From a Not-So-Good Basketball Player

written in Feb 2018 after my last season in competitive basketball


April 26, 2020

(4 min read)

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This is to my first love…

The first time I picked that orange ball up, feeling its seams and craftsmanship, I didn’t know what was ahead of me. Ever since the third grade, I had never been a good player. All I knew was to stop the person in front of me, simple but difficult, because that was all that I could do and I loved doing it. All I knew was that I wanted it more, I wanted to win more, I wanted to work more. From seeing the rim like it was unreachable, from double dribbling every time, from trying to prove myself once and once again, from crying and crying because of basketball, to making those same stupid mistakes in high school varsity games, to realizing the rim was no longer far away, to doing moves that I saw on TV, to still crying and crying about basketball, I changed as a player, but I had never truly changed. I still defended the other team like every game was my last, I still dove on the court like those were the times for me to shine, to fly.

All of a sudden, this third-grade student grew a little taller, a little stronger, but still not tall and strong enough, and went into high school games. The other team saw this Asian kid coming up, yelling, “Oh look, Jeremy Lin is on the court!” And the Asian was thinking, “This Jeremy Lin is about to kick your ass.” And I did, at least sometimes, and other times I tried my best. I loved the fear that I inserted into my opponents. I loved it when their teammates avoided passing the ball to the people who I defended. But I also loved my struggles, my broken-ass jump shot, my far-less-than-great crossover, that foul on a three-point shooter when we were down five points with two minutes left, that airball from the corner, those turnovers from failing to see the defenders. But most importantly, I learned to appreciate my two knee surgeries that marked my stubbornness and stupidity not to quit the game even after my closest people tried to convince me to do so. My life on crutches reminded me daily to get back stronger than ever. The four scars on my knees motivated me to overcome any fear and doubt. I loved thinking about going back onto the court at every rep when I lifted weights during rehab. I loved the court burns and bruises on my knees and legs after practices and games, knowing that I did what I was supposed to do. I loved the feeling when I hit a buzzer-beater three-pointer, gotten an and-one layup, assisted my teammates out of nowhere, and was crowded by my teammates. I loved everything. I loved everything.

Out of everything that I loved, though, I loved you most, Basketball. You were there when I first came to the US and was bullied. You were there at 6:30 am when I tried to fix my broken-ass jump shot. You were there when my team and I were all dying from the sprints, drills, and scrimmages. I am sorry for never becoming a good player, but I gave you my all. I may not have gotten all the glory, cheers, and other traditional validations of success, but I leave you knowing that I succeeded within myself, because I gave you my all. This is from a not-so-good player to a beyond-good game filled with the Kobe Bryants and Stephen Currys of the world. My name will be forgotten, maybe never even remembered, in this game, but I’m fine with that, because, as I said, I succeeded within myself. I will always remember the blood and pain, the sweat and tears, the smiles and laughter, and the GAINZ (with the capital Z).

I can never have enough words to write about you, Basketball, but now I need to and want to move onto the next chapters of my life and try to find other things that I can metaphorically bleed for. Before I do that, though, I just want you to know this: You taught me that hard work matters much more than talent. You pushed me beyond my limits, and I will always carry the lessons you taught with me.

See you later, if I do ever see you again!

Richard Zhang #59, #3, #23