After watching the cold, corporate, politician’s logic of Chip Kelly at his press conference last week — only bodies matter, not names, only control, power and money matter, not loyalty or grace — it felt like a relief to see another game afresh after so long. The years pass and something put away quickens again. Basketball remains for me the best of games.
Harvard beat Yale at the Palestra on Saturday on a last second shot to win the Ivy League and enter the NCAA tournament where they will likely lose quickly to some semi-professional University team, and Villanova beat Providence on Friday on a pair of foul shots, and they might go far in the tournament, but the longer term pathways each take means little to me. The game matters, the purity of the sport played well and passionately.
Basketball is played without equipment but with lungs and legs, good eyes, quickness, intuition hammered together by practice, by thousands of hours in hot gyms and on baking outdoor courts, often alone. What joy to rediscover this flow of bodies — the endless combinations of movements and patterns, always alive as if basketball celebrated movement as the meaning of life: breaks, seals, pivots, feeds, assists, sprints, stops, reversals, screens, picks, blocks, traps, feints — all nouns and verbs — the thing itself and the action itself, the purity of bodies in motion as a team and as individuals, this meshing of desires and joys.
For me the most beautiful single action in sport — more than the suspended equipoise and leap of the high jump, more than the long juking run of a back, more than the dexterous flow of hands and feet up a sheer rock face — is the jump shot. I still remember a grainy film clip of Jerry West preaching the gospel of one hard dribble before the leap for it gave the shooter a trice more height, and then at the apex of the leap, the hand rising, ball cradled on the fingertips, the arm coming up and feeling like a wing, the ball released, the wrist and fingers following and feathering it away and the parabola of the shot, the sweet arc it made, and the cut of the cords, the best of sounds, when the ball flicked through the net — that moment is flight, it is beating gravity, done well it is the integration of animal and human, of muscle and symmetry, it is the making of beauty — and after the shot, the return to the flow of bodies, the bonding of atoms into ecstatic, cascading lives.
Everything breaks over time, as it must and should, but something is always saved — for this game … the memory of flying back and forth, of lightness, of release, and of the pursuit of perfect moments when harmony withstands all the entropic odds.