My love-hate relationship with basketball

November 10, 2022 — by Neal Malhotra
Photo by Anamika Anand
A 100% accurate depiction of me playing basketball.
Over the 12 years I have played and watched basketball, I have somehow not increased my basketball IQ by a single point.

I want to shoot my shot like I am Devin Booker, dunk on people like Ja Morant or cross people up like Kyrie Irving. But I am a 5-foot-9 kid who can barely touch the net, I have a jumper uglier than Lonzo Ball’s, and I can barely make a wide open layup while warming up.

Basketball holds my attention from October until June. Because this sport I love is so accessible, I can’t take my eyes off the screen once the NBA season starts. I am enamored by players’ skills on the court and the way they make defenses fall at their feet.

Some of my closest friends’ lives revolve around basketball. Since elementary school, we’ve frequently spent our time together going to Argonaut Elementary and playing hoops. I always remember watching them pull off crazy moves while 1v5-ing as I cherry-picked on the other side of the court.

And now — of course — half of them are on the basketball team, practicing daily to improve their skills. 

I remember in my freshman year I decided to bike to the school’s outdoor courts and see if I could play a pickup game. After five minutes, I remember calling for a water break. Despite being an athlete, I was not prepared for having to run up and down the court 20 times because my teammates couldn’t make a shot.

About an hour into the game, I finally touched the ball for the first time and, instead of dribbling it, I immediately passed it to my one teammate who was covered by a defender, giving up an easy turnover.

Determined to not embarrass myself, I fought my hardest for the rebound during the next play and pulled it down. I soon looked up and frantically searched for an open teammate. Once I threw the pass, I sighed a breath of relief as I started running down the court.

But my “teammate” was on the other team.

Sadly, this was not my only mistake — I remember countless other times my lack of basketball prowess has let me down.

Every time I shoot a 3-point shot from the corner, I don’t hope it goes in — rather, I hope it merely hits the rim so that I’m not embarrassed as I run back to play defense.

I consider it a blessing every time I get the ball, but somehow, without fail, I turn it over or take the worst shots imaginable. The countless hours of watching the best of the best compete has somehow not improved my basketball IQ in the slightest.

Honestly, I consider myself a decent athlete: I play racket sports like squash and tennis, and I am not a stranger to physical activity — but for some mysterious reason, I am atrocious at basketball. 

But despite all of it, when I get the text — “shs at 6?” — I still find myself at the high school, trying to practice my jumper before everyone else gets there. Or just going to my front yard and shooting some hoops to kill some time.

Being bad at basketball isn’t something I take to heart. I like to think it’s a part of me.

Do I wish that I was better? Sure, but I understand that my lack of skill is a part of me. And air balling every other shot hasn’t affected the rest of my life so far, so why stop now?