On Losing (Seeing the World Through An Orange Rim)

We lost again tonight – our basketball team. And now the Mavericks/Heat NBA finals game taunts me from the living room TV, the championship trophy seemingly predestined to be taken to South Beach, like a certain King’s talents. The losing side will include Jason Kidd, a flawed but historic player who me and my friends Derrick Nam and Ben Lei used to watch play summer league basketball in a musty gym on the outskirts of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco when we were in high school. (Can’t remember the name of that gym.) In one indelible play Kidd, wearing a high top fade, caught a pass at the three point line and without looking, and in one motion, fired a rocket pass to a cutter at eye level underneath the basket, inches away from a defender’s fingertips. Kidd’s anonymous teammate, a local baller who probably played a little division II hoops, dumbfounded by the dime, finished with a servicable, if pedestrian reverse layup. I remember looking around and making eye contact with some old school basketball junkies. We shook our heads in unison with a satisfied half smile as if to say, “in 20 years, we’re gonna remember we saw him here and recognized his genius first.”

And now 20 years later, if he wasn’t as flawed as he is, if he could hit a mid-range jumpshot, if he were more athletic, if he had a reliable post move, then maybe I would be a different kind of person. Someone who isn’t agitated by the easy excellence and near perfection by bulletproof types like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade. Instead I’m loyal to players like Marcus Liberty, Harold Miner, Lamond Murray, Anfernee Hardaway, Kenny Anderson, Chris Jackson (Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), Lawrence Moten, Bob Sura, Jimmy Jackson, Gerald “Sky” Walker, Steve Smith, Billy Owens, Jalen Rose and others whose games were glorious and poetic, but in many cases, lacking efficiency and cut-throat professionalism.

Efficiency and professionalism are fine, admirable traits in business and you want to impart those in the workplace, but in basketball I’m down with those who just barely missed out and didn’t quite live up. They exist on the margins of basketball’s history book, but their games survive in the memories of those that appreciated their fleeting success. And the margin’s where it’s at anyway in creative fields like basketball and art. Those that are outside the lines of history, who aren’t included in the story, can make their own. They can play ball with a loser’s edge and make some fine art, but only if they stop caring about winning all the time.

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