The Pleasure of Being Immoderate

Thomas Beller is a tremendous writer (who has been on TrueHoop before). Sometimes he writes about basketball, and when he does, I love it every time.

In a recent story, he talks about the difference between cold winter basketball (traveling to the gym through winter, gyms without much heat and drills and coaches that are organized and disciplined) and hot summer basketball (disorganized, baked in sun, lacking coaches and full of improvisation and attitude).

That summer game, and his addiction to playground basketball, is part of his latest piece, which includes this tremendous and true passage about what makes basketball such a pleasure -- it's a rare chance, in modern society, to behave immoderately:

Everyone arrives in a mood to insult and prepared to defend against insults, basketball-related or otherwise. I like it; I think it's part of my addiction. It's not like I play ball to fight, but I crave the intensity. And my game is respected for that reason above all others. For a long time now, that has been my thing -- to be intense, to play hard, to exhibit a certain smug satisfaction at hitting shots, to want to win, to relish nifty passes, to clap and congratulate my teammates, to be loud, to be in your face, to stir the pot so that the people I'm playing against feel annoyed and insulted, so they try harder.

Afterward, everyone seems to feel the game has been better for it.

I've learned all this from years and years of being taunted and abused on various public street-basketball courts in various cities and locales. Inside the fence, you're all alone in a kind of free-trade zone of aggression and hostility and whatever else you wanted to trade in. Buckets, for example, or pride. You feel as if anything could happen. All that hostility, in the context of such a devotional love of the game, is a good way to make friends, even if you don't know their real names.