The art of shooting

 

Pure shooters hold a special place in my heart.

Growing up as a basketball fan, and rec player, I loved watching shooters. I, myself, was one. There was nothing more pleasing to me that spending a few hours after school just shooting – free throws, layups, mid-range shots and, of course, 3-pointers.

I craved the peace. Just you, the ball and your thoughts. I craved the routine: Dribble. Breathe. Rise. Shoot. Release. I craved the discipline; my father always preached height, accuracy and distance. Those three things, and you HAD the shot. I will remember that as long as I live, since I was entered in free-throw shooting competitions in elementary school to my days as a college intramural player.

In high school, I would shoot outside, from about 4:30 p.m. to 8, focusing on the craft – how to get open, where to get my shots, where to get the perfect release off, how to set up defenders. My shot was not perfect. My brother says I shot from my chest; it was hardly ever blocked. There was little lift involved. My release was quick and my extension was perfect.

To make a long story short, I admire pure shooters. The dedication, commitment and routine devoted to becoming a special shooter is one that is demanding. So when I was able to watch Ray Allen break Reggie Miller’s all-time 3-point makes record last night, I almost teared up.

The record-breaker could not have been set up any better. Rajon Rondo got the ball on the left side and started a fast break. Allen ran down the right side in transition, as Rondo waved him on to spot up. Allen caught the ball in stride, with no Laker anywhere close, and mounted and shot for 3-pointer No. 2,561.

But it did not come easy. Allen begins his game day arriving to the arena four hours early, shooting all kinds of shots, feeling for his rhythm. He shoots off-balanced, straight ahead, running … every shot he imagines he could get in a game, he shoots. And this is how it is for shooters. This is how it was for Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr, Glen Rice, all of whom would shoot, shoot, shoot, whether it was in damp gyms, under bleak street lights, in snow, in rain. There is no stopping.

It’s why Miller applauded Allen and never once showed discomfort toward his record being broken. He understood what it took to get to that point, and what he loved was that we were talking about shooting, a dying art in a world of Blake Griffins, LeBron James’ and Kevin Durants. Shooting remains the heart of the game, yet so few understand that. Or, they refuse to work at it, willing to train in their JumpSoles instead of shooting at the park, rain or shine.

It’s why I, by no means a complete basketball player, shot whenever and wherever. I loved shooting. I respected it. Shooters do not take their gift for granted. To this day, I pantomime shooting. I cradle a ball and shoot it. It never leaves you.

Rice once said, “Shooting is an art.” And how right he was. Shooters are not born. They are made. Players with spectacular physical gifts were given those at birth. Shooters are made by hours upon hours of work, shooting and wearing out the leather on one too many basketballs.

I remember once, one of my colleagues in college once said he saw me in the gym too much, so he looked up my grades, made sure my priorities weren’t backward. They weren’t. I was a fine student. But any free time was spent in the gym, not trying to dunk or shoot halfcourt shots or work out on weights. But shooting. We all yearn to find a niche, and I felt the only way I belonged a basketball court was because I could shoot. At their ages, Miller, Allen and Rice all felt the same; in an age of ball that is becoming faster, quicker and more athletic with each passing season, they had to find a way to make themselves valuable to still earn a paycheck.

So, they shot. And shot. And shot some more.

Records are made to be broken. But only if you put in the work.

 

 

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Reflecting on the Brawl

Five years ago today, the most horrific sporting event of my generation occurred, when the Indiana Pacers’ Ron Artest, responding to a cup of beer thrown on him, sprinted furiously up into the stands and attacked a fan, igniting a horrible series of events that saw players attacking fans, and vice versa, and beers and obscenities thrown all around the Palace of Auburn Hills.

That fan was John Green, who spoke to ESPN on Thursday. Green says Artest called him at his home several months ago to apologize, and that all is well between the two.

“He (Artest) said that he was sorry, that … the whole thing embarrassed him as it did me,” Green told ESPN.  “He wanted to do something for the community for troubled youth … It’s not like it’s not always going to be known as the brawl, but maybe we could take something good out of it. We’re going to try to do something in inner-city Detroit or L.A., maybe after the season ends and he has more free time on his hands.”

When the drink was thrown, Artest had been chillin’ on the scorer’s table after him and Ben Wallace had been in a confrontation with less than a minute to play in the eventual Pacers win.

Artest had fouled Wallace on a move, and Wallace apparently thought it too rough, and shoved Artest, leading to Artest’s relocation to the table while refs sorted things out.

Green, who has admitted to having alcohol issues in the past, said the cup he threw contained Dr. Pepper, not beer, and that it was a “scary situation.”

You can read the full story here: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=4670842

This was one of those incidents where you absolutely remember where you were when it happened.

For me, I had just returned from playing pickup ball, and turned the TV to the game. I was dividing my time to my laptop on the game, but then I heard raised voices and a rush over the crowd, and before I knew it, Artest was in the stands.

I watched the whole thing play out and could not believe my eyes.  No matter how many times you watch it now, it will never have the impact as when you first watched it.

The game, in the years to follow, suffered greatly for it. It was a huge black eye, and it still has not recovered from that November night.

Today, many people associate the league with the Brawl, fair or unfair, and there’s no doubt Artest, the Pacers and Detroit will forever infamously be linked to it.

The Pacers have yet to erase the stigma from the mess, and Artest has slowly started to turn the corner from animal to human.

But if it’s true what Green says – that something will be done to help community youth and that both men are willing to make good off a disastrous situation – then perhaps all is not lost.

For giggles, here’s Artest’s take on the situation two years ago, when he was a member of the Sacramento Kings.