Friday, June 13, 2014

What It's Like To Play Pick-Up Ball With My Dad

Hello to everyone reading this blog and especially fathers out there, whether it was on purpose or accidental.  I am El Guapo and welcome to Infinite Wisdom, a blog filled with so much knowledge you might be able to get a degree by reading it.  Today I want to take the time to wish everyone a Happy Father's Day, especially my dad, Ruben Briones, or as I affectionately have called him since I was little, Papi.  The relationship between myself and my dad has been complicated and a little difficult at times (mostly my fault) but I can say without a doubt that he's the best dad I could have asked for.  My dad has been one of my biggest supporters and biggest influences in my life.  The times where I feel things might be getting to tough I know that I can call him and that he can give me a pep talk that breathes new life in me.  I look at my dad when I think about what kind of person I want to be and try to model my work ethic and behavior after him.  There's a lot of shit that my dad used to do growing up that I found mildly annoying.  (He's a terrible singer but he still sings.  With the wrong lyrics I might add.)  Now I find myself subconsciously doing those same things like I'm a younger version of him.  I really do love my dad and everything he has ever done for me.

I'm constantly thinking about some of the ways I can repay the people who have helped me over the years, but like my mom, my dad is one of those people who have done so much for me that no matter what I do I'll never be able to repay him.  It's especially true because I feel like he really didn't have to do the things he's done and continues to do.  I grew up not knowing my biological dad, something that internally affected me.  My dad stepped up and became the dad that I might not have been good enough to deserve.  And although I've been able to reconnect with my biological dad, it's no question in my heart and and to anyone who's been around me who my dad is.  Papi taught me so much growing up.  He taught me about responsibility and work ethic.  He taught me how to love my family.  He taught me patience and compassion.  He taught me corny dad jokes.  (We used to play this game when I was little where I'd ask "Who's You?" with my dad responding "Me."  Then I'd ask "Who's Me?" with his response being "You".)  He taught how to do man stuff like shave and put on a tie.  He introduced me to rap music by showing me his old Public Enemy cassette tapes.  (Damn, he's old.)  He also introduced me to my favorite sport basketball.

My dad taught me a lot of the sports I like growing up.  We used to play catch in the grass field outside of my house with a baseball and his old gloves, something I took for granted.  We used to throw the football around as well.  My dad got me into swimming and took the time in the pull to work on my technique.  My dad is the reason why I ran cross country.  But what I really remember now that I'm reminiscing the times I spent with my dad is playing basketball.  It's no secret that I love basketball and the man to thank for that is Papi.  At a very early age we would go shoot hoops and a local playground and my dad would explain the game to me.  All the ins and outs about basketball, strategies, plays and those sorts of things were what my dad talked about.  I was like a student of the game, my dad a Harvard professor in my eyes.  When we would catch Warrior games he would point things out about the game and like a sponge I absorbed everything.  My dad wanted me to have great fundamentals; I never liked fundamentals.  (You can read my thoughts on fundamentals here.)  That's why I never really developed good handles, but you can't say my dad didn't try.  What I did take from him is my shot.  (Sort of.)  Like with swimming and other sports my dad worked on my technique.  He wanted my jump shot to look smooth and be effective and though I would change my jump shot periodically to what I felt was more comfortable, my dad would help me correct my bad habits.  (High arching shots, no-arching shots, thrusting the ball, etc.)  After our little drills is when the fun would start though.

Over the years I would gauge how well my game was by my 1 on 1 games with my dad.  Obviously when I was a tyke my dad would let me win.  When I got to a certain age my dad stopped going easy on me and I went on a pretty long losing streak.  I don't remember how old I was when I beat my dad for the first time for real at a game of 21, but it was one of the proudest moments of my life at the time.  Every boy dreams of beating his dad at his favorite sport and I was no exception.  I haven't played my dad in a while but the last few times I did my dad has put up a fight and might has even beaten me a few times despite his older age and rickety knees.  (Yeah, I said it!)  He's lost a few pounds so that's helped him a bit.  But my dad is still one of the funnest and toughest opponents I'll ever play against.  For one, he pump fakes... a lot.  Most people will get to the rim and pump fake to get his man in the air.  (Fell for this all my life until I finally mastered it.)  Sometimes they'll pump fake twice for good measure.  My dad will pump fake 26 times before he shoots.  (If this were the NBA he would have been called for 3 in the key.)  I after jumping four or five times I'm a little tired and I'll admit I give up on the play.  I'll let me dad pump fake 20 more times and let him shoot that shot.  Because of my dad when I play 21 I always add a "3 and back" rule, meaning after a make on a basket, you can make up to three free throws before you have to check out the ball.  My dad would make one basket and then make 19 straight free throws and end up winning 21 to 7.  That's bullshit and I had to come up with counter-measures.

He has a nice 3-point shot but he thinks he's a better shooter than he really is.  (Hurts, don't it?)  He'll make shots he shouldn't make and miss shots he should.  My dad has a good handle but he'll only do two things with the ball: pop it from 3 or go to the whole, no in between.  It makes it a little easier but my dad can finish at the rim with both hands which makes up for it.  He's an OK defender.  The only reason he would be able to stop me growing up was because I would be using his moves.  I would do a move on him that would work and a couple plays later try it again and like some kind of Terminator have the move completely figured out.  (That's why I don't practice in front of him no more.)  His biggest weapon was his sweat.  My dad sweats when he balls... a lot.  His whole shirt would be soaked so I hated guarding him.  To avoid touching his sweat I'd let him do his move and try to block it at the top.  (Kudos, Papi.)

Even more fun that the 1 on 1's were the 5 on 5's we would run together.  Growing up they were usually at my practices at St. Elizabeth Elementary doing CYO basketball.  Later on they would be at 24 Hour Gym and St. Joachim with my cousins and this guy named Patrick.  (Hey Papi, if you're reading this you should call Patrick up and see what the deal is.)  I liked guarding my dad in those situations even though he was bigger than me and hard to defend because I always just liked beating him.  I don't know if this was my dad being lazy or some strategy but I caught my dad cherry picking a few times.  (That's right!  Calling you out!)  And on defense, if he ever really played it, he mostly dared me or whoever was his defender to shoot.  My dad also had this problem with injuring himself.  I did too but that's because I would play reckless.  My dad has to have some record for number of times he's jammed his fingers.  Also when I was younger my dad tore his Achilles Heal playing ball.  (I might blog about that some other time.)  But one thing my dad did a lot was pass the ball, which is why I liked, and sometimes hated, playing on his team.

My dad is a creative passer.  And he's pretty chunky.  Think Boris Diaw of the San Antonio Spurs.  He was so good and finding the cutting man, which was why it was fun being on his team.  When my dad had the ball everyone knew that you just had to cut and he'd get you the ball.  What got annoying about his passing was that he would pass when he had and open look just to show off his passing skills.  He could be by himself underneath the basket and for some reason pass it to me as I'm being heavily guarded by my man a couple feet away from him.  Granted it was probably one of the nicest passes I would see all night, including the SportsCenter highlight real, but it was pointless.

Me and my dad did have good chemistry on the court though.  We understood each other from playing against each other for years.  He knew where I would be on the court without seeing me and vice versa.  I remember once I got the ball at the top of the key and I decided to drive to the basket.  I beat my man and headed straight down the lane.  A defender came up to meet me at the rim and my defender was a little behind me to my left.  I had a bad habit of jumping with the ball without having a plan after leaving the ground.  As I jumped that play I also did a 180 realizing this guy would probably block my shot.  As I faced away from the basket I saw my other teammates, one in the right corner, one by the free throw line and one where I was just seconds earlier at the top of the key.  Something told me that my dad saw my stupid play unfold before it even transpired and had cut to the basket to get a rebound or something.  He had to be there, I thought in the split second.  So I just blindly threw the ball behind me.  As I landed I quickly turned around to see my dad finish at the rim with a lay-up.  Everyone at the gym admired the play between me and my dad, thinking it was pre-meditated.  I don't know if in his old man status he even remembers this, but I do.  I remember it vividly.  I also remember after this play the other guys would try to make sure me and my dad were never on the same team to ensure we didn't have that connection running.

Basketball was, and still is, important to me because it's what brought me and my dad together.  During my high school years and maybe earlier I was going through some problems and unfortunately it really affected my relationship with my dad.  I think those pick-up games always pulled us back together when it seemed we were oceans apart.  No matter what was going on between me and my dad at the time, none of it mattered once we were on the court.  We were father and son, friends, teammates and competitors on the hardwood.  Our relationship is a lot better now and I'm really grateful for that.  I love my dad, I always have and always will.  I'm thankful for all the gifts he's given me, but in particular, basketball.  Nowadays my dad wakes up at some ridiculous time in the morning to shoot hoops and play some pick-up ball at the local 24 Hours.  I still hoop from time to time, though I wish it was more frequent.  But I do it just enough so when that rematch with my dad comes, I have no excuses.

Thank you for reading my blog.  I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  This Father's Day if you are fortunate enough to do so, tell you're dad "Thank You" or "I Love You" or even both.  To my own dad I just want to say that you are the real life superhero that I'm fortunate enough to know.  I hope you have a wonderful day and I'm sorry I won't be able to spend it with you.  To everyone else, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @ELGUAPO3 and @CAPTAINCRUNCHTIME respectively.  Stay tuned for more Guapo posts.  Have a great Father's Day and stay Guapo out there!

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