Shooting around in the Alumni Gymnasium with my teammates on a Saturday morning, with the light shining through the windows and the net whipping after made shots, brings me back to when I was a kid.
I was never taught to shoot the proper way—my dad just advised me to do whatever felt good and went in the hoop—which is why I have such a funky release today. All of my teammates at Arcadia joke about my shooting style, and not a week goes by without someone imitating my form. But it works for me. I was able to perfect this way of shooting through countless hours of practice on a backyard court with two above-ground baskets, the kind you had to fill with water to keep from tipping over. It looked like something out of NBA Street. The court was made of dirt, so it was uneven. To keep from losing the ball on an awkward bounce, I had to know each and every bump and dip in the surface.
I spent all that time developing my jump shot so I could beat my older brother. I couldn’t drive to the rim against him—he was much bigger and stronger than I was at the time—so I had to shoot from far out. It wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school that I beat him one-on-one.
It happened on an outdoor court in Avalon, N.J. My family and I take a week-long vacation in the area every year. It’s one of the few times of the year where we are all together.
I started off hot, hitting my first two jumpers. There was no wind, so I knew the shots would fall. When he tried to guard me more closely, I would back up and shoot over top of him. Inspired and confident, I made a lucky running right-handed bank shot to take a 3-0 lead.
Once he had the ball, however, I knew he would score. Still stronger and faster than me, he was able to tie the game pretty quickly once I missed a shot. I knew he couldn’t shoot all that well though, so I kept letting him shoot jumpers.
When I took possession of the ball again at the top of the key, I backed my brother in and was able to hit a turnaround jumper from the foul line. For the first time, I felt a sense of control while playing him. I was on the verge of victory with game point and had a huge grin on my face as if I were about to win a championship trophy. The courts were empty, but I might as well have been in Madison Square Garden.
I was able to back my brother down and make him pay for all of those long years of defeat in the backyard. I finished the game making the same move from the free throw line before hitting another jumper over his outstretched fingers.
That was probably a small event in my brother’s life, but it was huge for me. I knew that day of triumph had to come. My confidence soared and I realized all that time in my backyard was paying off.
Throughout high school, and even now in college, there are moments when I would see something of my brother in the opponent—a pesky, trash-talking guard or a big man who I had to shoot over.
Those years of practice in my backyard are where my competitiveness began, and I owe it to my dirt court and pain-in-the-neck brother.
Photo by Josh Blustein