While figure skating was a sport that I shared with my mother, basketball is the sport that I share with my father. For me, more than any other sport, basketball means home. It seems like it has always been a part of my life. We had a hoop attached to our garage, and although I have perhaps only beaten him one-on-one a handful of times, it is always enjoyable to play against my father. In addition to watching great teams like the University of Utah and the Utah Jazz, I also played competitively for most of my childhood. Well, "competitively" on a relative scale, considering I started in fourth grade, where games sometimes resembled the stereotypical bee-clustering of juvenile soccer games.
When I first started playing, I was the only girl on the team. I was small and had to shoot my free-throws underhand from between my legs in order to get the ball to the rim. I was also not very assertive. I remember my coach (his son was the star of the team, but that's another story) always made it a team goal for me to score at least one basket a season. This meant that the last game of the season usually consisted of my teammates trying to make me take the ball, and me trying to make a basket. Luckily, his ploy was usually successful, as well as being a huge confidence-booster for me. Once in a while, another girl would join the team, taking a little of the pressure (and sense of uniqueness) away.
I continued playing in that league through junior high, with a brief moment of stardom during Spirit Week at school, in which all the classes (grades 7-12) competed against each other at various things. To this day, judging by my yearbook scrawls, I'm pretty sure there are some people who would only know me as that girl who won the three-point shooting competition as a seventh-grader. Or was it eighth grade? It was junior high, anyway. They let me shoot from closer-up for some reason, which has always made me feel a little bit like a cheater, but hell, I was a pretty good shooter anyway. In fact, that has always been a problem with me and playing basketball: I love to shoot, but I hate running. And you kind of have to run a little bit if you want to actually play. So although I made the team each of my high school years, I spent most of my time on the bench due to my bone-deep laziness. When I participated in a high school basketball camp over the summer with U of U Women's Coach Elliott, she basically told me that I needed to move my ass if I wanted to play well. These were words I cherished (since they came from Coach E), but never actually put to practical use. If there were a version of basketball that involved mostly shooting and guarding people and somehow very little running, I would be all over it.
Since I don't really play, I currently turn all of my existing basketball energies, such as they are, to fandom. In my imagination, I was a Utah Jazz fan before I started to walk. This may not be true, but it certainly feels that way when I get misty-eyed at the thought of John Stockton's Hall of Fame induction or the great (and not-so-great) names of Jazz players past: Karl Malone, Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey, Darrell Griffith, Adrian Dantley, Felton Spencer and Greg Ostertag (for some reason they are always together in my mind, as centers should be), Jeff Hornacek, Bryon Russell, Antoine Carr, Adam Keefe . . . sadly, I could continue, but I will spare those few still awake to read the end of this post. My passion for the Jazz is matched only by my passion for the Utah women's basketball team. Since there is only about a .01% chance that the Lady Utes will be on television here in a given year (if they get in the tournament and if they are part of wrap-around coverage and if the UConn women or some other regionally interesting team isn't playing at the same time), I usually watch their games online when I get the chance. That is what being a fan of western basketball teams on the East Coast entails.
Other teams I root for: Kansas; most Big 10 teams; anyone playing Duke, BYU, or North Carolina; UConn women; Tennessee women (I realize this is somewhat contradictory but I don't care); the Celtics, since they're on TV out here; the underdog.
When forced to choose a favorite sport, I will generally choose basketball, but not for any of the reasons above. Unlike baseball (post forthcoming) or football (ditto), there is more gender parity to be found in basketball. There are female referees in the NBA. There are female coaches at various professional and amateur levels, most recently the NBDL. Of course there is room for improvement, but there is a lot more room for improvement in most of the other sports I like. I'd be willing to stake the current UConn women's team against many men's college teams out there. And basketball seems to be a sport that most people can play for fun, even people in wheelchairs. You can play nerf basketball indoors, you can play it with people you don't know, and you can play it all by yourself in the driveway. Yeah, it's a pretty cool sport.