When I finally got good enough, around age 14-15, to play pickup basketball at the local park, I started out where everyone starts out: on “B” Court.
Finely Playground had two full courts.
“A” Court was closest to the street, where the grown men would park their cars. There were a set of benches next to A Court with a big tree behind them, providing shade on the hot summer days.
A Court was where you got the best players, the most competitive games, the fiercest arguments over calls. A Court’s reputation attracted NBA players and guys from other neighborhoods who were more than willing to take in-game disputes off the court.
B Court offered none of the above.
So, I started out on B Court.
I began to find my game and learn what I was good at. I developed a reputation as a great spot-up shooter when left open. I liked playing the low wing spot in the standard 2-3 zone defenses that were played at Finley; from there I could swoop in and use my length and athleticism to grab rebounds. My long arms began to prove disruptive whenever I defended at the top of the zone.
Progress was happening — slowly, but happening.
There was a kid named James from the neighborhood who I came to be familiar with because James and I both attended E&S high school. We were the same age and in the same grade. James had to walk the two blocks from his street to mine to catch the SEPTA bus to school every day (the bus stop was right in front of my house), so we became friends kind of by default.
I’d know James before that, but we’d never had much reason to interact. James and I were from different blocks, and he was never around for the long summer afternoons I’d spent at Finley trying to develop some game. Coincidentally, we never had a single class together at E&S (which was a small school; our graduating senior class of year 2000 had 200 students). But over time, we came to know each other’s personalities.
I was quiet, reserved, and rarely spoke up. No one knew my personality, including me. The only time I “came alive” was in playing basketball, and I was still years away from being good. Girls at E&S would ask James about me and why I was so quiet when asking me had produced very little beyond a sheepish grin.
James, on the other hand, was, compared to me, out there. Talkative (sometimes too much). Outspoken. Very willing to draw attention to himself, and comfortable with it when it came. Natural with the females, and they returned his energy. James possessed several traits that I wanted.
Coming to E&S had been somewhat of a shellshock, to tell the truth. The school was about 90% Black, and a magnet school (i.e. you didn’t have to be from the neighborhood, but you needed high academic marks to get in; we kids referred to places like E&S as a “Smart School”). I was used to both. My middle school had also been a magnet school. But, these kids at E&S were… edgy.
Not misbehaved or dangerous. Just… less refined that I was used to. Many of them didn’t have two parents at home like I did, some not even one strong parental figure. My peers could play and hang outside on school days. They could go to the Gallery Mall or the movies after school without calling home to get permission. Many of my E&S classmates were young adults. I was very much still a child.
Anyway, James played basketball at Finley too. But not the way that I played.
At age 15, most of us teens still had strong hoop dreams. Penny Hardaway was the guy who everyone wanted to be back then, or Grant Hill. Iverson had us all working on crossovers. We all would take some time to practice on our own (some more than others), as the neighborhood coaches had preached to us that that was the only way we could get better and maybe go somewhere with basketball.
I never once saw James on a basketball court alone, practicing. I don’t think he ever saw himself doing that either. James was like most of the older men at Finley: you saw them playing in the evening pickup games, and no other times.
As long as I’d known anything about him, James seemed to always hang with older guys. He rarely hung with me and the other teenage neighborhood players. Accordingly, James didn’t even play on B Court too often.
James did B Court only when he came to Finley alone or with the other young bulls from his block. He didn’t want to leave his friends. But, many other times, I’d be in the midst of a heated B Court game when James would come strolling by, on his way to A Court, with some older dudes that I didn’t know.
“Why you still playing on B Court, Dre?”
James would say this in a finger-wagging kind of way, admonishing me for my lack of ambition and courage (A Court was, according to the old heads, where you had to have heart to play).
On B Court I remained for a few summers, until I was a damn B Court All-Star. I started really looking forward to the games on B Court, because I knew I would dominate — especially in the summer, when pickup games are the place to be in the hood. I looked at the tough games against grown men on A Court, and compared that to my star status on B Court, and didn’t see a need for change.
I remember James doling out this B Court admonishment to me probably once a week every summer until I became a permanent A Court fixture at age 16.
Every time — every single time — I have consulted with or coached someone, it’s because they want to go to a new level. Which makes sense. No one needs help staying the same.
Make more money. Grow my business. Expand my game. Get more clients. Build my brand.
Most people, when I ask them, aren’t content with merely getting better on B Court, though. They want to graduate to A Court. Well, that’s what they say, at least. And the thousands of people out there who don’t come to me (and maybe not to anyone else either) for help would all, of asked, say that they want to play their life and business on A Court.
So why is B Court so goddamn crowded?
Who willingly leaves something that’s working — especially when it looks like it’s going to continue working well into the future? Most of us wouldn’t. Most of us don’t. We hypnotize ourselves into staying the same, then wonder why we haven’t gotten better.
(Possibility of) Failure
Going to A Court might not work. You’re starting from the bottom again, perhaps. You may not be accepted. You may show your wares on A Court and no one’s impressed by your game. You look back longingly at your B Court stardom and wonder if they’ll give you your old job back.
Some people actually never think about leaving B Court. They get comfortable there, grow roots and stay there until they die. These people aren’t bad, stupid or wrong. They just don’t have the ambition to advance. I’m OK with that if they are.
You make the Leap to A Court, but you have no idea how to operate there. You’re not prepared for what’s being asked/demanded of you. You’re not ready with Plan C & D when Plans A & B have not worked. You thought your talent and confidence would do all the heavy lifting.
The most important aspect, after the vision. Commitment means you’re in it for the long run, however long that run may be. It’s do or die, this or nothing. Funny thing about that level of commitment: it almost always produces results.
Why, though? Because there are no other options.
Look out for a future Work On Your Game Podcast episode on this topic.
- Work On Your Game: Use The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate Your Game In Business, Sports, and Life
- Bulletproof Bundle: My 4 Best Books On Mindset
- #1120: How To Find A Great Coach For Business, Sports Or Life
- #1117: Why You Must Make Moves Without A Plan
PS – I’m giving a FREE, live event at Books And Books Coral Gables (Miami) on June 22: It Takes More Than Hard Work. I’ll be discussing my book Work On Your Game, autographing any books purchased on-site, taking photos and answering questions in a live Q&A. Register for the free event here.