TROUTMAN: A Basketball Amen


My buddy, a cheerful dude whom I hadn’t seen in years, met me at a coffeeshop, and after filling each other in about our kids, we leapt into a conversation about the holy subject of basketball. We heaped praise upon Chatham County’s own Drake Powell’s deft crossover dribble and gave thanks for the inimitable Steve Nash’s behind-the-back passes of old. As Tar Heel disciples, we hoped fervently for R.J. Davis to continue his miracle-working pick ‘n’ rolls, but good Lord, all due respect to the Wolfpack and D.J. Horne.

My friend and I had a second cup of coffee, and our talk shifted to how the game has changed. How the mimicry of the demagogues Steph Curry and Caitlin Clark — bless them and their divinely-kissed shooting arms — have evangelized the masses into believing that a thirty-three-foot jumper is a high-percentage shot.

But I don’t wish for you to think that my basketball-loving friend and I are puritanical curmudgeons in love with a bygone era. We spoke of our own brief hoop careers with fondness, not bitterness. Each of us has come to that point in life when you realize that your best is not enough and that you actually cannot be anything you want to be. The reality of human finitude and limitation will bring you to the bench, if not your knees.

But though our playing days are long over, our reverence for the game has only deepened with the passing years. We are not alone in this. Robert Hass, former U.S. Poet Laureate, said that “poetry, like playing basketball, is a way of life.” Make the extra pass. Follow through. Be a good teammate. These are crucial lessons in life, serving you well after hanging up the Air Jordans.

For everything, there is a season, and, in terms of basketball season, there is a time to play and a time to watch. I am happy to sit in the bleachers or tune into the broadcast. Though big men display impressive power, I say that point guards, like Elliot Cadeau, are nearer to God with the same abounding urge to distribute grace to others. There is something mystical about the unspoken connection between players that results in an alley-oop slam dunk. And basketball, at its most glorious, is like church—holy moments when the team transcends any individual and binds people together in love. A sweet amen is the delicious swish of the net.