What It’s Like to Play in the NBA D-League (or at Least the D-League Tryouts)

What It’s Like to Play in the NBA D-League (or at Least the D-League Tryouts) May 13, 2008

Just read a pretty funny article about one writer’s bid to make the NBA’s Developmental League. “Me Got Game”, by Davy Rothbart, is a funny and revealing look about what it’s actually like to try and make a high-level professional basketball team. You’ll want to watch for bad language in the piece, but if you can get past it, you’ll likely be entertained by Rothbart’s experience.

Rothbart recounts his initial moments as a D-League would-be.

When we get to the arena, we run our pregame warm-up. I feel good, and every shot I fling up is going down. Marcus whistles. “Dang,” he says. “If I get the rebound down low, look for me to kick it out to you. I want to rack up some assists.”

Once the game starts, its pace is relentless, a nonstop sprint. When I sub in, I’m matched against a six-foot-two guard who played at Southern Oregon. I decide to drape myself on him on the perimeter so he can’t get off a shot, even if it means surrendering the drive. My lungs are on fire; my vision feels fogged. Then the ball rotates to me on -offense, and I let loose a long-range jumper, six feet behind the three-point line. Swish!”

Rothbart has a good first game, but things go downhill from there. As he writes, one gets a sense of the speed and force of professional basketball. Here’s a snapshot from his next game.

“Right out of the gate, I know I’m in trouble. Yesterday’s games have sapped me of my juice, and the guy I’m D’ing up scores twice in a row. At the other end, I throw up an off-balance shot that barely glances the front rim. Coach Walsh yanks me. “Don’t force it, Davy,” he shouts. “Find your rhythm.” I nod, but when I sub back in, I can’t find it. Walsh pulls me out again, and I take a seat at the end of the bench, sucking breaths, close to tears.”

After several games, the tryout for the D-League is over, and Rothbart reflects on his effort.

“Yeah, I found out the hard way—I couldn’t hang. I was good enough only to keep from embarrassing myself. (I’d totaled fourteen points and fifteen assists.) Anthony, who scored three points in our final game, also came up short. But that’s kind of all right. There’s something about laying it all on the line that feels gutsy and noble.”

I enjoyed the writing, though it’s not particularly noteworthy. What did stand out to me from the piece was the level of difficulty that former athletes often face in walking away from their sport. Some can hang up their shoes without much sadness, but others continue to chase a dream that retreats with each year that passes, like a shadow from a descending sun. It seems to me a difficult thing to be a marquee athlete. One day, you’re playing on ESPN and in front of 20,000 screaming fans. The next, you’re in a gym in the middle of nowhere, desperate to keep your dreams alive, unaware that they may well have already passed you by.

There’s something about sports that makes it hard to keep in balance–perhaps the rush of testerone that becomes a regular part of life for athletes. When you’re used to a cycle of highs and lows, you struggle, perhaps, to keep your life in balance, to adjust to the normal rhythms of life. This is especially true when you’ve been told at summer camps and motivational meetings that you can be anything you want to be. Sometimes, despite what the speaker may say, you can’t. Most of us will be forced at numerous points in our lives to stop, drop what we’re doing, and evaluate our lives. Is our current pursuit in the stream of God’s blessing? Are we hacking away at dreams and hopes that should have died long ago? Are we, like Jonah, fighting God’s will, no matter how much sea water and disappointment we swallow?

There is great humility in admitting one’s limitations and in accepting the inevitable. This is no easy thing to do, but in doing so, we exhibit commendable self-awareness and realism. We also acknowledge that despite what our mind or heart may tell us, reality tells us to give up, to redirect ourselves, to lay down even the most cultivated of passions. For some of us, that’s a sport; for others, it’s a person we’ve long pursued; for others, it’s a vocational dream. No matter what it may be, whether the D-League or a doctorate or even marriage, it’s a fundamentally humble and healthy thing to stop fighting the circumstances around us–and the God who, we regularly discover, is behind them.

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