Basketball Has Been Very Good to Me

by on December 4, 2019 · 0 comments

in From the Soul, Sports

by Ernie McCray

Late in the morning, on Thanksgiving Day, I turned the television on, thinking, in that moment, of what I’m thankful for: my beautiful children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, my sexy woman, my wonderful friends, my health, my pension, so many things…

The first image I saw when my TV came on was a basketball player, dribbling right at a defender and suddenly, ever so smoothly, with grace, pulled up and sunk a jump shot right in the defender’s face.

That very shot was always money in the bank for me back in my playing days.

And, in the blinking of an eye, I was reminded of something else I’m thankful for: the role basketball has played in my life.

I mean basketball in many ways probably saved my life – from the front end, giving me a kind of spiritual place to go to, a place where I would get caught up in the sound of a ball being bounced smartly on a gym floor, where I could hear my and my teammates’ pounding feet as we hustle down the court to the rhythm of a fast-break being nicely run, on its way to being complete – when all that was going on, old Jim Crow and the other manifestos of racism in America were screened out of my mind much as a dense cloud hides the sun.

Oh, basketball kept my self-esteem intact because it’s hard to think bad about yourself when you soar and grab a basketball out of the air, like a bird of prey; when you’ve just faked some dude out of his jock and his shoes, letting you, in a mere blip in time, choose whether to let one fly or just pass him by on the fly and make him wonder why did he even try?

Racism stings less when you’re out on the floor warming up shooting layups to “Ernie, Ernie, he’s our man! If he can’t do it! Nobody can!”

The hamburgers I couldn’t buy at Woolworth and the seats I couldn’t sit in at the movies and the days I couldn’t skate at the rink, were momentarily forgotten when I walked down the hall at Tucson High, in my senior year, holding my hand out for snappy high fives, basking in the pats on my back and the kinds of smiles that came my way because of my All-City and All-State and All-Star and All-Conference and all this and that accolades.

This straddling of two worlds, one a fantasy where I was “The Man,” and the other, a true reality where I was considered “less than,” continued through my college basketball days playing for the Arizona Wildcats to cheers of “U of A! U of A!”

The town back then made it clear that I could strut around in my “All’s” all I wanted to as long as I stayed in my place. That was just life in the U.S.A.

I look back on it and I can see myself in one moment, because of basketball, inspiring children in their school assemblies and at rec centers to “Be the Best,” my elementary and junior high motto, or I’m speaking at a church about “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” or I’m seeking justice at City Hall, or I’m signing a starry eyed kid’s autograph  – and, in the next moment, a cop, mumbling about a “burglary in the area,” is demanding to see my driver’s license photograph.

Second class citizenship was always a heartbeat away. But I’d find a basketball court or gym and play a little “one-on-none” and I’d always feel a ton better when I was done, as my concerns would fade away, to come back another day, one by one. Just me and a basketball caught up in the rhythm of the game. It kept me sane. Gave me a name. Small time fame.

The things the game opened me up to as a young man, speaking, teaching, being active physically and socially and politically and seeking liberty and justice for all, I’m still engaged in today.

I can’t help but be thankful for how good basketball has been to me, good for my soul as it has given me a nice way to show my love for my community and for the world as a whole.

And the returns haven’t been too shabby. Love begets love.

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