I remember being eight years old and loving basketball. I loved it not because I particularly enjoyed the game, but because at eight I couldn’t sit still for any length of time. I lived in snow country, where the snow piles up to the windows and higher during winter. I had to do something with my energy and so my parents bought me a little nerf hoop. We stuck it above a door frame where my running jumps left me an open runway to land on.

When the NCAA Tournament began every March I would cut out the bracket from the paper and pick my winners. I always chose teams like Temple and Duke because I thought they sounded like cool names that had something to do with knights. And I always liked the States. I thought they sounded like underdogs because obviously the schools must have run out of names and just tacked on the state part. My favorite teams always won, of course, in my nerf games against myself. It is too bad ESPN wasn’t there to record some of my highlight dunks. I had the rim rocking.

In Junior High I tried out for the basketball team because I felt it was the best way to impress the girls. At the time I was terribly skinny (Put some black eye shadow under my eyes and I would have looked like a crack addict.), but I still made the team. Most basketball players at that age were those freaks of nature who grew faster than everybody else and showed off their newly grown mustaches in the locker room every chance they got. The only times I got into the game were when we were winning by twenty points and there were five seconds left on the clock. That was embarrassing. On the bench you could hide. Everyone’s eyes were on the game. But for those five seconds you reminded everyone that you were on the team and that you were only good enough to go in for five meaningless seconds and maybe be lucky enough to touch the ball on the inbounds pass. Needless to say, the girls weren’t impressed.

I played all through high school, at least during the practices. It wasn’t until I went to college in Indiana, where basketball is a religion, that I really began to find a love for the game and found that the game was beginning to love me. We used to play pickup ball all the time. Between classes, before dinner, after dinner, after church, whenever it wasn’t raining too hard and or the snow was shallow enough that you could shovel off the court. I was bigger by that point and could shoot the lights out. Playing against your dormmates made it even more fun because all night you could brag about how badly you had beaten them. And then you could do it all again the next day.

I really came into my own after two years in Japan. I was big compared to the Japanese, but I also had an American style of play. I was aggressive and thought I was better than them. That confidence led to ability. It was a lot of fun being one of the best players on the court. I returned to America after playing there for two years and continued to play ball in various places. Over the years, I had learned my strengths and learned that often in basketball, a smart player can beat a more talented player.

However, as the years passed, I began to notice my skills diminishing. I used to make cuts toward the basket that I could no longer make. I got tired after only one half. I was no longer able to dribble by players and my soaring jumps no longer quite made it to the rim. Age began to steal my ability. Now, I haven’t been on the court in years. I often think it would be fun to get back out there, but I haven’t seemed to be able to find the time. Maybe it is the inclination.

I still love the game. But since I rarely play, I am left to enjoy my basketball from the couch in my living room. That is why March Madness is so much fun. It brings back so many memories and lets me pretend I am still on the court.

© Seth Crossman