After a strange confluence of luck-based off-the-court events (some good luck and some bad luck), I found myself in Hannover.
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An agent had agreed to take me under his wing and shop me around to some teams he had relationships with with the goal of getting me signed. He brought me to the practice of a team in the “Pro B” league one day. This team had two American players already, but that’s how they’d do: bring some other players in to practice with you and see who’s better. It was human cockfighting.
The American players weren’t so much my direct competition — one was a 6’6” power forward and the other was a 6-foot point guard (I was a 6’4” wing) — so my purpose was really just to show myself to the team just in case they decided to fill different positions with their “import” signings later in the season.
The American power forward was strong and athletic. I misjudged him on both fronts; in an early drill he nearly crammed a dunk on my head that would have been nasty. Luckily, it caromed off the back rim (not that my defense had anything to do with it).
The point guard was injured and didn’t practice that day. I spent most of the practice matched up against the “local” German players on the team.
Aside from that missed dunk, there were two things I remembered from that practice.
- The floor was dusty as hell. If you’ve ever watched a basketball game and seen a player constantly wiped his shoe bottoms, this is why: you cannot get traction when there dust all of the court surface (or on the soles of your sneakers). It’s nearly impossible to change direction and make quick moves when you can’t get proper traction.
- We did a one-on-one drill where I got matched up with a 6’6” German player, and I kicked his ass — 5-0 on offense, and 0-5 on defense. I never missed and he never scored.
As the practice ended, I felt proud of myself: I’d avoided being posterized by the power forward, and I’d killed it in the one-on-one drill against the German player.
Then I sat down with the agent.
He and his assistant had both attended the practice, and they were unimpressed by my showing.
Yeah, you scored every time on the German player, but you had to dribble too many times to do it, they said. You, as an American, you have to score on the local guys with one move, one dribble — and make it look easy. You have to make it obvious that you’re a lot better than them.
Point and fucking points, I countered.
Yes, you’re right, the agent agreed. But out there, this is how they judge American players. They want you to score a LOT, and make it seem easy.
I never mentioned the difficulty of the duty floor. But these criticisms went against the way that I saw basketball. I mean, this is not a damn fashion show, why are they judging how it looks? Isn’t it about winning the game? And what if someone else is open? What about making your teammates better? While I liked scoring just as much as any basketball player did, I also knew that no team ever did so great with one guy shooting so much. If someone’s open, I’ll pass the ball.
That wasn’t something they cared about. I had some time to marinate on that.
The agent set me up for a game to play in a few days later. It’s points, that you want?, I thought to myself. No problem.
In that game, I shot the ball every time I touched it.
Scored 30 points. We won.
THAT’s the way you need to play, the agent told me afterwards.
Lesson learned: sometimes, instead of playing your game, you have to play the game. And your ability to play the game determines how long you stick around.
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