When I am puzzled by human behavior, I run things by my psychotherapist wife. That’s how I came to discuss the puzzling behavior of a teammate Friday afternoon in a pickup basketball game at the Capital Athletic Club. I call his behavior “puzzling” in the calm light of reflection. While it was happening, I found it infuriating. I wound up throwing a temper tantrum and storming off the court.
Quitting a game is a serious breach of court etiquette. It is defensible only when the provocation has gone beyond the ground rules of pickup ball. If a defender submarines you on a jump shot, you can take the moral high ground and refuse to play with a nut who could seriously injure you. Invoking a theatrical departure over stupid play, a hard foul or a stiff elbow is disrespectful to the other players and unmanly. It evokes the specter of the kid who grabs his basketball and runs home to momma.
What happened Friday was this: There were eight of us in the gym – four regulars and four guys in their mid-20s I didn’t know. We made up teams and decided to play a full-court game. One of the young guys on my team, a skinny fellow about 5-10 and 140 pounds, threw up an awkward-looking jump shot the first time he had the ball. It wasn’t close. He did the same thing the next time down the court –and again and again. Line-drive jumpers banged off the front rim or backboard. I got the ball twice and made two jump shots. Finally, with two guys hanging on him, this fellow tosses up a running hook shot that misses everything. That made his shooting about zero for 10.
“What the f—!” I yelled in disgust and stopped playing. I waved off all inquiries, picked up my towel and water bottle and marched out of the gym. I wanted to let this jerk know that his behavior was so reprehensible that it was beyond redemption, beyond a punch in the nose. Meanwhile, my action left six other players without a game.
OK, I’m not going to defend my poor behavior. Chalk up another sin. But what could be going through the mind of an inept player who assumes the behavior of a star? He was clearly a poor shooter but felt entitled to take 75 percent of our shots? In the real world of pickup street ball, such as the Braddock Park of my youth, he would have been kicked off the court. You earn the right to be a gunner.
“What’s with this guy?” I asked my wife.
“Self-esteem run amok,” she suggested. “Self-esteem used to be the big thing in schools. He was probably always told whatever he did was great.”
I suppose that could be the case. I went to watch my grandson play in a baseball tournament recently. A kid came up to bat with the tying run on third base. He struck out on three pitches. As he left the batter’s box, I heard his mother shout encouragingly, “Great swing!”
Was she serious? Her little darling struck out in the clutch. Shouldn’t he get some reality testing and learn to deal with failure? Did she think a phony compliment would serve him well?
Maybe this kid, like the jerk on the court, will get in live in Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.