My Favorite NBA Player (and what he taught me about writing)

My affection for basketball did not develop until I was nine. Prior to that point, I was a baseball-loving kid in a small baseball-loving town in rural Minnesota.

My dad had been painting the house, and I, as a young boy, wanted to help. So he let me scrape away the old paint, and after a while that particular Sunday afternoon, we took a break inside, turning on the TV to the NBA finals. I’m not sure which game it was, but it was between the Celtics and the Rockets (the ’86 Finals), this game being played at the Boston Garden on that wonderful old floor.

I probably had seen basketball on TV before, and I had seen my share of it in smaller settings since my dad had been the girls’ B-squad coach for most of my life. But this was the day I discovered Larry Bird. Here was this tall guy who could pass, dribble, shoot, rebound–he seemed involved in everything. And also, he didn’t draw attention to himself. What he did, he did well. Watching the game set in motion my love for basketball: as a player, yes, but also as a lifelong fan.

A few years after that first NBA Finals’ game, my parents’ gave me Larry Bird’s autobiography, Drive. I’m pretty sure I read that book in a few days, and by the time I read that book, his career had peaked, but I had enjoyed game after game of watching him.

I don’t really play basketball much anymore (which is another blog post in itself), but Larry Bird’s success (and the hard work and dedication it took for him to achieve success) has served well as a model for my writing, both in terms of process and actual product.

In regards to the later, my poems, stories, essays, are not flashy, they are not filled with sophisticated diction, pyrotechnics, or any such things. Rather, I believe in the poem, the story, the essay, that tries to be unassuming, just striving for a kind of quiet excellence. Other writers can be loud and aggressive in their prosody or prose–not me.

Also, a major lesson I learned from Larry Bird, which I suppose is really an extension of the previous point, is that he played within his game. What he could do well, he did well.  He did not try to be any other player; he did not play outside of his skill set. Sure, I bet he worked on areas of weakness, but I’m certain he knew to focus on what he did so well: shoot, pass, rebound, do the little things.

Likewise, I know the things I do well as a writer, as well as the things I don’t do so well. And while I’ll continue to attempt improvement in areas of weakness, I’m going to spend more of my time taking those things I already do well, and do them even better.

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