Dear Basketball

The three senior players from my varsity basketball team, including yours truly on the right. (Photo courtesy of the Bangor Daily News)

The three senior players from my varsity basketball team, including yours truly on the right. (Photo courtesy of the Bangor Daily News)

Dear Basketball,

I didn’t realize this was it how it was done. Thankfully, Kobe Bryant has shown us all the way.

That being the case, I’ve come back to you on this day — the last day of November in the year of our Lord, (Michael Jordan) — to let you know I’m announcing my retirement from basketball. Retroactive, of course, to 1999; the last time I played in a 5-on-5 game.

I first met you when I was in third grade and it was love at first dribble. I was, what, eight years old? The moment I felt that ball in my hand, I knew you were the only sport for me.

Sure, I tried soccer for a year. I played football for one season in eighth grade, but the day I got my bell rung, I kind of knew it would be my only season.

I even played baseball up to high school, until I saw my first curve ball. Then I realized I was an a no-field, no-hit player who just had above-average speed.

You, basketball, became my sport; the love of my life.

As you know, I had to overcome a lot to play you.

I was undersized — 5-foot-11 on my best day with the right sneakers. I couldn’t really shoot all that well, either. I was an average ball-handler.

As a player my sophomore year at the Bangor Auditorium.

As a player my sophomore year at the Bangor Auditorium.

But I could jump, I could play defense, and I could out-hustle anybody on the court.

Heart was my strength and it’s never failed me on the basketball court.

I learned that would be my calling early on in life, during that first season when my coach, a man named Bob Ryan, taught me how to take a charge.

The rest was history.

Though it was a rocky history, for sure. Love, I supposed, can be like that sometimes.

I found out that you were a political sport because of those in power positions.

For the three years I was in junior high, I had a teacher/(ahem) coach who I knew hated me. Needless to say, I wasn’t his biggest fan, either.

At the time, I suppose somebody could have said I simply wasn’t good enough to make the team. I would have disagreed — vehemently, probably — but what the hell does a 12-13-14-year-old boy know when compared to a grown man in a power position of being a coach, right?

The grown up is always right, even when they’re wrong. And this guy was wrong. Period.

Well, when I went to high school, I was handed some ammunition that helped me state my case: As a freshman, I made the JV basketball team.

Fuck you, Mr. Hooper — though he would come back to haunt me once again.

I didn’t play much as a freshman and that was fine. I played JV again as a sophomore, suiting up for my favorite coach of all time, and got the most playing time of my high school career. A JV starter might not mean much to the world, but our varsity basketball team that season won a state championship and it was great to be in the pipeline.

In practice during my sophomore year.

In practice during my sophomore year.

To be honest, I thought I was good enough to make varsity as a sophomore. But the varsity coach took only one sophomore that season — a 6-1 forward.

He became a swing player later in the season, going up and down from JV to varsity, and I’ll never forget the practice where my JV coach paired us players at each basket to play one-on-one and he put me up against the varsity player.

I won.

It was my way of proving a point and, my coach would later tell me, his way of making a point to me, as well. Yes, I was good enough.

Then my junior year, it happened again.

Mr. Hooper.

My middle school coach — remember I told you he hated me? — had become the school’s JV coach and while I made the team, I was back on the bench, back on JV again.

It was the worst year of my basketball life.

I hated hating you, basketball, but that’s what Mr. Hooper did to me. He didn’t teach me to get better. He taught me to hate basketball.

Over that following summer, I transferred from that school to the high school I would graduate from.

Without Mr. Hooper — I will never call him Coach! — I ended up making varsity on a team that played for the Eastern Maine Class B championship the year before, and we got back to the semifinals; again, proof to me that this one man was holding me back as a player.

But that year renewed my love for basketball and I carried that with me into the future, too.

I was never good enough to play in college, but after high school I learned my eye-sight was pretty bad and starting wearing contacts.

That actually helped me become a better shooter as I played pick-up games at Husson College and the Bangor YMCA.

I became a better shooter, a better passer, and I never let the hustle waver — even as my body got older and took such dives to the court a lot more harsher.

Over the years, basketball remained a huge part of my life — mostly in my role as a sportswriter — but I also became a coach for four years and a certified patch-wearing referee for two winters, as well.

Sitting with former Wakefield (Mass) High player Liz Labriola at a summer basketball camp.

Sitting with former Wakefield (Mass) High player Liz Labriola at a summer basketball camp.

Through the years, I’ve been a fan of the NBA, though that has waned in recent years because of the spoiled players, the money and the style of game. College basketball and high school basketball still rates high, though the one-and-done of college hoops is a sad state of affairs and AAU basketball is spoiling part of the high school sports experience.

Another winter is now upon us, which means another basketball season is here.

I’m excited to get out there to be a part of it.

But on Sunday night when Kobe Bryant wrote you that letter, telling you he has retiring from basketball, I realized I had forgotten to do that.

Thus, I hereby make it official.

As of 1999, I have been retired as a player from the sport that has given me so much over my life.

Thank you, basketball, for being there for 42 years.


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