By Candace Echols
In my former life, I played a little semi-professional basketball in Britain.
I know. It’s as shocking to me now as it is to you. The truth is, I practiced a few times with the team when I realized it was just too far to drive on a regular basis without moving. I lived in Surrey and the team did not. For multiple reasons, I couldn’t move.
My family is made up of basketball people. My dad played at Trezevant High School in the mid-70’s when bussing started. He and his friends (friendships made because of bussing) have fascinating stories to tell about that era, but the reason for his staying when others decided to go was—you guessed it—basketball. My brother played college ball and my sister still holds high school records two decades later. I am by far the worst player in the family, but I got the opportunity to see if British semi-pro ball would work for me and so, hey, why not?
My husband also is a basketball guy. He had a strong defensive game and I would venture to say he is one of the biggest fans in town. Yes, I realize what I’m saying. I have a picture from the paper to prove it.
Last week, he and I cheered along with the canned crowd at the Grizzlies game. It felt weird—I’m gonna be honest—hearing “the crowd go wild” and looking around at a few duds tamely clapping every once in a while. They were mirror images of us. The whole thing felt, well, phony.
However—and this is a pretty big however—last week, the Grizzlies fed my soul in ways no basketball team has ever done. It could be that my soul was just that hungry and they stepped in at the right time. But here are five ways the Grizz made me excessively happy that have absolutely nothing to do with basketball.
Watching a team of five people focus on one goal and set aside a thousand opinions and distractions to accomplish that one goal was deeply nourishing. We are flooded by divisiveness and a push for selfish gain. Observing a group of grown men strategically working together for the good of the whole—“you pop out on the wing and I’ll set a pick so he can score the bucket”—that was a symphony I haven’t heard much lately.
It’s unheard-of for that many adults (or kids, even) to be in an area the size of a court without a single small screen present. It was wildly satisfying. Natural. Beautiful. Faces—all looking ahead—responding to other faces without interference or hesitation. The conversational timing was just as it should be. There was a flow to every interaction, even those unpleasant ones between coach and ref, that was so wonderfully human.
Watching that many people perspire in one place without a single mask in sight felt positively fleshy. It reminded me of running races where I could smell all the sweats mingling and where I felt proud that mine was in the mix. Lots of athletes dripping salt together and not being afraid . . . it’s refreshing.
I don’t go for the canned crowd. But hearing a group—even a fake one—cheer with reckless abandon for the same thing brought actual tears to my eyes. That’s embarrassing, but I think it speaks to how desperate I am (and we are?) to work together as a whole with all of our hearts turned in the same direction. It’s been a while.
Caveat: this last one could be more meaningful because I’m a mom. But watching that referee blow that whistle and call those shots with such decisiveness—such unemotional resoluteness—was awe-inspiring. Those seven-foot-tall players fussed. They groaned and griped and whined and whimpered. Didn’t matter. The whistle had blown and the foul had been called. There was a right and there was a wrong. So many things look so gray from where I sit. What will this next phase look like? How should we exist in it? The referee’s decisiveness felt so wonderfully authoritative and smart and true and good. Even if I disagreed with the call—as my husband so often did—I relished in the way it was made.
I’m not one of those people who wakes up looking for the sunny side of life and especially not after a year of pandemic survival. But the Grizzlies came through for me last week. I thought I was just watching a basketball game, but those guys surprised me by pulling “a Memphis.”
They gave me soul food.
Feature photo: Candace Echols
StoryBoard features “The Yellow Chair ChronEchols” by writer Candace Echols. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine. Candace is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair.