Playground / Nov 15, 2012 / 5:00 pm

Love & Basketball: When Shooting Hoops Becomes Something More

Matthew Pierce

Matthew Pierce (photo. Matthew Pierce)

DimeMag.com contributor Matthew Pierce writes letters to his two young daughters in case he dies early. Sometimes, the letters are about basketball…

*** *** ***

Dear girls,

Basketball is a very important part of my life. I don’t play like I used to, but I’ve still got one good run left in me. That’s what basketball does to you – no matter how old you get, you can never quite let it go. It is a beautiful game, one that carves out a place in your soul that football and baseball and all the other sports don’t fill in the same way. Basketball is different; there is a continuity, a restless pace as the teams are pulled back and forth across the court like waves in a storm.

There are lots of things I want to tell you about basketball, like about when J-Will made it cool for the white kids, or about when Duncan ended the Lakers’ quest for a four-peat. Then there are things you will have to experience for yourself, like the tiny jolt of excitement you feel when you battle for a rebound and the ball bounces off the rim in your direction.

And then there is my story, of how basketball was my path out of the darkness to become your dad.

***

When I was 14 my family left Alabama, where I had spent my whole life. We moved to St. Louis, where your grandpa had received a promotion. All of a sudden I was in a new state where everything looked and felt strange. Everywhere I went I was out of place. I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t know how to make new ones. When I talked, people laughed at my accent. I spent most of my days locked in my bedroom listening to music. Sometimes at night I snuck out and sat on the driveway and stared at the stars. Sometimes I just cried.

I had never felt such pain. It seemed like I was completely alone, like happiness was a ship that had sailed away and would never come back.

My dad saw that I was kind of a mess and put a basketball goal up in the driveway. He bought me a ball and set it in the garage. Here was my escape, if I wanted it.

***

The time will come when you are the 14-year-old kid, homesick and ready to give up. Maybe it’s already here, and you girls are reading this in a place of great darkness. If so, dig in.

***

To make a long story short, I came out of my room. I stopped looking at the stars and I stopped crying. I picked up a basketball and I started shooting. I didn’t stop hurting – the pain was still there, but as long as I was running and jumping and sweating, I didn’t notice it as much.

To make an even longer story short, some pretty amazing things started happening. A boy named Mike Chavez walked up the driveway one day and asked me if I wanted to play basketball. Not on my goal, though. At his school. I joined Mike’s school and played on his team, kept practicing and eventually got a basketball scholarship. I wound up at Rochester College in Michigan, where I met your mother.

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