like you’re playing.
I’m serious. Thanks to their lack of ability to score and their desperate need to get the ball to the other end for their own attempt, they were constantly squabbling back and forth. It looked like something out of a Scooby Doo cartoon. If I stayed around the centre and just kept turning to face the game, no one noticed. After all, none of these hormonal sociopaths was ever going to pass to me. They had their little clique if they decided they didn’t want to take this chance to demonstrate their alpha status to anyone who happened to be watching. They were only going to through a ball at me if they were looking to leave a mark. So, I stayed in the centre. I turned in the direction that the pack moved, but I never followed them.
The reason I'm bringing this all up is that it struck me in a meeting at work this week that I’m still doing the same thing. For better or worse, I’m not the person driving to shoot for the hoop in a work environment either. I’m not a fast passer or a long reach defender. I’m no Michael Jordan in the high speed, competitive sport of Office Monkey Ball. Nope. I stay in the centre of the court and face the direction everyone else flusters off in, knowing that they’ll come running back the other way in a moment. After all, every go getter whats a shot at the other team.
Yep. It turns out work is high school.
We're talking work here, not a career. If you don’t get the job you always wanted, if you don’t end up behind the desk you always planned to sit behind, then work isn’t a career. It isn’t a calling. It’s a group of people you don’t need in your life, surrounding you in a place you don’t really want to be, whilst the people over you dictate what you have to do for so many hours a day, so many days a week. Only we don’t get six week holidays and we don’t get half terms. We do get a wage, which is something. But we also get bosses and the bosses of our bosses who want us to pretend to be happy to work there. It's like those assemblies. School is cool. Religion is cool. Doing well is cool. Well, those assemblies still exist. They just changed format and the subject. And, just like those days that began with someone calling our name, we still get lumbered with people who are happy to be there and people who are happy to stand on top of us so they can be seen. The squabbling, the alpha status debate, the task waiting after the task we still have to do. It's all still there. It's all still going on.
So, there we sit, in a meeting. The boss wanting to demonstrate leadership, so they can tick that box on their own appraisal forms. The boss’ boss maybe chipping in to look important and show they are awake, or maybe they're just playing Sauron and allowing their presence to linger in the room to keep us all in check. The enthusiasts run from end to end, trying to shoot for something they think is important. Whilst the pack follow them, if only to be seen as following them. Me, I’m staying in the middle. After all, the team needs to keep someone there. With a game moving so constantly between attack and defence, you need someone watching the midfield. They might be daydreaming about their new novel or where they’d rather be, but no one is getting past me without me changing to direction to watch them go. I'm like one of those hunting dogs. I point to your prey and leave you to shoot for it.
All of which means high school did accidentally teach me something. Damn. What'd you know, kids? It looks like they did score a point past me after all. The system works. Or, at the very least, it looks very enthusiastic as it snatches the ball and runs back past me, the other way.