If you’ve ever been around me for more than say, 30 seconds, you would know that coordination, agility, and the ability to walk more than 15 feet without running into something or smashing my foot or knee are not qualities I possess.
As such, if you were to say, “Tori, I laugh at the idea of you playing basketball,” you would not be alone.
At 5’9″ I’m above-average height for women, and I was taller than most of the boys in my class until like 9th grade. (The worst.)
Because I was tall, and because my dad is tall and played basketball ‘in his day,’ it was sort of just expected that I would play.
If you ask my parents now they’d say they never pressured me into playing, which is probably true, but I felt some sense of duty to it. I played in grades 4-7, and it was painful for everyone involved.
During my first summer at basketball camp (and don’t even get me STARTED on basketball camp) I was lovingly nicknamed ‘Gumby’ by one of the coaches. Because any time another player was about to pass the ball to me, I’d get all squirmy and wiggly…like Gumby.
I’m sorry, but a LARGE ORANGE BALL HURDLING TOWARDS YOUR FACE IS SCARY AND SHOULD MAKE ANYONE SQUIRMY.
(I was clearly not cut out for basketball.)
During games I’d sit on the bench with my fingers laced, white-knuckled and pray, “please don’t put me in, please don’t put me in.”
Off the court, I really did try to play the part.
I wanted so badly to fit in, and spent 5th and 6th grades trying to hang out with the cool kids, and was usually clad in Nike and AND1 head-to-toe. (More on that here.)
But I was absolutely not a cool kid, and I was an awkward and aloof basketball player.
Gumby was actually a pretty accurate nickname.
The most mortifying moment in my basketball career came in 6th grade. I played for the Tarheels rec team, and we were actually kind of decent. (No thanks to me.)
Being that it was a rec league made up of 10-12 year-olds, there were rules in-place to limit us from exposure to…violence and injuries, I guess. One of those rules was that full-court press was only allowed in the last two minutes of the game.
I had…literally no idea what this even meant. All I knew was that in the last two minutes, things got really confusing, and a little weird.
It wasn’t actually until yesterday, at the age of 29, I finally grasped the concept:
Full-court press [noun]: a defensive tactic in which members of a team cover their opponents throughout the court and not just near their own basket.
So…for the last two minutes of each game, we got to play defense on BOTH sides of the court.
It was a winter evening in 2001. I was on the second day of a three-day relationship with one of the cutest 6th graders in school, Billy Joe. (Yes. That’s his real name.) Our team had quite a few Ws under our belt, and I was feeling pretty good.
I don’t remember who we played, but throughout the game my performance mediocre, per usual. Not the worst player, scored a couple of baskets, but far from ever being MVP.
It was an incredibly close game. When buzzer rang, indicating the final two minutes, we were tied with the opposing team. Then, the full-court pressing began.
The other team was the last to score, so we’d just re-gained possession. Our point guard had the ball and was looking for one of us to get open.
I WAS OPEN!
She passed the ball to me, and I made a heroic catch.
AND I WAS POSITIONED RIGHT UNDER THE BASKET!
Guys. We were tied, with less than two minutes to go, and I was about to score our winning goal.
As soon as that ball was in my hands, I tossed it into the air. It bounced perfectly into the corner of that little square on the backboard, and swirled beautifully into the net.
When you’re down there on the court and the pressure is on, you don’t hear anything. You don’t even hear shouting. Not from your coach, or your teammates, or your parents in the bleachers. When you’re in that zone, everything else is a blur.
Even when your coach, your teammates, and your parents are all yelling, “TORI! NO!“
Things came back into focus eventually.
Once I re-gained awareness of my surroundings after those triumphant two points, I realized that I’d gotten confused with the full-court press switch. Even though my teammate threw the ball in-bound to me, all of the players were on that side of the court, and the other team was playing defense against us, it was still the other team’s basket.
Translation: I shot – and scored – for the wrong team.
I looked up at the scoreboard and my two precious points were added to the other team. We were now down by two, with very little time left in the game.
Luckily, our point guard was a rockstar, and was able to make up the points. We ended up winning by the skin of our teeth.
As soon as I had my jacket on and was walking to the car with my parents, I completely unraveled. I lost it. I didn’t even wait until we got to the car. I began bawling as soon as I stepped off the court.
“It’s okay, sweetie! It was a mistake, and your team still won!”
My parents did their best to console me.
We got home and I had calmed down a bit, so I decided to call Billy Joe. Being that this was the second day of our relationship, I thought he’d be mature enough to be supportive in my time of turmoil.
As soon as the words left my mouth, I heard cackling on the other end of the phone, and I fell right back into my unraveled state.
We broke up the next day. (He never really like me, anyways. He only became my boyfriend to make my best friend at the time jealous. They ended up being boyfriend/girlfriend for almost seven months.)
Somehow I did ‘bounce’ back from the tragedy (get it?), and even continued on to play basketball for my middle school team the following year.
Luckily, I made the realization in 8th grade that I hated playing basketball, and I’d never be cool.
This was a freeing feeling.
I remained friends with most of the girls I played basketball with, a couple of them calling me Gumby all the way through high school. I didn’t mind.
I embraced the weird, clumsy person I was (am), and I gave up trying to understand the rules of sports.
I’m a much happier person now, on the sidelines, yelling “yay sports! Go team!”
Sorry mom and dad for quitting. (Mostly I’m sorry for all the money you spent on new basketball sneakers for me every year.)
At least I finally learned what a full-court press is?
Oh, and have a great story to tell.