Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Of spins: basketball and aikido

I have a confession to make. I recently got my 58 year old body out in front of a hoop and, inspired by the video highlites of Earl Monroe(see"Magic Before Magic") I resumed my intent to capture the essence of his spin move. I don't know the number of times I dribbled the ball off my knees and ankles trying spin and counter-spin. Kind of like the number of times I dropped the staff learning the free form stuff. So, be it basketball or aikido, it was about spins. As Nadeau sensei might put it, center/circle or circle/center.

Something changed when I got a chance to watch Earl again on video. As opposed to my mind trying to learn how to do it, something clicked at the level of the body. When I was young, I was really good at getting from point A to point B. Direct. Linear. Fast. I could get to the hoop at times but would be going so fast that I would have trouble finishing.I finally mastered a running hook shot I could bank high off the boards and finish with.

The spin move, instead of giving me more options, would tie me up. Stop and go. Crossover. Those were my game. But the spin? What I now noticed was that Earl's spin is tight(not tense) and explosive. After the spin he expands either to the hoop, or to a position from which he counter-spins or re-spins. I was the opposite. i was viewing the spin as a platform from which I could accelerate. No, the spin WAS the acceleration. So in some ways it helps to be 40 years older and a 6th degree black belt in Aikido. I was good at getting the shortest and fastest line to the hoop, ie beating defenders there. Earl said he thought always of the tightest "circle" to the hoop. See, he thought non-Euclidianly......

I got a tripod and shot some sequences of myself. One reason is that there are no videos or photos of me in my playing days, and i wanted to see what I looked like. Actually, not bad. I found I could still shoot. The explosive stop on a dime and elevate has long left my legs. But that is replaced by a slight fade. And I can spin and shoot, which I never could in my young days. The first move on the edited video is an explosive spin and good finish. In bursts, I may still have some speed. So, not bad.....

The soundtrack is Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man", which was a popular song during what were my playing days. "There's a man who leads a life of danger.....". Earl, like Tojima sensei in aikido, could take things into danger, ie defy the tyranny of common sense, and create magic.....

There was one time on a basketball court when i stopped the world. In pick up games i loved to take it to the hoop on the bigger guys, beat them to the hoop, and finish.
When there was a new big guy, I took it as a challenge to go to the hoop on him. One morning before classes at UCSC I was shooting outside the gym. A TALL African-American man wandered up to the hoop and started to shoot. He pretended not to notice me at all. I found out later his name was Tony, and that he was 6'8", and that he was a proctor at one of the colleges. Oh Oh, I thought. All the other shot blockers were 6'2' or 6'3".So compared to my 5'4" he might as well have been Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I found out later that he claimed to have played semi-professionally.
That afternoon I went to the gym to play some pick-up. The games were half-court and winners(meaning if your team made a shot, you got the ball back. If you were fouled, you got the ball at the side. If you made a shot, you got the ball at the head of the key. Sides were chosen and Tony was there and on the opposing team. He obviously wanted to establish the paint as his. And of course, i had to challenge him. So, I blew past my defender with a crossover from right to left. I was hoping to somehow beat him to the hoop and finish. No such luck. He jumped into the lane, was so huge all I saw was him, no view of the hoop at all. I jumped as high as I could. I was not going to let him block the shot. I felt myself twisting and turning in mid-air, and, before I hit the ground I threw the ball upward as hard as I could over my left ear. I was not hurt by the fall and got right back up. There was absolute silence in the gym and on everyone's faces. I thought maybe I had been fouled. But we had the ball back and someone threw it to me at the head of the key. The shot had gone in.


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