Basketball is my favorite sport, though I’m 5-foot-11, and the only hops I ever had came from a brewery.
My greatest organized basketball achievement was swishing a jumper from the deep corner in a middle school “B” game. But instead of getting deserved credit from my “A” team friends watching from the stands, they instead ripped me for being a gunner.
Obviously, you don’t forget a thing like that. Fortunately, I learned later in life that people remember results, not the thought process or lack of one of those who criticize them.
My worst basketball achievement was later in life. It was when I severely sprained an ankle in a weekly Monday night game of out-of-shape adult men without great basketball skills. But that taught me a life lesson that’s useful for those from 8 to 80: Never severely sprain your ankle if you have a third-floor apartment in a building without an elevator.
If that didn’t put me off the game, I’m not sure what could. I’m covering the Iowa men’s basketball team this season. I like the assignment for many reasons. Such as:
1. The game is played in two hours, not three-plus like football or forever-plus like postseason baseball.
2. Unlike in football, basketball players don’t hide behind helmets. They don’t wear padding. They don’t huddle after every play. Although, I don’t understand why teammates need to slap hands with a free throw shooter between foul shots. Why that started is a mystery. Why it has continued is confounding.
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3. Football is a militaristic sport, or certainly wants to be. You probably know the great George Carlin riff comparing football to baseball. Football has bombs and blitzes and aerial assaults and ground attacks and bullet passes and field generals. Baseball players just want to go home. Et cetera. Well, football is marching bands. Basketball is pep bands. Football games have military jets fly over the stadiums. Basketball games have T-shirt cannons.
4. Sure, college basketball can be rigid at times, too. I’m not 100 percent behind any sport where the coaches are the focal points. Has anyone ever bought a ticket to watch a coach? But even with the suits in charge, the game is still jazz.
Yes, you run set plays, but there’s always room for improvisation within the arrangements and players are lauded when they succeed at it. When something goes awry after the snap in football, it’s called a broken play even if it gains yardage. “Broken” isn’t a compliment.
5. You rarely hear a basketball coach say he or she has to look at game film before answering a question about the contest that just ended. They know what they saw, and they discuss it freely.
6. Basketball coaches and players are generally more candid and indulge themselves in far less coach-speak and player-speak than football people. Football coaches, for reasons I have yet to understand, love to talk about “football players” and “football teams.” It’s like attaching the word “football” to something gives it status and even makes it sacred. It’s very strange.
Basketball players don’t do that. You never hear a basketball coach say “That was a great basketball play.” There’s a pact between the coach and the public that we understood it was done in a basketball game by people playing basketball.
7. I live in Iowa and I’m a sportswriter by trade. If we didn’t have an ample amount of basketball in the winter, I’d have to either move or stay put and get a real job. Which means I’d have to move. Which would mean selling my house, packing and moving my stuff, getting a new place to live, and the most challenging thing of all, making new friends. No thanks!
But I’m not hardheaded about it. If the Garden Island newspaper in Kauai is willing to double my salary, pay all moving expenses, and get me a sweet deal on a hammock, we at least have a starting negotiating point.
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So anyway, unless I get an icy tap on the shoulder from my employer or the Grim Reaper, I’ll be The Gazette’s guy on the Hawkeyes’ beat this autumn/winter (and spring if they go deep into the NCAA tourney or NIT).
The last time I was a beat writer for Iowa basketball, the Hawkeyes went 30-5 and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAAs. Now that I have a little more experience in this racket, I figure I can take any team I cover to a Final Four. But I could be wrong.
And now, let’s proceed. The Hawkeyes play Guilford College Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. As David Letterman said before each installment of “Stupid Pet Tricks,” it’s just an exhibition, not a competition. Please, no wagering.
One last thing: There still is an ample amount of football left this fall. See you at Purdue on Saturday, barring one of those icy shoulder taps beforehand.