Kevin Durant (of the Golden State Warriors) isn’t the only one who can play basketball. There was, for instance, my college boyfriend Lee whose nickname was Spider because as an offensive player on the All-Star Louisiana team, he was all legs and arms and no one could get past him. Although, and don’t tell anyone this, Lee did coach my friends and me for one game when he suggested we start a girls’ basketball team. He ran up and down the court a lot that night, but we didn’t score a basket. Not even a jump shot. It seems that when your team is made up of people like me who are 5’2” tall, the distance between you and the basket is a bit daunting.
Still. Lee — I call him my first husband because we were together for nine years — taught me to love the game for the quicksilver speed and grace of it. There was also the Broadway show called Promises, Promises during which Jerry Orbach sang, “She Likes Basketball”, which I’d already been humming for a few years before I met Lee. Now, however, Spider, Kevin Durant and Jerry Orbach have coalesced into a general fondness for the sport, and every time Matt asks me to watch a game — thirty years and counting - I belt out that song and dance around the kitchen using a dishtowel as my basketball.
But I digress. Last night, the Warriors won the NBA championship and after the second quarter, I stopped walking out of the room, checking my phone for the score to allay the suspense. Kevin Durant was grace in motion. And Steph Curry, with his huge gorgeous eyes, was also quite good. And LeBron James, who played on the opposing team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, was stunning.
Today, my mother texted me at 5.30. She wrote, “That was a great game. Congratulations to you and California.” She also added many heart and hands emoticons. I had a good laugh. I wrote back: “Thanks, Mom, if only I had something to do with it.”
Everyone here is atwitter with the win, and although I too reveled in the pleasure of watching people at their level of mastery, I’m not into the us-and-them part. The our-team-is-better-than-their-team part, not to mention the sports-industrial complex financial side of things, but this post isn’t about that (despite my commitment to pointing out the unspoken side of things).
But in case you are wondering what this post is about or what we have in common with Steph and Kevin and LeBron, here’s what I want to say: I heard one of the announcers ask KD about a basket he made from “way downtown.” It looked like an impossible shot. It looked like no human could have made that shot. And he did. And then he kept making them. His response to the announcer was, “I’ve been practicing that shot my whole life.”
Yep, I thought, it looks easy. It looks like he leans forward, jumps in the air on those legs that seem to go on forever, raises his arms and the ball goes twirling and rolling into the basket. Done.
But the truth is that it takes great effort for anything to be effortless. After I heard KD’s answer, I asked myself what I practice. What I’ve been practicing my whole life. I remembered my friend Natalie’s words: we are always practicing something and most of us practice suffering. And that was true for me for a long time. But not anymore. Now I practice bringing my mind back to this moment when it wanders off into blame or shame. I practice noticing what isn’t wrong. I practice showing up. I practice paying attention. And appreciation. Taking in the beauty of floor, chandelier, sky, feet. I practice remembering that when I am utterly in this moment, nothing is better than this. And this.
For the Warriors, practice might be about winning, I don’t know, but for me, I practice because the process is the goal. In the practice itself, I return to what I love. I’m not practicing to get anywhere, I’m practicing because what could be better than floor, beauty, tree.
Someone asked Pablo Casals, one of the greatest cellists of all time, why, at ninety years old, he still practiced his instrument. His answer was, “I am beginning to notice some improvement.” Me too. I’m beginning to notice some improvement.