The Only Chance I Had To Make Something Of My Basketball Career

In Basketball, Work On Your Game [The Book]
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Scene: My first pro exposure camp. Lake Brantley Athletic Complex, just outside of Orlando.

I hadn’t started in our first game, which didn’t mean anything. The coaches at these events come in just as blindly as the players and don’t know anything about their personnel, so they pick five to start and play everyone an equal amount (usually).

I was in the game now, though, and a timeout had just been called. But, three minutes into my first game action, I hadn’t done shit.

I was playing the way I’d been used to playing in pickup games and such — easing my way in, passing the ball around and slowly becoming more assertive. I don’t know if I’d even recorded a stat yet.

One problem: that shit didn’t work at exposure camps.

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Back on the playgrounds of Philadelphia, we used to play this game called “roughhouse” — depending where you’re from, you might have called it “21” or “45.”

Roughhouse was a halfcourt game of every-man-for-himself, the objective being to get to the set score (usually 21 or 45 points) first. To be good at roughhouse, you needed a skill of obtaining possession of the ball, either via rebounding or stealing it from someone, and you had to be good at converting your possessions into points by making shots.

In basic terms, roughhouse is a playground-born game that ingrained subtle habits of selfishness in basketball players.

If you’ve never seen a game played at an exposure camp, picture the 5-on-5, full-court version of roughhouse.

Players didn’t come to these events for fun. Every single player who’s attending an exposure camp is trying to show off and show out. You’re trying to get recognized for your skills by the very people who can jumpstart or advance your basketball career. Passivity and waiting for one of your for-the-weekend teammates to get you involved in the action, for the most part, gets you nowhere.

For the first few minutes of my first exposure camp game, I was playing as if I didn’t already know these truths.

This was the summer of 2005, when I was holding down a full time job at Bally Total Fitness. Our district manager was a husky, spiked-hair white man named Rob. Rob cared about one thing, and one thing only: membership sales.

Unlike District Manager Brian at PSC, District Manager Rob’s presence at our gym at Bally didn’t make anyone nervous.

One reason was that Bally’s culture was much more relaxed; we wore sweatpants and t-shirts as our work uniforms as opposed to the business casual attire of PSC. Another was that Bally locations were targeted more toward everyday people, neighborhood-ish folks, as opposed to PSC’s come-here-after-work-at-your-suit-and-tie-job vibe.

Another reason was that Rob didn’t have to pressure us about making sales; at the gym I worked at, sales flowed constantly.

(Also: Bally didn’t hold unless district meetings for the sales staff.)

Rob’s natural demeanor made him seem like he’d perpetually just drank a Red Bull. Though he was responsible for multiple Bally locations in the area, Rob spent the most time at our location, the location that was producing the most new sales. This was probably smart strategy.

I could tell you more about Rob, but I want to get back to the exposure camp, so I’ll tell you the one thing that matters to the story.

One day Rob came to our gym and gave each salesperson a single sheet of paper that had a list of motivational to-dos on it. I only remembered two of the 10-12 that were on the sheet.

One of them was, Bloom where you are planted — a great principle for anyone in sales, as you can be stuck in a shitty area where sales are simply harder to make.

The other was, Stand out! Do something to be remembered for.

This is the one that I thought of during the timeout at my exposure camp game.

As we retook the floor at Lake Brantley, I decided that I would do something to get myself remembered.

The next time the ball came to me, I attacked the rim hard and almost dunked on a big man.

Later I had a big dunk off of a missed shot that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

All told, I had four or five dunks that first day of camp, enough to make everyone notice number 83 (my jersey number at camp).

Those plays made up a good portion of my first ever YouTube video.

And the rest is history.

I’ll tell more of this story, and how it all came together to help me begin two parallel careers, in my book Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life coming February 22. Preorder it now and enjoy all these bonuses.

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