[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The summer when I was 14 years old, I walked past a car that had stopped at the end of a driveway to let me pass. The driver, and older gentleman probably in his early 40s, poked his head out of the driver side window, examining me closely.
“You play basketball?” He asked me gruffly.
I nodded that I did and kept walking.
I was used to the inquiry. I was tall and thin, young and baby-faced, and who doesn’t want to get in on the ground floor (even if it means just knowing about) of a superstar in the making?
This man in the car wasn’t a scout or coach out looking for talent. He was a Black guy in a Black neighborhood doing what Black people do: Assume that a tall Black male plays basketball. He had asked his question in an accusatory sort of tone, as if I’d be crazy to supply the wrong answer.
Playing a sport for a living is a glamorous job. Kids and adults alike look up to you and come to your job to cheer you on while you’re at work. You may have a really impressive physique, since your body is your business. You literally play a game every day, and get paid to do so. The publicized salaries that the top (and even average) players earn makes a pro athlete job a realistically-winnable lottery ticket for many people.
In communities like the one I come from — fully (or predominantly) Black, middle-to-lower class — becoming an athlete or rapper was the only lottery ticket anyone believed in (not the only route to success, but the only route to massive, unbelievable success). And, unlike the Powerball jackpot, we can actually see and hear stories of people from same set of circumstances as us who actually “made it.”
I’m fully grown now at 6’4”, just at the cut-off edge of you-MUST-play-basketball! height. So, my experience with that man poking his head out of a car is far from unique — especially with young men who were and are taller than I was/am.
Watch any high school, college or even NBA game. You don’t have to be a student of the game, or even care much for basketball, to point out by a simple eye test the players whose hearts are not in basketball. The fact that almost every player in this playing-just-because group is 6’5” and taller is not an accident: They’re conditioned — programmed — to believe that because of their size, playing basketball is what they’re supposed to do.
In youth, thanks to their unknowing and (sometimes) well-meaning family members, neighbors and peers, these tall kids are made to believe that they’d be fools to not “use” that height in sports.
Man, if I had your height, I’d be the best player around here.
You’re that tall and can’t dunk???
All tall as you are, you should be doing something with basketball!
You’re a waste of height.
You got all that height and ain’t doing nothing with it.
(All of the above were said to me by the age of 15 by other kids my age.)
This basketball-or-nothing conditioning is a result of the influence of people who simply don’t know any better.
Instead of seeing a human being, a unique person who has just as many interests and just as much potential as anyone else walking the earth, some people see only one trait — size — and pigeonhole that person into a profession that’s not even of his choosing (this happens to tall females too). A bright, six-foot-seven African-American young man could be an ace computer programmer, architect, clothing designer or head chef just as easily as he could be a backup small forward.
The problem often is, there’s no one of influence in that young man’s life who can get the message in his ear. Thank God for me.
Good thing now is that we have the internet, where misguided youth could find an article like this or a podcast episode like this.
Concluding thoughts below.
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