My 10th grade basketball team was shockingly good. We’d been 7-4 or something like that as freshmen, and returned the entire team plus added a really good player (who although maybe the best scoring guard in the league never amounted to much due to personal issues*), so literally went the entire season and playoffs without losing a game. In fact, we had several games where we won by nearly 80 points. I remember one game it was 98 to 18 with just a few seconds left, and the other team scored to make it 98-20. They whooped it up since they had broken 20 against us, escaped losing by 80 and prevented us from scoring 100 (kudos to the coach for keeping them focused on the minor victories!)… I thought of this today, when listening to The Heart of the Game, where the writer is disgusted that a team was winning its games by 100 points. He couldn’t imagine a coach allowing his players to do that to another team. But we never thought of it that way – we didn’t trash talk or gloat, we really just enjoyed playing, and honestly any of our 11 guys were good enough to start for any team in the league. Later, when I played softball as an adult and they had the mercy rule that ended a game early if a team went up by 10 runs, my friend and I used to make errors on purpose to allow the other team to score so we could continue playing (e.g. over throw the cut off man, let a ball scoot between the legs without being too obvious, etc.). For me, always, I truly just love to play and to compete – victory comes from that love. I think that is why I always loved pick-up basketball more than organized basketball – organized basketball is about winning, whereas pick-up ball is about playing (I like to win there so I can stay on the court and continue to play 🙂 ).
*= I never played with or against another player like him. He was all of 5’8″ and 150 pounds, and reasonably quick but not too fast or quick, and not a fancy dribbler but he could dribble forever without anyone stealing the ball. He would dribble and weave, dribble and weave, dribble and weave, until all of us was just stop trying to get open and wait. He’d do this for a minute at a time before finding the opening he wanted, then would weave methodically into the lane, lay the ball up with an incredible spin so that he could literally throw the ball away from the basket (and shot blockers) to the edge of the backboard, where it would hit the board, turn almost 90 degrees then drop in the bucket, every time. He drew a lot of fouls as players slashed at the ball and he’d score 20 points a game, but also drew the frustration of his teammates (“C’mon, pass!”) and even a tireless player like me would stop trying to move without the ball after awhile. The thing is, we also didn’t play against great coaching – a tight zone defense, or better help-defense in the low post, would have neutralized him I think, since he had no outside shot and was dependent on weaving through a seam; also, since he wasn’t fast and didn’t pass, I would have pressured him the entire way up the court since we could take chances and still have time to recover… On another side note, despite being short and slender, no one ever harassed him – he boxed nearly his entire childhood and knocked out a kid in 7th grade who tried pushing him around.