The only sport I was ever half-way decent at while growing up was basketball. My skill developed mostly by shooting hoops in the driveway with my older brother, Andrew, or playing at the local YMCA with older kids from all over the Twin Cities. By the time I was thirteen years old, despite having never played organized basketball, I had enough skill to compete at a high level.
This skill, made up of scrappy lay-ups and ball-handling that I tried to model after Allen Iverson (who didn’t love A.I. back then?), first helped me secure a spot on the Junior High School team where I eventually had to learn about real basketball, not just what I saw The Professor doing in the AND1 Mixtapes (watch here).
Learning how to play as a team was much different than what I was used to. Most of my experience, as I mentioned, was instead playing one-on-one, facing a competitor head on with one hoop and no teammates. In one-on-one basketball, dissimilar from the standard five-on-five, full court team game, the rules are often “make it, take it.” This means that when one player scores, he or she gets to take the ball on offense again rather than the two players taking turns with the ball.
Make it take it is a game of momentum. A dominant player can win quickly, wearing the opponent down as he or she tries to play defense for a longer duration while the point gap becomes wider. It is also a game of momentum in that a weaker player can quickly advance without having to ever play defense if he or she can continue to score. Without question, winning at make it take it revolves around the execution of momentum.
Sometimes life is a make it take it game. Momentum can push us to new levels, helping us obtain one win after another. By pressing into each small victory and stringing little wins together we can fend off failure and adversity and, especially important: we can stay on the offensive. It feels good to get win after win. Maybe this is what the “1%” feels like, or maybe this is what optimists feel like. At any rate, leveraging this momentum no doubt leads us to what we want – winning.
But sometimes life works the opposite way, where we are the less skilled or smaller player, being beaten over and over and feeling like we may never get to go on the offensive. We fight off debt only to have our car break down on the highway and get set back with a big repair bill. We struggle to meet the guy or girl of our dreams but when one appears we find out the feeling isn’t mutual. We struggle to mend a nagging injury only to get sick on top of it. We get laid off and then finally obtain another job but we end up disappointed with the new position, finding out it’s not what we were sold in the interview. This is what it feels like to lose and to lose badly, and this is not a fun game to play, but it is what happens when momentum works against us.
But most of the time life isn’t a make it take it game at all. Most of the time it’s more like the game of HORSE, where things work more slowly and we have time to set strategy and to play to your strengths. In HORSE we can take our time, have fun if we choose to, create space or margin. In HORSE, although an opponent exists, the real opponent is ourself: will you stick to what you know or will you take risks? Will you take an arrogant eyes-closed shot over the backboard or will you shoot a humble free-throw? Will you take your time and try your hardest or will you give it half effort until you are close to being defeated?
Yes, life is more like HORSE than make it take it.
But really, truthfully, most of the time life isn’t even like basketball at all. It’s more like life. There are no analogies or metaphors.
Unless we’re talking about golf. Well then, in that case, yes, life is a lot like golf.