The Smell of Victory and Liniment

An open letter for the athlete I used to be

Dear young athlete,

Yes you with the swagger and the quick first step. Enjoy that speed, the hops and that shooting touch. Those are awesome times when you can will yourself to win knowing that a second or even a third wind is coming. By all means psych your opponent out and every now and then let that trash talk go. This is what passion for sport is all about anyway. Do not forget though to win with humility and lose with class. Celebrate with a fist in the air and a chest bump that could break your teammate’s ribs but do not gloat. When you win, the other team knows it has lost. Do not remind them – this will make you feel like an idiot after many years.

As much as you believe and feel it right now, you are not super human. Take time to rest and recover. Stretch. Be kind to your knees and they will be kinder to you when fastbreak becomes slow break.

Enjoy the sweet smell of victory every time you can. Someday, it will be replaced by the unmistakable scent of liniment. Whenever you look back at the guy chasing you, take pride in leaving him far behind. As the years go by he will get closer and closer until he finally slaps the ball out of your hands.

It is ok to feel great pain when you lose. You are allowed to throw your bag and kick off your shoes and scream to the heavens. Here’s a tip though, it is best to do it when no one is looking. When you are defeated, hold your head high and shake the hands of the guys who beat you. Walk off the court with dignity. You can lose all self-respect when you get to the locker room. Your team will not judge you. After all, they lost too.

And in pick up games, there will always be that guy playing catch and shoot and zero defense. He would rather push you to the ground or hold on to your arm instead of jumping over your back – it is not because he is lazy, it is because he can’t. He would rather wait for the ball to drop to the floor so he can pick it up.

This young man is what you call “Tito Ball.” You might want to observe it now because no matter how nice that crossover looks at the moment, “Tito Ball” is your future. No exceptions.

This reality however is not the end of your sporty self. The “Tito Baller” was once a temple of agility like you. Now he is just a warehouse of injuries. But do you see that big smile each time he jogs up and down the court? That is more than just being happy to be there. That is pure love for the game. The same one you are feeling now. And that dear lad is the one thing that will never get old.

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