I recently rediscovered basketball. I used to play, back in high school. I was on my school team. Volleyball had been my intended target when I’d gone for tryouts, but after picking up and passing a stray ball that had made its way to the Volleyball court, I got hooked. Basketball became my first love where sports was concerned. Despite not quite having the height for it, I learned to hold my own on the court and soon got quite good at it.
That didn’t keep me from playing Volleyball though. And football and badminton. I loved the outdoors and most outdoor sports, still do. Actually, I’d rather participate than watch a game though. Not that I find it boring. I like watching the players, the way they make the game look effortless, their skills and talents on the court or wherever the game is being played, whatever game it is. But the thing is most times, say 7 out of 10 times, when it comes to sitting down to watch maybe a football match or a basketball game, the ADD I was never born with kicks in. It takes will power for me to sit through an entire match without fidgeting. It’s like sitting through maths class, its only interesting when your best friend is sitting right next to you, distracting you when the teacher isn’t looking. I can successfully sit through a game but only if I can play word games or Candy Crush on my tablet at the same time. Those are my distracting best friends in this case.
A hectic college schedule did not afford me time to play as much basketball or Volleyball as I would have loved. I did get to play Volleyball for my platoon during my 3 week NYSC orientation camp in Benue state, the only highpoint of my time in camp.
Enter 9-5 job. Doing any form of exercise on a daily basis feels like a tedious bore and a punishment. Going to the gym was starting to look more and more like the way forward. That was when a friend of mine told me about a basketball court she goes to play most Saturdays. I was thrilled. After all this time I could play ball again. It sounded like a fun way to get a good workout. So, after months of procrastination, one cool Saturday morning in January, I decide to head down to the court to get my game on.
I can never forget my initial reaction when I stepped on the court that morning. I almost froze and turned back. Not that there was anything shocking about seeing guys play basketball, I had just never been in the midst of so many sweaty, half dressed guys in one place at once. The court was crawling with them, different shapes and sizes. Fat men, tall men, muscular men, skinny men, men whose boobs had boobs, grey haired men, toned and buffed up men, men with tripod pot shaped bellies etc. And in the midst of all that testosterone was my dear friend waving me over. I hadn’t thought to ask her if there were other females who also played. It didn’t take long to find out I would be the only other girl asides her to play on that court.
When it was time to play, complete klutz was an understated way to describe my performance. I was beyond rusty from years of not playing, coupled with the fact that these guys played real good and were freaking intimidating. I spent more time trying to stay out of their way than I did actually playing ball. By the time that set was over, one side of my face was smarting cos my teammate had accidently smacked or elbowed my cheek. I would be sore for days. I didn’t bother waiting to play another set. I knew if I were ever to set foot on that court again it would get a lot worse for me before it got any easier. I knew more often than not I would be the only girl on the court. That was ok. But I would be the only 5ft3 girl hustling for basketball in the midst of 9 towering guys. Goodness! What did I get myself into!
That was 4 months ago. Several Saturdays and tutorials later, they could safely tolerate having me on the court. The little rat they indulged just because. Believe me; I do not mind that at all. It’s been tons of fun and the guys really aren’t that bad. But even so, I still walk to the court most Saturday mornings with butterflies playing basketball in my belly, hoping with all my heart I would suck less than I did the Saturday before. It’s not that I don’t play well enough, but when you’re the only girl on the court, even if the guys make worse calls than you do, yours is still more pronounced just because your gender is foreign to theirs. Some of the guys cut me some slack, while others subtly get in my face about it. Big deal. I’m here to stay and play and I pay same as you, so deal with it.
The guys are from different works of life and all come to ball for the same reason as me; they love the game and it’s a fun way to workout.
But that’s not the only reason I keep going back. You see, before actually experiencing a basketball game live on the court, I had no idea how testosterone, adrenaline, and polar personalities made such a dramatic explosion when mixed together. When this happens I just sit back and enjoy the live entertainment that takes place. Boys will be boys. Only now their grammar is older and experienced. When they get into it, squabbling loudly and vigorously over an overly ambitious player or a ref’s bad call, their veins standing at attention, completely disrupting the game, it really is a sight to see. We’re here to enjoy the game and have a good time. Obviously, it’s an easily forgotten fact. When grown men become screaming little boys, me and my little self sit back and enjoy the show. That’s one of the highpoints of my morning on the court. The other is when I make a basket, which sadly, doesn’t happen very often. Being the smallest female on the court I’m a very easy target. Consequently, when the ball lands in my hands, the opposing team rush me like wildfire on dry brush. So, now I don’t get the ball as much. Intend to rectify that.
My friend, queenie, has played with the guys long enough to master the art of playing aggressively. What you lack in height and gender on the court, you make up for in aggression. Lol. Works all the time. Even some of the guys tell me to watch her play and learn to be as aggressive. I don’t have a single aggressive bone in my body, I bruise easily AND I trip on my own feet sometimes. I’m sure learning to be aggressive should be a walk in the park.
Despite all these shortcomings and other hindrances, I love the game and I love to play. I have successfully given up sleeping in on Saturdays like most normal 9-5 workers. I wake up 5am every Saturday morning just so I can make the first set. I bear every fall and bruise happily so long as I can keep playing. (Once caught a ball with my face cos the sun was in my eye, hurt like hell) It’s fun. It’s free. It’s my release.