Hey, it’s Brown. I wrote this thing.
It’s been happening less and less as I’ve grown up, but there was a time strangers and distant relatives couldn’t get ten seconds into a conversation with me before asking if I played basketball.
I understand it, I’m around 6’4”, and part of being an adult of above average height means that you probably spent some time as a kid of just… awkwardly ridiculous height.
But even back then, when I couldn’t help but feel I was making people feel weird just by walking into a room, the answer was always no, I didn’t play basketball.
I answered that way because I knew the question people were really asking. It wasn’t “Do you enjoy a game of hoops at recess?” or “Are you going out for the semi-competitive Y-Ball league that hijacks the gym on Saturday mornings during the winter?” What they were trying to ask was “Are you playing for Norwell?”
And if you knew me, even a little bit, you never had to ask that question. Of course I wasn’t going to try out for the real team. I wasn’t motivated enough to get in shape and I wasn’t confident enough to think of the possibility of being cut as anything other than a death sentence.
I was perfectly fine toiling in the no-cut, low-stakes recreational leagues that school systems create just for kids like me, who vaguely like the idea of playing a sport and really like the idea of getting a t-shirt with a number on it.
But again, in Indiana, people aren’t interested in that. We’re the Bob Knight state, the state Gene Hackman moves to and coaches a team on a run to state finals while a town rallies around Jimmy Chitwood, and we’re the state that got incredibly upset when they instituted classes in the state basketball tournament and took away our chance to see the next Milan or the next Hickory of the first Your School.
When your state has a Wikipedia page dedicated to how seriously it takes basketball, no one’s really interested in whether or not you’re playing intramural ball in middle school. If you’re not a Knight or a Tiger or a Whatever by then, you’re out of the system, and the best thing you can do is just answer like I did, with a “No.”
Again, though, that’s a lie. I did play basketball. But, I was never any good. In fourth grade, the parents of the athletic kids conspired to keep them on the same team. That team went undefeated, my team didn’t win a game.
By middle school, all those kids had either joined the “real” team, taken up another sport, taken up girls, or basically found anything else they would rather do with their time. Those of us who were interested in the Crusader Basketball League were not exactly the cream of the crop.
The crowd of parents had thinned out, too. In elementary school, you had to take your kid because the games were on Saturdays. By the time they got to middle school, games were afterschool and you could just pick them up afterwards, when you got off work.
These games only meant something to the kids like me who didn’t have anything better to do.
In seventh grade, even with kids like me, the coaches feel like they should really teach you some plays or something. My role, again as the tall kid, was to play center, hang out in the post and try to grab rebounds. Don’t shoot. Don’t run, really, unless you have to. Inbound the ball under the basket because you can probably throw it over the other kids.
I was the most mediocre seventh-grade recreational basketball league center you will ever see. Just… there. Not bad at running plays, pretty good at standing at my spot, decent understanding that if you hit that little square on the backboard there’s a good chance it’s banking in… just average.
So, I have no idea what happened that afternoon, when our team’s point guard was heading toward the basket, the kid who was guarding him trailing a few steps behind. I went off the playbook, stopped standing around, stepped in behind my teammate and got my feet planted underneath me.
That kid who got beat on defense had his head down and ran straight into me, in what has become (in my head) the single greatest pick in basketball history. It had no bearing on the actual play (again, he’d been beat by a couple steps already) but the collision was enough that it got an audible reaction from the handful of parents who’d shown up.
The kid fell down. I stayed standing.
It’s the highlight of my athletic career, as it was, not because of the setting, or the stakes, or whether or not it’s a story I wanted to tell my great aunt at the next family reunion. It’s the highlight simply because I did something I didn’t think I could do.
After so many years of being that kid who was just taking up space in the paint, I made a real basketball play.
This Sunday, this whole Andy vs. Alex thing comes to an end, finally, with the actual bike race. It’s been a mostly silly idea from the start, and I’m thankful for Andy and for all of you for letting me have as much fun with it as I’ve had.
We’re not going to set any speed records, and chances are good it isn’t going to be that great of a race. My “training,” as it is, has not gone exactly to plan, and I’m not entirely convinced that if Welfle has a pizza delivered to my house the night before the race I’d be able to hold myself back from eating the whole thing.
But this has never been about the race, and it’s never been about the non-profits we’re racing for, and it’s never even been about me learning to ride a bike.
From the beginning, this has been about creating a place to play. While I can’t speak for Andy, I can tell you I have no business being in a bike race of any sort. The people in Fort Wayne who take cycling seriously, who want to be in real bike races, they came out for events like Parkview Cycling Festival Crit Race. And they’ve got fancy timers and they take home trophies and they put on these honestly impressive athletic feats.
Andy vs. Alex is about taking a dumb thing seriously, and seeing if we can create something cool in the process.
On Sunday, one of us is going to win a bike race. It’s not life or death, it’s probably not even really sports, but it’s something. I’m not sure either of us will take the time to sit down and write about it thirteen years later, but I know everyone involved in this, everyone who’s voted for me or for Andy, everyone who’s passed one of our dumb videos on, everyone has given us the chance to throw the playbook out the window and make something special happen.
Thank you so much for that.
Someone’s going to win a bike race, a non-profit’s going to take home some cash, and then on Monday, danee pye and I are going to get back to work, making awesome things like this that let us all forget we’re not professionals, forget that there are other people who do this better, and just make a real basketball play, or tell a real joke, or win a real race, or do anything you think you couldn’t do… for real.
Stay tuned. And thanks.