Basketball Boy Gets Out With the Ravens

We had shared pizza and ice cream and our favourite examples of good news. It was our Saturday evening antidote to fearful headlines and breathless predictions of imminent disaster, the ones that lead so smoothly, so ridiculously, into pitches for cars and entertainments. And then everybody took off early for a serious dose of music-as-medicine, so I was free to sneak off to a ballgame. Whee! I was a free man in Ottawa / I felt unfettered and alive / There was nobody callin’ me up for favours / And noone’s future to decide. (Apologies to the divine Ms. M.)

Carleton Ravens basketball is a great sports story, grinding toward a fourth straight national championship and building on their crazy run of success. Tonight, against the Waterloo Warriors, their undefeated streak hit EIGHTY-TWO. They’ve lost a couple of early-season exhibitions over the last few years, but in league and playoff matches they haven’t lost in 82 straight contests. They have no dominant post players. (Haven’t had during the whole run.) They are outsized nearly every night, yet they almost never get outrebounded. This year they don’t have a true point guard, and there’s nobody you’d call a scoring machine or a magical passer. And it doesn’t seem to matter a bit. They defend maniacally, they shoot fearlessly, they play together.

And I can get into this stuff, lived it for a long time as a high school coach, but tonight I watched the game as if it was played in an aquarium and I was outside it. I remembered clearly what the fishbowl was like, and what part of it I had once inhabited. I easily recognized all the species swimming inside it, but the experience felt distant. (Or I did.) Hmm. So this is basketball. Right. They take it so seriously. Coach Dave Smart is a drama, all expectation and insistence and disbelief at his players’ failings, even as they dismantle an opponent. The relentless quest for the meaning of performance. It all looks so fun and familiar, but I felt so far away.

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