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10 Takeaways: A lifelong love of basketball

A journey with the game I love

This was supposed to be 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Bucks. Maybe even a 10 Takeaways that inspired hope for the rest of the season after a big Boston road win.

As you all know by now, the NBA season is suspended. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says that will last for at least 30 days. But Silver also admitted that it could stretch possibly beyond that.

But I want to keep writing and 10 Takeaways is a good way to keep doing that. It’s therapeutic for me. Plus, it’s also kind of my job!

So, 10 Takeaways will look different over the next month, but they’ll be here every few days. I hope they bring you some diversion of whatever else you are dealing with and help to put a smile on your face.

First up, here’s my journey through a lifelong love of basketball!

1. I was born into a basketball-loving family. Football, basketball and baseball. Interwoven throughout was playing soccer. As you may know, I grew up in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. That meant in the winter there wasn’t much else to do but play and watch basketball, while waiting for the Red Sox to start again in the spring.

The Patriots were terrible for a large majority of my youth, so from the time the Sox season ended in September (or very occasionally October), it was all about basketball. Thankfully as a kid, the Celtics were pretty good as I fell in love with the game.

2. Despite watching a ton of basketball and growing up on the Larry Bird-era Celtics, I didn’t really like playing the game very much when I was very young. I was that kid who avoided things I was bad at and gravitated to what I was good at. My love of basketball was initially neck-and-neck with my love of WWF. In many ways, they were all just larger than life heroes to watch a few times a week.

Then, middle school hit. I had a crazy growth spurt and sprouted up to almost my current height by the end of sixth grade. I was now one of the “tall” kids and that meant playing basketball. Being tall had its advantages! I was able to grab most of the rebounds and I could actually score. Well, after four or five misses sometimes. Yes, I was the youth-version of Enes Kanter.

3. Things really changed when I was going into seventh grade. My dad put up a hoop in our driveway. From that point forward, basketball was more than a game for me. Basketball was now my life. Every single day, I would race home from school to get up shots. I’d put the porch lights on and the lights in the rooms on that side of the house to give me just enough light to shoot by. Unless you asked my mom, who was always screaming it was too dark!

If you grew up in the northern hemisphere, you’ve also shoveled your court to play ball. The lead picture on this article isn’t the hoop I grew up with, but it might as well have been.

That little court became everything to me. Bad day at school? Shoot it away! Break up with a girlfriend? Get a game together!

My friends and I would wage epic games of up to 5-on-5. And this wasn’t a big driveway! We broke so many windows on that side of the house that my dad eventually put plexiglass in. the court also only went as deep as just past the foul line. That’s a huge reason I became a very good free throw shooter. And my best shot became the corner three, long before that was a thing, because it was the only spot to get distance for jumpers in our driveway!

I also spent a lot of solitary hours on that driveway. Fortunately, my dad realized my height was probably me being an early-bloomer. He encouraged me to work on my ballhandling. In between amazing comeback victories led by yours truly, I’d dribble the air out of the ball.

Dribbling, shooting, throwing the ball off the backboard for rebounds. It was all stuff i could do by myself. That spoke to the introvert part of my personality.

4. The first organized team I played on went 0-16. We were absolutely terrible. And I was part of that. I quickly learned about things like the 3-second violation and double-dribbles. And anyone who was the big kid knows you get called for a lot of fouls, simply because you’re big. If I hadn’t fallen in love with the game, it would have been enough to make me quit.

The next year? We went 1-15, but that one win is still near the top of my list of favorite basketball memories. I had improved a lot that summer and I remember hitting some big shots in that game. And I clearly remember running and jumping in my dad’s arms after the final buzzer like we had just won the championship.

5. I want to talk about my dad and our shared love of basketball for a while. He grew up on the Celtics of the 50s and 60s. The years when Boston became basketball royalty. My dad also talks a lot about how there were like five channels to watch when he was a kid. The Celtics games were almost always on. He loved the team straight through the Bird-era. I can clearly hear him say “That was real basketball.”

After that, dad got busier and busier and traveled more and more for work. He didn’t have time for the game. As Boston fell from the top of the standings and the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls replaced them, my dad was out.

Oh man have we had some battles over the years over Jordan. Dad thinks he ruined the game. Let’s just say I feel differently.

But you know what we never battled over? My games. I mentioned my dad traveled for work. For a lot of my life, my dad was home one weekend a month. If that weekend aligned with an activity of mine, he was there. Oftentimes that meant he came straight from the airport to the gym. Having now been on both sides of that equation, as the child and the parent, I know how much that means. I never miss one of my daughter’s games or activities. I know what me being there means to her.

6. While dad might be wrong about Michael Jordan, he was right about my height. I grew only about two more inches following seventh grade. That lack of height, combined with a lack of talent, changed the game for me. I continued to play through high school, but I was never going to be on the Celtics. I pretty quickly realized that I would never play beyond high school.

I’ve always had a good amount of self-realization. I can be very honest with myself. Basketball was no different. I wasn’t a very good player, but that never changed my love of the game. I started spending more time watching and talking with my coaches. I would go to camps and quiz the coaches and players about everything but the drills we were doing. I was learning to love the game from a different angle.

7. Following high school, I immediately started coaching. By the end of college, I was an assistant coach at the high school I went to. I loved coaching. The process of working with your players on something and seeing them finally get it was an incredible rush. One of my former teachers called it a “coach’s high” and it’s perfect. Quite simply, I learned to love the game in a different way.

8. Sometimes life takes twists and turns. Another love had captured me while I was finishing my degree. I took a semester off in the fall of 2000 and left the cozy confines of Massachusetts and spent five months working at Walt Disney World in Florida.

For the first time, I was away from home. And for the first time, basketball wasn’t as big a part of my life as it always had been. I would still play some pickup, but I was working at night when games were on. By the time I returned to Massachusetts, and to coaching, I loved the game but Disney had my heart too.

9. As life would have it, Disney and basketball intertwined for me in my next big phase in life. I made the decision to move to Florida when I graduated. This was in late-spring of 2002. As I moved to Orlando, the Celtics were making a very unlikely run to the Eastern Conference Finals. I remember planning my drive down to Florida around games. That Celtics team kept me connected to home. And that only strengthened my bond with the game.

In late-2006, basketball life and Disney life would intersect again. By this point, I was a newlywed. My wife and I were figuring out our life together when the company moved us to California.

Florida was one thing. I could be home in a few hours. Family and friends came to visit regularly. My wife’s mom moved to Orlando to be close to us. And Celtics games were on at a normal hour for 90% of the season. California was a different deal. And we were being plopped down right in the middle of Lakers country.

That year though (on my birthday!) Danny Ainge traded for Kevin Garnett. And thanks to Tivo, I was able to record the games and watch when I got home. By the time we were moved back to Florida in April of 2008, the Celtics were on their way to the NBA title. Once again, basketball was the normalcy in my life.

10. It was when we got back to Florida that I decided I wanted basketball to be my career. At least at some level. I picked back up on learning the CBA and salary cap inside and out. I started talking to coaches and scouts to refine my eye for the game. I was an avid poster on the RealGM message boards. That connected me to the editorial side of the site and then I started writing. Everything kind of exploded from there. Just a few weeks ago, I was able to leave my nearly 20-year career with Disney to make covering the NBA my full-time job.

Now? Like a lot of people, I’m scared. My parents are still in MA, but are in their late-60s and both have long-standing health issues, and there is very little family around to assist them. My family here in Florida is healthy and should be fine, but my wife works for Disney. It’s an uncertain time for the company, as the parks are shutting down for a while.

Me? For the first time in my life I don’t have basketball immediately at hand to get me through a rough patch. But you know what? The game doesn’t really stop. It just pauses for a while. There are lot of things we can write and talk about. We can look forward and we can look back. We can talk about ideas to change and better the game.

And when I get really down, just like when I was a kid, I can grab a ball, find a hoop and shoot it away.

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