Guest Post, Brian Doyle: Dribblage

Brian DoyleWhen I was a teenager I spent one entire summer, June through August, dribbling a basketball at least two hours a day, seven days a week, alternating left and right hands, while walking, running, jogging, sprinting, and even once backpedaling, just to see if it could be done, which it essentially cannot, and why would you need to dribble while backpedaling anyway? Yet I tried that, and I tried dribbling while riding a bicycle, which was pointless but hilarious, and I dribbled while being assaulted by two younger brothers to simulate defensive traps, and I dribbled with ankle weights on to simulate heavy-legged exhaustion, and I dribbled with sunglasses on to train myself not to look at the ball while dribbling, and I spent hours racing up and down courts dribbling behind my back and between my legs, and I practiced dribbling while skidding and sliding on the court, for a moment would come, I knew it, when I would need to keep my dribble alive even after being shoved or tripped, and I swore I would be ready for that moment.

I dribbled on the courts behind schools and temples. I dribbled down avenues and lanes and streets and trails and byways. I dribbled into and out of highway tunnels just to hear the cool booming sound. I dribbled along pathways and sidewalks and public thoroughfares. One afternoon I dribbled for a while along the Long Island Rail Road tracks until I heard a faint thunderous roar in the distance and I hopped off hurriedly and dribbled home. I dribbled my ball and my brother’s ball and a ball I stole from the churchyard and even once a volleyball just to see if it could be done, which it essentially cannot. I once dribbled into a delicatessen and then out again hurriedly when the owner shouted and lurched out from behind the counter brandishing a kielbasa.

Did my maniacal dribbling drive my family insane? Heavens yes. My mother ejected me for dribbling infractions many times, and my father many times would glance at me over the lip of his newspaper, which in his case was tantamount to roaring, and my sister shrieked and gibbered, and the local dogs blubbered and raged, and even the polite lady next door once asked if I could possibly desist my basketball rehearsal, as she called it, after sunset, as her husband was exhausted when he came home from long day of being an engineer on bridges in the city, and his repose was crucial to the family fortunes, would I be a dear and keep that in mind?

I look back now at that peculiar boy, dribbling down one street after another, sprinting up and down one court after another, and while I see that he was a crazy person, a nut, a goof (and this is not even to mention the ankle weights and the sunglasses and the dribbling-while-sliding-on-asphalt thing), I also have to laud his lunacy. He wanted to be a better ballplayer so badly that he spent two hours a day (minimum – there were plenty of days when I got in more hours, and yes, I was maniacal enough to record my hours in a notebook) practicing this one crucial skill, so that he would be infinitesimally better at the game he loved above all others. He would never be great at the game, never be famous at it, never make a penny at it, but he loved it so that his hard work at it was the most airy and pleasant play. There was something good and true and even wise in that; something fine, something subtle, something that would be wonderfully eloquent, if we could only find the words.

Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle is the author of many books of fiction and nonfiction, notably the ‘sprawling Oregon novel’ Mink River. His most recent book is an essay collection called So Very Much the Best of Us.
Brian Doyle

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