By Matt Duncan
One of my greatest sports achievements came while playing basketball. Another came in 2009 when I played lawn bowling in Ireland, but I’ll save that for a lawn-bowling podcast that I hope to produce one day. Now, I should point out that my athletic career comes with minimal levels of competitiveness. My two main sports as a kid were hockey and baseball, always in house leagues, never in rep. Not to say that I couldn’t have made a rep hockey team in my youth (I think I could’ve made A), but my father saw such commitment as a waste of time.
My dad is a very good hockey player. He won Athlete of the Year at Sheridan College, played in Europe and has always been a top-line centre on whatever team he was apart of. “Terrible golfer, best player I ever played with,” his friends always tell me. He’d know better than anyone if his kid had the gift. So when my dad saw me skating around the rink “waving at the fans” rather than “keeping his head in the game,” he knew I was not going to progress very far in competitive hockey. To be honest, I just wanted an Aurora Tigers letterman jacket with my name embroidered on the breast pocket (All my goddamn friends had one!). Basketball wasn’t the next option, but attending a basketball camp one weekend in Aurora, Ontario, somehow happened.
Sometime around 1993, my friend Pat had signed up for this basketball camp and I felt destined to join. I have no idea why. I never really watched basketball as a kid. Remember that this was pre-Toronto Raptors but present Jurassic Park. I was so terrified of that movie, I ran out during the big T-Rex reveal. I’m still scared of The Raptor mascot, especially when he does flips.
Most of my friends who were basketball fans would be adorned with Chicago Bulls hats or Starter pullover jackets, but actually watching games was pretty impossible. Most of my basketball talents were limited to games of Bump or 21. Once basketball got competitive and defence was introduced, I got intimidated. The thought of really tall guys trying to block my shot was so, so frustrating. But I fought the whiny wiener embedded in my pouty sports soul and showed up to the basketball camp on a Friday, ready to rock.
I remember arriving wearing my Reebok Pumps. Ah, those heavy balloon shoes that ended my high-jumping career. Shoe feeling a little loose? Pump it up, babe! But not too much. Every kid who owned Pumps eventually over-pumped till they popped and ruined their shoes forever. Asking kids to be careful with their shoes is a big ask. But these shoes made me feel confident and ready to embark on a wild weekend of basketball drills and scrimmages.
I don’t remember a ton from one weekend 26 years ago, but I do remember feeling the organizers watching me. Like I was turning a few heads with my drive to the rim. I felt like my eyes separated a few inches apart and I began to resemble a young Steve Nash, making hot passes and dropping soft baskets at will. There was a prize given out to the MVP of the weekend and I wanted it bad: A pair of tennis wristbands.
Whenever I see J.J. Barea play, I feel like that was who I embodied during that weekend back in 1993. Not only is J.J. my age, but he’s also my height. Okay, I might be a half-inch taller than him at 5’10” and a half but, man, that’s who I’d be if I played basketball: A little J.J. point guard cutie-pie. Feisty, tricky, not amazing, but also reliable off the bench.
Of course I won MVP. I got the tennis wristbands and, yeah, I still have them. They’re dusty and gross and in a box somewhere. I would love to say that the basketball camp ignited a fire in me, that I became known as the guy who always played with tennis wristbands on, but that didn’t happen. As I released the air from my Pumps and felt the sweet relief of a loose shoe, I walked out of that gym feeling complete. Yes, I’d go back to playing Bump and 21 occasionally, but my fandom for basketball didn’t ignite until I began producing this podcast back in November of 2014.
Listening to Freddie and Kevin and all our guests talk about basketball, it’s like they had discovered some secret gold mine and they’re all in on it. Each episode, at first, was as if I was forced to do a keg stand for an hour, but instead of stale frat beer, I’d be guzzling in-depth basketball observations and predictions about the NBA’s sole Canadian team. And now after five years and many, many keg stands, I have become addicted to the sweet Raptors elixir.
What I’m really trying to convey to you is, if you find yourself to be excelling at something you’re mildly interested in, wait 20 years for it to really take hold and become a significant part of your life. If that’s true, then you can find me on a lawn-bowling podcast in ten years, producing a show for a comedian who is intense, insightful and hilarious.