Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It's More Than Just Winning and Losing

I hate losing.

Just about whenever I play something, I expect to win. It doesn't matter what it is- baseball, basketball, football, poker, board games, whatever. Unless it's something that's naturally non-competitive or just for fun, I give everything I have to do one thing: win.

Today, at my intramural basketball game, this was no different. And today, we lost a tough, close game. Normally, people would say what? Something like "boo-hoo" or "big deal, besides, it's just intramurals anyway." That may be true, but I'm tired of playing that card, and I'm sick of coming up short with things like this.

I'm sure a lot of people feel this way. Everyone is different, and certainly there are tons of people who aren't nearly as competitive as I am and differ in countless other ways. But at some point, everybody comes to realize or wish they could be better at something or even reach a level in anything that they've never been to before.

It's only intramurals. That's fine. But no matter what, and I know I may be in the minority here, but I worry and care just as much about the little and insignificant things just as much as larger things out on the surface. Sometimes when your best just isn't good enough, even for only one day, it's hard to swallow. I realize, now, that is a main reason why I love sports so much and that I need to have competition and give effort, always.

Here was the situation today:

The first round of playoffs started today for basketball, and my team came out pretty much playing terribly. I blame no one for anything; we all looked bad for at least 3/4 of the game.

Down only four points at halftime, our team never got into any sort of rhythms with anything on the court. We missed open shots and layups. We didn't hustle or play good defense. Rebounding was pretty weak too, and for some reason, I had problems even grabbing and holding onto the ball in the first half.

Down about 15 points with around five minutes to go, we finally started to hit shots. But no matter what we did, it seemed like our opponent would hit some crazy fade-away shot or get fouled on an out-of-control shot and hit some free throws. For anyone who has ever played basketball before, even just pick-up games, you know that one guy who looks like he'll never hit any shots. And he usually doesn't. Then one game, he'll hit everything for no reason at all. That's the type of feel this game had.

Still down 13 points with around 3:30 to go, Joe made a good play to hit a quick layup and get fouled. He hit the free throw, and we called timeout. We agreed it was time to press- we went with a man-to-man full-court press instead of a zone. It turned out to be a good idea. The other team was caught completely off guard, for some reason. They still hit some shots, but we forced the tempo and caused them to commit a few turnovers.

For at least the next five or six possessions, it seemed like we scored every single time. Mark had hit some 3s earlier in the game, and Brandon hit one here. I hit a few 3s too, and got a quick layup after a steal.

With 45 seconds left, we got the ball back and needed a 3. I forgot how exactly, but I got a good look and nailed a 3. I felt bad by how poorly I played for most of the game, but the momentum had totally shifted to our side, and we knew we had a real chance to complete the comeback attempt and win. We had the chance to overcome our horrible early play.

The other team immediately threw in a wild pass, but they managed to grab it, so we quickly fouled. Then something completely changed in the game. Apparently citing some rule I had never heard of in ANY LEVEL of organized basketball, our opponent was allowed to CHOOSE whether they wanted to shoot two free throws or simply keep the ball and throw the ball back in. Huh?

It seemed odd at first, but we went with it, trying desperately to get a steal.

After six inbounds passes, I started to feel sick to my stomach. How could the game be going like this? It simply made no sense. Everytime they threw the ball in, we went for a steal. And everytime a foul was called. What exactly was this rule designed to do, turn the game into football for a few passes inbounds?

I won't place all of the blame on the referees here. The team we played took, quite blunty, the sissy way out to win the game. They knew it wasn't fair to win like that, but instead of taking the high road, they took the low, easy one. Gutless.

However, on the last play of the game with 10 seconds left to go, the team got lazy and threw in a weak pass. We had a chance! Anthony raced down the court and managed to get off a contested driving layup as time expired. He was fouled- no question about it.

Do you think there was a call? If you've been reading this whole thing, not only did you see how this would turn out, but you kind of figured it would be a strange ending too. Needless to say, I knew they wouldn't call a foul either, even though during the game, we had been outshot in free throws by no less than 15 shots.

Anyone who knows me knows that I very rarely complain about matters such as these, but I do like to understand the thought process behind them or break them down and just ask questions. How else can you learn? But, obviously angry after the game, and rightly so, I managed to ask one of the coaches reffing the game why that rule was in effect. I asked, "I'm just wondering, but is there a certain reason why that rule is in effect? What's it supposed to do?"

"Not really, it's just been a rule for 12 years since I've been here," she responded.

Wow, what an explanation. That's like saying the cafeteria food at this school has sucked here for 12 years, but hey, that's just the way things are. No reasoning, no nothing.

Hey, it's just for fun. Let it go. Again, things come to this point- it's only intramurals. Well, then why does anyone play at all?

Because they're trying to compete against other people, and they're trying to win. That's why, and thousands of students nationwide play intramurals and assuredly get as angry as I was today.

If people want to be involved with rules in sports that are confusing and make no sense, they should just work real hard to become an NFL ref so they can explain instant replay reviews to fans watching who are instantly puzzled. Just because something is a rule doesn't mean it makes sense.

But what I'm trying to explain isn't really about the rule. It's more than that. Amid this glorified, heightened controversy I've explained here, I really don't have an ending. I won't stop playing intramurals because of one bad experience. Would you quit school because you got one bad test grade?

Just like anything else, you do your best and hope for better next time. Let the chips fall where they may, if you will. No matter how stupid today was, it was a good experience and a very motivating one. It's tough to even win, but it's tougher to lose or keep losing when all you want to do is win.

I just hope next time when someone gets the shaft in intramurals, I'm finally on the winning side.

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