Not too much to ask

I grew up in a mixed AFL family, in which all five of us supported different teams. Not long ago, I asked my brother whether he was going to follow in the footsteps of our parents and allow his eldest to choose his own team, or if the kid was going to be like so many others and have his team chosen for him. “He can choose his own,” came the reply. “But if the Canberra Cannons return to the NBL, then his support will just be assumed.”

My family grew up supporting the Cannons throughout their heyday in the 80’s and 90’s. Some of my earliest memories involve taking naps on Saturday afternoons so that I could be awake enough to join the family in our season ticket seats at The Palace in the evening.

The phases of my youth were reflected in my Cannons experiences. I started as the littlest kid of the family who were collecting endless aluminium cans after games, fundraising for my elder brother’s representative basketball trips. I grew into the young player surrounded by similarly awe-struck, beaming teammates in the photo when our club team played in The Palace for the first time. Later, I became one of the young teenage players who would sell programs at the door. Next, I graduated to be one of those spending the games watching from standing room as I and all of the other local teenage players talked – and occasionally flirted – our way through the games, distant from our parents in the seats. And finally, I was back in the seats with my folks again, old enough to understand that my enjoyment of their company at basketball games would never be surpassed.

Recent news articles have stated that the NBL is about to expand its league, aiming to introduce four new teams. If The Canberra Times is to be believed, there’s going to be a large bid from a Canberran group wanting to bring back the Cannons.

Old Cannons fans have been writing comments online supporting the move, reminiscing over names of Cannons stars from the past and transporting themselves back to another time.

Incredibly, no-one seems to be talking in a more defensive fashion.

During its 35 year history, the now 8-team NBL has amassed a list of 33 defunct teams.

My son is 2 years old, and if the Cannons return, his support – like that of his cousins – will be assumed. The family will reunite with the NBL, bonding over a team in a way that we don’t in our split-footy-family environment. I can only guess at the experiences and memories the Cannons might provide him if they exist in the future, but I would hope they would replicate the great joys their original incarnation gave to both his mother and I. For she was there too, always sitting somewhere in The Palace. We were two kids with their families, completely unaware of each other’s presence.

When the Cannons disappeared from the league in 2003, Mrs EPO and I had just moved out of home, taking off to Wollongong together. We attended our last Cannons game – the team’s second last ever – when they were thumped in Wollongong’s Sandpit, a half-empty stadium of Hawks fans completely unaware of the numbness we both felt as we fell silent throughout the second half. We were both individually reflecting on how we had grown up with the team and its city, keenly sensing the finality associated with the loss of our respective childhoods.

Ultimately, though, we were lucky.

I can’t bear to imagine how I would have felt had the Cannons been taken away when I was anywhere between the ages of 4 and 15. I can’t comprehend the experiences of those thousands of Australian basketball-loving kids who have lost their favourite team in the past.

I would love the 2-year-old to grow up with a re-booted Cannons. But if they do exist and he falls in love with them, only for them to become one of the 80% of NBL teams that don’t survive, it would destroy me. I would want all of the NBL and Cannons administrators to deliver the news personally to all of the kids who suffer the fate of having their colours and heroes taken away. Like adults, kids enjoy the simplistic beauty, clear morality and endless consistency of a great sporting love while desperately trying to make sense out of an otherwise uncertain, unclear and ever-changing world. To take a team away from them is beyond unfair.

Please, basketball administrators of Australia and New Zealand, remember your key constituents. Remember the power you have to influence lives. Make sure a team is sustainable in the long term before you give a local team to children from four more cities.

And on a more personal note, if you give my son the Cannons, you’d bloody well better be sure that he has them for as long as I did.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Posted in Basketball, Sport | 1 Comment

Smart Pricing

Last year, the Australian men’s volleyball team hosted three other countries in a round-robin tournament in Canberra, the winner qualifying for the World Championships.

Fans were charged $20 to attend one night of these qualifiers, watching two games between Australia, Kazhakstan, Kuwait and Thailand. When I attended on the Friday and Saturday, I found almost half of The Palace – hardly a massive stadium –covered in black mesh so that people couldn’t sit in the seats. This forced those few people present to sit closer together, enabling the occasional camera angle to suggest a relatively reasonable crowd was in attendance.

But check out the Aussies’ team photo taken on court right before their first match. My folks and I are actually behind the team, literally the only three people sitting in an otherwise empty stand at the end of the court. So much for President of Volleyball Australia Craig Carracher’s encouragement for “volleyball fans from all over Australia to descend on the nation’s capital to show their support for what will be a spectacle of athletic prowess.”

But at least the cost was reasonable. Two matches for $20 seemed appropriate, especially when Australia’s most highly ranked opponents would be Thailand and Kazakhstan, tied in the rankings at 48.

This week, the Australian Volleyball Federation released the ticket prices for Australia’s World League games.

The World League is Volleyball’s annual showcase of many world’s best teams. This year, the FIVB have decided to expand the World League, so that there is a Division 1 – 8 teams, 5 of whom will qualify for the finals – and a Division 2 – 12 teams, 1 of whom will qualify for the finals. Australia are playing in a 4-team pool in Division 2.

In their first weekend of matches on home soil, Australia plays Finland in Canberra – once on Saturday and once on Sunday. A ticket for one of these matches will cost $35.

Hold on. $35?!? They couldn’t get more than a handful or two of people to pay $20 for two matches of the final round of World Championship qualifiers, and yet the AVF expect people to pay $35 for one match against a team who is still only ranked 30th in the World?

And hold on. The $35 doesn’t even include the booking fee?!?

It costs the same amount to see the Aussies play Canada – ranked 11th – in Sydney a few weekends later. If you were a Canadian, though, and wanted to see the Aussies play Canada when they meet in Edmonton, you’d be charged $35 – including the booking fee – for a baseline seat to both of the matches on the weekend. Yep, in Canada they get to watch twice as much volleyball for the same price we’re being asked to pay in Australia.

And what a price it is.

Let’s break it down. For Mrs EPO and I to watch one match of volleyball, it would cost us $70. At worst, it’ll be over in 3 sets – each set costing us just over $23. At best, we’ll see 5 sets with each set costing us $14. Comparing this to the World Championship qualifying experience, where for $40 we were guaranteed to see 6 sets at under $7 a piece, is hilarious. At best, we’re paying twice as much per set this time around. At worst, it’s almost six times as much.

Do the AVF really expect people to come rushing through the doors when so few came the last time the Volleyroos were in town?

For $39, I can score a ground pass to a day of the Australian Open tennis. That’s a day’s tennis that starts at 11am and ends whenever the match on Margaret Court Arena that starts at 7:30pm finishes that night. Sure, you don’t get to see the matches that are on the two main courts, but you certainly have the opportunity to see those ranked outside the top few –you’ll absolutely see players ranked more highly than Australia (14) and Finland (30) are in volleyball. Oh, and you get to choose between matches being played on 14 different courts. Oh, and did I mention that it is an internationally renowned sporting event that people travel from overseas for the chance to experience?

For $35, I can score tickets to two AFL games at the SCG. With $7 change left over. I could score the cheapest ticket to the most expensive AFL game of the regular season at the MCG. With $10 left over.

I’m sorry. I must stop here. For I’m letting my anger get the better of me when actually my more prevailing emotion should be a mixture of sadness and disappointment.

When I was at high school, I was a volleyballer. As such, when the World Championship qualifiers were on last year, I expected to see a bunch of old mates in the crowd. But none of them were there. Practically no-one other than the families of the players and a bunch of touring athletes staying at the AIS attended. Very few people around town knew it was on, including local club players.

When the Olympics came to Sydney, I attended many days of the volleyball. Tickets for two-match sessions cost $19. I was one of those guys who would chat to those around me, often spending time teaching them the rules and intricacies of this sport that I had come to love.

When I heard that the World League – even if it was only Division 2 – was coming to Australia, I literally shouted with excitement. Mrs EPO and I particularly thought that the Sunday afternoon game in Canberra would be a great opportunity to take the 2-year-old to watch his first international volleyball game.

Now, we feel we’ve been priced out of the weekend. And we hate to think how few non-volleyball-people will pony up that kind of cash to attend when so few paid $20 last time around.

As fans of our national team, we’ll still be watching, of course. But I’m afraid to say that they won’t be getting our money. We’ll be cheering them on from the couch instead.

 

Postscript: Sydney is going to play host to the Division 2 Finals of the World League. Bizarrely, one’s $35 ticket will provide entry to two matches – either the two semis on Friday, or the two Finals on the Saturday. While this is a much better deal for fans, it only goes to show how ridiculous it is to ask people to pay $35 to attend just one of the preliminary matches.

Posted in Sport, Volleyball | Leave a comment

What do you say?

Last month, after 23 years at Sports Illustrated and 7 at ESPN, Rick Reilly wrote his last column. I devote this post to him, unashamedly stealing some of the concept from the style in which he wrote a beautiful note to his wife in the 19 December 2000 edition of Sports Illustrated.

I heard about Rick Reilly’s retirement as I was looking for something else online, and suddenly thought “What can I say to him?”

I mean, what do you say to the man whose writing you first discovered when you were a teenager, the text jumping off the page as a perfect example of entertaining, engaging and precise prose? For his impression on you was immediate – the first of his pieces that you read, a feature on Patrick Ewing, is still the best example you’ve ever seen as to how to write an article on someone who doesn’t allow you access for an interview.

What do you say to the man who had what you came to believe was the Best Job In The Universe, writing a weekly column for the backpage of Sports Illustrated? The man whose writing would consistently be the first thing you’d read when you collected your favourite magazine from the local Canberran newsagent each week? Whose versatility you are inspired to try to emulate 20 years later while writing a sports-blog for family and friends, despite knowing you don’t have one-fifteenth of his talent?

What do you say to the man who wrote so many stunning columns that you shared with your high school English classes during your teaching career that they knew him by name? Who you introduced so many of your Aussie mates to that two of them thought the best gift to purchase you for your 21st birthday was a signed book from the man himself?

What do you say to the guy who wrote one of the most memorable pages of writing you’ve ever read – the incomparable ‘Funny You Should Ask’, in which amongst other brilliant moments, he tells his son:

“See, grown-ups spend so much time doggedly slaving toward the better car, the perfect house, the big day that will finally make them happy when happy just walked by wearing a bicycle helmet two sizes too big for him. We’re not here to find a way to heaven. The way is heaven.”

What do you say to a man who wrote hilarious columns on deadline (like that one on Jean Van de Velde’s meltdown at the British Open), who made it cool to write about inspirational “little guys” (like that incredible coach who died at in the Littleton school shooting), who made important points in the way you dreamt of writing (like that time he took on deer hunters), and who wrote features that are regarded amongst the greatest in sports history (like that cover story on Marge Schott)?

What do you say to the man whose use of metaphor and simile was, at times, beyond compare?

And what, exactly, do you say to the man who first angered you when he wrote the forward to The Best American Sports Writing 2002, in which he provided advice for wannabe-sports-writers? In his piece, he quoted Oscar Wilde as having said “Never write a sentence you’ve already read.” It was a well-made point, except that he had already written exactly the same piece of advice in the forward to his collection of columns entitled The Life of Reilly. What do you say to the man who appeared to have such little respect for we devotees of sports writing?

What do you say to the man whose writing you stopped reading as it became repetitive and formulaic during the mid-2000’s? Whose career you suddenly wanted to ignore, as if you could pretend his career had finished, in the same way as you spent many years pretending that Kevin Spacey’s career ended at American Beauty?

What do you say to the man who became a laughing stock later in his career? Who had articles written not only about how he recycled his own previous work and became an average writer, but even about how insanely often he used repetitive references to teeth in his columns?

What do you say to someone who allowed one of America’s most suspect athletes – Lance Armstrong – to write the forward for his last collection of columns? Someone whose own father-in-law argued that Reilly misquoted him and then refused to correct the record, on an issue which made his father-in-law feel like he’d been portrayed as racially inappropriate?

What do you say to someone who has come to the end of one of the most inspiring and disappointing careers ever experienced by a sportswriter?

It just hit me. This.

Posted in Sport | 1 Comment

Diving into AFL history

Looking back from afar on the year 2013, it is fascinating to consider the antiquated and confusing morals held by some Australian sporting leagues. Take the Australian Football League’s season from that year as an example, with its bizarre incidents that would never occur in the modern, enlightened times in which we now live.

1

Circa 2013, the AFL acting football operations manager Gillon McLachlan argued that he didn’t know “what the definition of tanking is.”

Of course, the football-loving public had known what it was for years and didn’t believe him. They were even sure they’d seen tanking in the league at the end of the 2009 season when the Melbourne Demons appeared to deliberately lose games in order to receive a priority draft pick.

Despite rewarding teams who had lost more games with extra picks and better young players, and despite Melbourne coach Dean Bailey practically admitting that losing was in Melbourne’s best interests, an AFL investigation found the club not guilty of tanking. Instead, it found Bailey and Melbourne’s GM of football operations Chris Connolly guilty of “acting in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the competition,” suspending them both and fining the club $500,000.

Perhaps the AFL didn’t want to use the word ‘tanking’ because they couldn’t really explain why they regarded a team resting players and happy to lose games late in the season in order to finish last rather than second-last was unacceptable, while a finals-bound team who was happy to rest players and potentially lose late in the regular season was completely understandable.

2

Circa 2013, popular AFL TV program The Footy Show incorporated numerous sexist and racist jokes – including almost weekly barbs at host Garry Lyon’s bushy eyebrows and hairy body. This was despite the fact that the most widely criticised person associated with the competition during the year was a 13 year-old female Collingwood supporter who called Adam Goodes an “ape” during a game at the MCG.

Collingwood President and radio host Eddie Maguire – a former host of The Footy Show – later said that Goodes would be an excellent person to promote the stage show of King Kong in Melbourne. While he apologised to Goodes and had to go through the AFL’s Racial and Religious Vilification Policy process, he was not punished by the AFL in any other way. Perhaps this is because the AFL felt that fans of The Footy Show and many other football supporters of the time wouldn’t have understood why a greater punishment would have been appropriate.

3

Circa 2013, the Essendon Football Club were sanctioned for “conduct that is unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute.” The charges related to “ a culture of frequent, uninformed and unregulated use of the injection of supplements” at the club, with the Bombers being ruled ineligible to play in the 2013 Finals series, losing future draft picks, and receiving $2million in fines.

While the club and its coaches were sanctioned, not one player was charged with a doping-related offence, implying that no players had actually taken any banned or illegal substances. This is despite the fact that club captain and Brownlow Medallist Jobe Watson openly stated that he had been administered with AOD-9604 which both the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority said was a banned substance.

Meanwhile, Essendon Senior Coach James Hird was suspended for 12 months by the AFL when he took a plea-bargain deal. Apparently, the deal stated that the AFL withdrew all charges against Hird, despite his ensuing suspension. Essendon were not permitted to pay Hird during his suspension, so instead gave him a year’s salary before his suspension began and signed him to a contract extension to start at the end of his suspension. Meanwhile, Essendon replaced Hird – an as-yet untested senior coach – with Mark Thompson – a two-time Premiership coach – for the 2014 season.

4

Circa 2013, the AFL’s CEO Andrew Demetriou laughed when he heard that St.Kilda player Clint Jones had set fire to a man during the Saints’ Mad Monday “celebrations.”

The league accepted the presence of Mad Monday, a tradition whereby footballers would drink too much at a team bonding session on the first Monday after their team had been eliminated from the competition. The man who Jones set fire to was a part of the team’s entertainment for the day. He was a dwarf, otherwise known as a person of short stature.
Demetriou later apologised for his reaction, saying that he laughed because he thought that he had been told a joke.

Perhaps this was because circa 2013, upon hearing that a man had been set on fire, people pictured a Vietnamese Buddhist monk burning to death in a massive flame, however upon hearing that a dwarf had been set on fire, people pictured a cartoon character like Sylvester or Elmer Fudd running around a room with smoke coming from his pants.

5

Circa 2013, the TAB was an ‘Official Partner’ of the AFL. Betting on all aspects of the sport was widely promoted on tv, radio, and in the Footy Record. Such advertising occurred during games in an attempt to encourage people to gamble away their savings.

The previous year, the AFL responded to widespread criticism and decided to cease providing up-to-date odds on the scoreboard at AFL games. It appears that the league agreed that providing the odds to those inside the stadium was inappropriate, but having odds promoted to the much broader tv and radio audience was perfectly reasonable and hopefully profitable.

Perhaps they just hadn’t yet considered the horrific social impact of gambling, even though the Australian Government had websites devoted to the issue and ex-players such as Brendan Fevola and Daryn Cresswell had shown just how dangerous it could be to an individual and a family.

***

These days, one can only look back at the AFL of 2013 and cringe. Thank goodness Australian society and its sporting leagues have matured since then.

Posted in AFL, Sport | Leave a comment

On Sochi

At about 4pm on Sunday afternoon, 11 hours before the Closing Ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the 2 year-old waved at the television, exclaiming “Bye bobsled! Bye Olympics!” And like that, a fortnight of television viewing filled with exotic names, sports and landscapes was over – back to playdough and hallway cricket we went.

Hence, here are 20 scattered thoughts obtained from the two couches and the armchair during the fortnight of the Games:

1) My sympathy goes out to those who were frustrated by Channel 10’s ‘Sochi Live’, which like ‘London Live’ and ‘Vancouver Live’ before them was really ‘Sochi repeats, and reality-TV-esque pieces on random Aussie non-contenders.’ However, the presence of the online/iPad app options with 6 live channels overnight plus an on demand catch-up service meant that this was easily the most impressive free Olympic coverage in Australian history.

2) This was particularly useful when the aforementioned 2 year-old came down ill early in the fortnight. For no explicable reason, he fell for the luge and the skeleton. Never did I think that watching 60 guys lie down on their sleds would be such a life-saver. Thanks to being able to choose what event to watch, I did it on more than one occasion.

3) Memo to Winter Olympians: if you want to join the ranks of a 2 year-old’s favourite athletes, you’d damn well better smile and wave at the camera after your run down the track or mountain. Never before had I noticed just how many more female athletes do this than male.

4) The best name of the games? Norwegian biathlete Ann Kristin Aafedt Flatland. That’s A.K.A. Flatland to you.

5) If Alissa Camplin is to be believed, the aerials has a final and a super final. No pathetic ‘semis’ for these guys. Never has a sporting event more reminded me of this.

6) Speaking of the aerials, the different size jumps – where some contestants can take the smaller option – just reminds me of a school swimming carnival, where some kids dive off the blocks and others dive in from the edge of the pool because they’re too scared to take the big leap.

7) For all of the (appropriate) carry on about the outfits of female beach volleyballers at the Summer Games, the Olympic sport with the greatest frequency of wide-open crotch shots with chicks wearing next-to-nothing is figure skating.

8) In the first 12 seconds of the first men’s hockey match of the Games, the commentator – whose style made him sound more familiar with soccer than hockey – called the Swedes ‘Finland’, mispronounced Patrick Elias’ surname, and said that an offside call was icing.

9) This particularly concerned me, as every rule I know in two of my new favourite sports – biathlon and curling – I learnt from the Sochi online commentators.

10) Torah Bright is incredible – phenomenally talented, charming and drop-dead gorgeous. It was fascinating, though, that she commented after winning silver in the half pipe that she and some others thought she should have won and that the judges had made the wrong call. When was the last time an Aussie athlete made such a petulant comment without it making more of an impact on their public reputation? Which part of Torah’s personality or history means that we let her get away with it?

11) Another famous snowboarder won the title of ‘Biggest Tool of the Games’. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a guy as impressive as Shaun White pulling out of an event to focus instead on the one which he’s more likely to win. But if you’re going to pull out of your first event, you do it before you leave home. White thought otherwise, meaning that when he pulled out of the slopestyle just before the event, the 18 year old kid who would have been an Olympian had White pulled out earlier instead was watching the Games from home in Mammoth Lakes, California.

12) One of the great things about the Winter Olympics is that with very few exceptions – ice hockey, really – we inexperienced viewers couldn’t care less if men or women are competing against each other as we can’t really see an appreciable difference between the performance of each gender.

13) While the official Sochi site called the event the ‘Women’s Bobsleigh’, Channel 10 decided they needed to call it the not-at-all-sexist ‘Women’s 2-Man Bobsleigh’.

14) In the history of the Winter Olympics, Australia have 5 gold medallists. Dale Begg-Smith was a Canadian for 16 years before defecting to Australia and winning gold 5 years later. Steven Bradbury didn’t fall over. The other three are women

15) Speaking of Begg-Smith, is there a more fascinating decision for the Sport Australia Hall of Fame to make in the future? He’s one of our two most successful winter Olympians, and yet he hardly seems anything like the Aussie sporting heroes who are usually enshrined.

16) The harshest loss of the Games was that of Koen Werweij in the Men’s 1500m speed skating. He finished tied for first on 1:45.00. Within a minute, though, the scoreboard – for what sounded like the first time – added an extra decimal place. Poland’s Zbigniew Brodka won gold in 1:45.006. Werweij won silver in 1:45.009.

17) Check out the Medal Table Time Machine to see just how few medals the US would have won if it weren’t for new events introduced in recent games.

18) The most entertaining thing you’ll read about the games is Brian Phillips’ description of the skeleton.

19) HG and Roy are spectacular. Some of Australia’s best sporting television is when they’re given an hour and are actually at the Olympics so that they can interview athletes. When they have 10 minute shows filmed in Melbourne, only pretending they’re in Sochi, their talents are wasted. Surely two more tickets to Russia wouldn’t have broken the bank at Channel 10.

20) However much we’ve enjoyed the past fortnight, let’s not allow the conclusion of the Games to cease the world’s attention on and repulsion with Putin’s horrific laws relating to homosexuality.

OK, that was fun. Now, back to hallway cricket.

Posted in Olympics, Sport | Leave a comment

Weakness Leaving the Body

Potential taglines for the premiere episode of Esquire’s ‘Friday Night Tykes’, a documentary series focusing on four teams in the ‘rookie’ program of the Texas Youth Football Association, a competition for 8-9 year olds:

“If you don’t push your kids, you’re accepting failure.”

“I don’t care how much pain you’re in, you don’t quit.”

Troubling to watch, impossible to understand.

Everything that’s wrong with junior sport.

Watch them play now, wonder how their brains will disintegrate later.

Because nothing says fun more than treating 8 year-olds like professional athletes.

See why the Texas Youth Football Association is one of the top ten largest independent leagues in the country.

“Blow chunks, then get back out there.”

Hope comes alive.

“The Texas Youth Football and Cheerleading Association: Where dreams begin.”

The Texas Youth Football and Cheerleading Association: Where overbearing parents whose kids don’t fit the ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ stereotype go.

Discipline, dedication and destruction.

You won’t blame the show. You will blame the coaches and parents.

“We were done with everyone gets a trophy, everybody wins.”

Just when you thought John Tomic was bad.

Only in Texas. Hopefully.

Meet the coaches from San Antonio who aren’t named Popovich.

“Rip their freaking heads off and let them bleed.”

Coach Taylor had no idea.

Life is a contact sport.

Where P&G ads meet Texas football.

The show the NFL doesn’t want you to see.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy? What’s that?

Where kids younger than those on ‘It’s Academic’ take their first step towards ‘Any Given Sunday’.

“An authentic glimpse into a highly competitive sports experience.”

Where competition is not a bad word.

Quvenzhane Wallis isn’t the 9 year-old who faces the scariest Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Never has a show done so much for soccer.

“Don’t give me that soft crap.”

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

The most depressing show on television.

 
The premiere episode of ‘Friday Night Tykes’, entitled ‘Weakness Leaving the Body’ can be seen here:

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/friday-night-tykes-episode-1

Posted in NFL, Sport | Leave a comment

They Love This Game

Various schoolyard cliques have become stereotypes for a reason. Most schools have their jocks, their plastics, their disenchanted emos and their wallflowers. There is one group, though, who are far less celebrated by Hollywood or recognised by their peers and teachers.

At most high schools across Australia, there is a small group of boys who inhabit an asphalt basketball court at recess and lunchtime. They are a relatively quiet collection of misfits: rarely the greatest students, and yet certainly not misbehaving tyrants.

For a bunch of guys who rarely keep score, there is a relatively nerdy – if not downright persnickety – approach to the rules as they engage in the sport. Disagreements over rare violations can carry on long after the bell has ended play, with cases for the affirmative and negative taken up and loud, obscene rebuttals made on vital topics such as what defines a foot violation. Often, a player who earns some cash on the weekend by refereeing the games of superior teenage players attempts to pull rank in such a debate. This is often received about as well as when any teenager attempts to pull rank over their peers, but such a response won’t dissuade the same guy from responding the same way the following week when a debate over the intricacies of the three-seconds rule is well underway.

Despite this approach, there is a genuine, beautifully childlike freedom within their games. While almost all of their peers have removed themselves from such carefree exercise, this group aren’t nearly as concerned by serious, competitive sport or issues of self-image brought upon by worries of potential failure. They still maintain purity in their sense of play.

The more elite basketballers at their school almost never engage with this group. Ironically, there are far more frivolous things for those kids to enjoy at lunchtime than concerning themselves with their crossover or their jump shot. As adults, these junior stars will look back fondly at their time playing basketball and remember it as one of the greatest ways in which they were able to develop, maintain and enjoy adolescent camaraderie and friendship. While they are teenagers, though, the game doesn’t feature in what they regard to be their true leisure time. For the moment, sport is too important a way for them to separate themselves – this time, from others who aren’t engaged with basketball at the same competitive level.

Regardless, the play continues easily, better served by the lack of any more competitive presence or players frustrated as they try to master technique and style. Lay-ups are often missed, but making an uncontested 15-footer can be a feat worthy of an uninhibited, two-fisted air-bound celebration.

Watching these kids play reminds one of just how unnatural some athletic movements actually are. To see a teenager who is still growing into his body attempt to arc a ball through the air in imitation of the greatest proponents of the jump shot only serves to emphasise just how many different joints of the body are involved in the one act. And yet, it also proves that a ball can actually be flung through a basket in endless ways with any number of a shooter’s joints not matching the diagram in the Textbook of Graceful Basketball.

Of course, the bell rarely calls a halt to the game as if it’s a definitively final siren. Instead, no-one breaks stride until either (1) the teacher on duty has walked into the middle of the play, or (2) the first of the players decides that they will be noticeably late to class if they don’t cease playing. The latter often leads to a brief moment of 3-on-3 or 2-on-2 if those remaining know that their next teacher won’t be concerned or will be late to class themselves.

Throughout their breaks, these boys exhibit as pure a love of a game as can be seen anywhere in Australia. Some allow themselves to be enveloped by the sport, falling over themselves in search of every scrap of NBA news they can find, however a great number of them wouldn’t know if Kevin Durant was a basketballer or a footballer, a musician or a politician.

Every lunchtime, the troubles and seriousness of the world can wait. For that short time each day, at least, this group of misfits are just kids who still allow themselves to revel in the joy of playing a game. Together.

Posted in Basketball, Sport | Leave a comment