Hoops Heaven

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, you are reading the words of a person who accomplished something very, very important in an LDS man's life. Unfortunately it does not have anything to do with impressive spiritual milestones, such as achieving 100% home teaching for 12 consecutive months, baptizing your oldest child, or giving up watching the NFL on Sundays. While this accomplishment will not help my spiritual progression in any way, it is still something church-related that I am incredibly proud of:


That's right, baby, the Lakefield Ward Lakers are your 2008 men's basketball stake champions! (Our team name is not officially the "Lakers", but come on, it's the perfect name. I know many of my teammates will take umbrage at the name since they hate the Lakers as passionately as I support them, but what else could we have been? The Lakefield Cougars? The Lakefield Devil Rays? The Lakefield Out-of-Shapers? For the purposes of this blog, I'm sticking with Lakers.) The victory was especially sweet this year because we could have won the tournament last season but two of our starters missed our game because their flights got delayed returning home from business trips. (We think that a member of the opposing ward had an inside connection with the FAA and targeted those specific flights. We asked the Stake to investigate, but the findings were "inconclusive".)

I could not have asked to play with a better group of guys this year. We had a great time and worked together as a team to accomplish something that may seem trivial, but we are proud of. It tends to be easier to enjoy your season when you win your last five games by at least 15 points each, which we did. Our coach was a big part of our success by setting the tone in our first practices back in October when he made us run 5 laps and do calisthenics before we picked up a ball. (I was having flashbacks of Normal Dale from Hoosiers at that point.) We appreciate Coach Bob and his wonderfully supportive wife for all of their service this year. They even made sure that our jerseys smelled like Downy instead of sweat-related biology experiments after every game.

I look forward to church basketball more than any other activity each year. It has become my adult version of Stake Lagoon Day as a kid (sorry to the non-Utah born people who may not get the reference.) Between work, family, and church responsibilities there is precious little time for hanging out with my buddies, playing sports, and just enjoying myself. Church basketball gives me and thousands of men just like me this opportunity every year. I thought that I should share my perspective on church ball and identify some of the general categories that we as weekend warriors fall into. I am not saying that every person on the Lakefield team fits into one of these categories, nor did any of my current teammates inspire any of these passages. So Lakers, please do not read too deeply into this or feel that you are being singled out because you are not. In my 12 years of adult church basketball, I have probably had 150-200 different teammates and played against upward of 1,000 opponents due to repeated moves in my 20's. This is a collection of my entire church ball experience (career?) and not an attempt to pigeon-hole any of my Lakefield buddies.

Guys, please comment on which of the groups you would place yourselves into. Ladies, please also feel free to comment about where your husband/boyfriend falls. (I think a future post involving the different types of wives/girlfriends who go watch their men play basketball will be coming out shortly....)

-The Dominator: Usually is in his twenties and played Junior College ball at Snow, SLCC, or somewhere similar. He has somehow managed to stay in great shape, never gets tired, and can score at will. He is two steps faster, jumps a foot higher, and has better body control than anybody else in the gym. If he wanted to score 40 points in a 32-minute running-clock game, he could do it. When he strolls into the gym five minutes before tip-off, everybody on the other ward's team sighs and says, "Awwwwww crud! He showed up."

-The Fat Lip Waiting To Happen: Every team has at least one FLWTH. He is usually a really nice guy who would never intentionally hurt a soul, but blood and carnage seem to follow him when he checks into the game. His feet are usually size 12+ and he accidentally trips at least one person per possession. The FLWTH is normally about thirty pounds overweight and is a step slower than his brain thinks he is. When he sees a guy going up for a layup, his brain tells him, "You can totally swat this shot and look like a stud!", but when he tries to get his body to respond, everything happens just a fraction of a second slower than it needed to. Instead of rejecting the shot, his elbow manages to split a lip or bloody a nose. The FLWTH never means to hurt anybody, but his abuse of others is as inevitable as a Primary child forgetting he was supposed to give the talk in Sharing Time.

-The Oliver Grangers: Thanks to Brother Sherwood for a recent spiritual thought from D&C 117 acquainting me with Brother Granger. In a talk called "No Less Serviceable", President Howard Hunter said that while Oliver was not a famous, high-profile leader during the restoration, he was a "quiet, supportive individual" who played a key role in early Church history. He served three missions, helped build the Kirtland Temple, and successfully settled the Church's debts in Kirtland after the Saints were driven from the area. On a ward basketball team, the Oliver Grangers are the guys who consistently score 8-12 points per game and shoot over 50% from the floor. They play smart help-side defense, set clean picks, get key offensive rebounds, and rarely turn the ball over. Good church ball teams have at least two Oliver Grangers - and we salute every one of them!

-The Powder Keg: He perpetuates the stereotype that, "Church basketball is the only fight that starts with a prayer." For some unknown reason, he thinks every pick is dirty, every call against him his cheap, and he gets murdered on every shot but never gets the call. His personal life is usually very busy and stressful. He tends to have a job that requires cellphone calls at home at all hours of the day (e.g. production supervisor, call center manager) and his children range in age from his difficult teen-aged daughter to the infant twins who are still not sleeping through the night. Unfortunately for everybody on the court, he figures church ball is his only opportunity to "blow off some steam". Once he feels the refs are against him and the other team is playing dirty, his solution to the perceived injustice is to elbow, shove, slap, bite, noogey, and crane-kick everybody not wearing his color of jersey until one of three things happen:

1) His teammates see the warning signs of the imminent explosion, substitute him out of the game, and never let him come back in.
2) He gets a technical and is forced "cool down" for 10 minutes. While sitting on the bench, his wife gives him daggers from the stands and he wisely does not check back into the game.
3) Punches are thrown and the Stake cancels its men's basketball program for six years.

In my vast experience, I truly believe the Powder Keg is much less prevalent than most church basketball legends would have you believe. Every ward seems to have stories of church ball fights that get past on from one generation to the next that begin with, "We were killing the 2nd Ward 68-35 with two minutes left when Nephi Johanson undercut Alma Wells and both benches just cleared....." But when you do the research, there never was a Nephi Johanson in the 2nd Ward and the "fight" was actually Alma Wells blowing out his ACL going in for a layup during warm-ups. While church basketball brawls happen on occasion, I think most of us who play are just average guys trying to stay in shape by doing something we enjoy. But when the rare exception of the Powder Keg signs up to play on the Elder's Quorum team, you may have been safer giving the roster spot to Ron Artest.

-The Break Glass In Case of Emergency: Most wards have one guy who is friends with everybody on the team who says, "If you are going to forfeit, give me a call and I'll show up. Just don't pass me the ball." They want the ward to do well, but have no interest in getting bloodied by the FLWTH or punched out by the Powder Keg, but in case of emergency, they will be the fifth name on the roster. These are truly unselfish, service-oriented men. They loved their missions, set up chairs for funerals without being asked, serve in the cannery, and happily give blessings at 10:30 p.m. when their neighbor's child swallows a large piece of his Bionicle. Oh, and by the way, they tend to have some of the happiest wives in the ward.

-The Uncle Rico: I love the scene from Napoleon Dynamite when Uncle Rico and Kip are talking on the porch and Rico says (paraphrasing), "In '82, if coach would have put me in, we would have taken state! I would have gone on to play in the pros, made millions of dollars. How much do you bet I could throw a football over them mountains?" He then nails Napoleon in the face with a huge piece of steak as he rides by on his bike and Kip mumbles, "That's what I'm talkin' about." (That scene made me laugh harder the first time I saw it than any other scene in movie history.)

Uncle Ricos are usually in their early thirties and played varsity basketball in high school. When asked if they played ball in college they usually tell a story that begins with, "I could have played in college, but....." Uncle Ricos still have good instincts and can dominate a game on occasion, but are having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that their bodies are starting to break down on them. They try to make two or three plays every game that would have ended up drawing "ooh's" and "aah's" from the crowd five years ago, but now end up with a turnover. While they like playing church ball, the enjoyment is tempered by their frustration of not being a Dominator anymore.

The Gunner: Follows the mantra, "When a shooter is hot, he keeps shooting. When a shooter is cold, he keeps shooting until he gets hot." He almost never goes inside the three-point line yet manages to launch 15 shots a game. His usual box score line is something like this: "4-13 shooting, 12 points, 1 rebound, 0 assists, 8 angry teammates."

The Ringer: Easily identifiable. The Ringer is obviously not a member of the ward, is normally at least 6'4", wears a warm-up consisting of a matching top and bottom, has a $150 pair of shoes, and a barbed-wire tattoo circling his sculpted biceps. He tends to be the "friend-of-a-friend" of one of a ward member who rarely shows up for the games but told him he could come play. Once in the game, The Ringer turns into The Dominator. But while he is dropping his 30 points, everybody on the floor keeps thinking, "I've never seen this guy at Stake Priesthood Conference before...."

As for myself, I am definitely an Uncle Rico. At 33 years old it's hard to get up and down the court on a surgically-repaired ankle, bulging disks in my back, and dealing with other random body parts that decided to hurt when I rolled out of bed in the morning. But man, you should have seen me back in 1992! Have you ever heard the story of why I didn't end up playing at Ricks College.......


Megan said...

I think I have a FLWTH...although he was "the man" in his ward one year for scoring the game winning point. That is the epitome of his church ball career. Now we don't even have a cultural hall to use (our building should be demolished!). Way to go on a great season Lakers! Loved the Kip reference--he's in our ward! :)

7:00 AM
Anonymous said...

My dad was the Powder Keg...though our Stake didn't ban church ball, they did ban him for life...and that's when he turned into Uncle Rico. "man, if they would have just let me play..."

8:22 AM
Vlazny's said...

More then likely I would classify myself as a Gunner. Shoot the ball way too much, and make everyone angry. But I would still classify your game this past tournament as a dominator. You still have at least 2-3 seasons before you turn into a Rico.

7:48 AM

It is so funny that you wrote a post on this topic. My feelings towards church basketball: if it were required, I would go inactive. Enough said.

8:29 AM
Sam said...

I'm with Rob, Jax, & Max about refereeing...I'll never do it. Is there something in between Oliver Granger and Gunner? That's where I might sit. After a few missed three-pointers I find my role as a passer and defender. I'm an Oliver Granger without the shooting percentage.

8:42 AM
Natalie said...

AH ha ha ha. Loved this post. SO hilarious that I am thinking about creating categories for my young women's team. Here is a preview: The Hypocondriac (girl who is constantly hurt or sick and often comes out of the game with multiple injuries and wants to go back in 5 minutes later) and The Verbally abusive 13 yr old (a girl who yells, no screams, at her team mates in any situation only causing them to freak out and lose the ball). Yes I coached them both.

David was a Break the glass in case of an emergency player since he never actually set foot on the court and rode the bench one or two times this year.

Oh I just thought of yet another YW category: Trigger happy - It isn't fun to shoot unless you are way beyond the 3 pt line. Yes the girl who shoots from anywhere on the court except from inside the 3 pt line. Because that is just too easy anyways. Just beware of the rebounds after this shot is taken, the ball has been know to injure players since it was chucked so hard at the glass.

7:12 PM
Sandy said...

This is too funny - after watching Jake's stake games last year, I could seriously pin your categories on every single one of the players. Jake says he's part "Fat Lip Waiting to Happen" and part "Uncle Rico". He's much more "uncle Rico" when it comes to football, though...although, now that I think about it...when he tells the kids he coaches that he used to do it better than them, he usually does a demonstration...and still CAN do it better than them. It might be because most of the kids he coaches have the physical strength of Sponge Bob Square Pants, or maybe he's just a DOMINATOR in football. I'm deferring to football, since he didn't play church basketball this year. Either way...great post!

8:43 PM
shellygirl said...

I guess my husband is probably an "Oliver Granger" - he's pretty good, but he's also pretty modest about it.

But another comment did remind me of YW sports - I was shy off the court, but crazy competitive (violent?) once I entered that cultural hall. I'm still the only person I know who has recieved a technical while playing volleyball!

11:25 AM
Michael said...

I am 100% Uncle Rico, as evidenced by a ton of sweet moves to the basket that somehow or another ended up not going in...but always did back in my days as the Orlando Florida South Stake MVP and the only white boy in Orange County Public Schools who got any respect in high school. Of course I considered walking on at BYU my freshman year, but got too busy charming the ladies and avoided the possibility of being a part of an abysmal 1-26 season. I was about as much of THE MAN as you could be as a Caucasian Latter-Day Saint, had aspirations of playing in college and leading the Cougars on one of their long home-court winning streaks at the Marriott Center, and eventually being the next Travis Hansen: selected last in the draft by the Atlanta Hawks, averaging 2.4 minutes, 0.3 points, and 0.9 rebounds per game, making a quick league minimum paycheck, and fading back into relative obscurity. But that was not to be. A Mormon-hating Baptist coach benched me in high school so I stopped playing varsity, my hormones got the better of my urge to walk on at BYU, and I shifted one letter of the alphabet and got my MBA instead of going to the NBA. So here I am, figuratively throwing steaks and footballs at cameras on a tripod, and no longer scoring at will but still dreaming of what might have been. I guess I'll just start settling for Mr. Granger from here on out. Until next year, when the Lakefield Out-of-Shapers (the most accurate team name) take the court again.

8:39 PM

Way to go Coach Bob. I will try to place the team who played in the final game this year:
Andrew - Dominator - All I have to say is that before he came back we had won one game, and that was on a last second shot in double overtime. After Andrew came back we won evey game by at least 15 points
Greg V - Gunner, with the exception of the upset teammates. He had 15 3 pointers in 2 games
Greg W - Rabbit (Coach Bob's Nickname) just like a rabbit, he is all over the court, he is the guy that you hope doesn't guard you because you will never get a moments rest
Greg S - While I may not give bloody lips I do get quite a few of them, along with black eyes
Micheal - Uncle rico without the orange van
Mike B - The Steve Kerr - he may not be the marqee player, but sinks the outside shot and wins more championships than university of Florida
Tom D - Oliver Granger part I
Jeremy H - Oliver Granger part II
Jason Shinn - Oliver Granger part III


7:14 PM
Jami said...

"Oliver Granger" all the way. Last week was my temple recommend interview and the bishop spent a good five minutes going on about how good my husband was at b-ball, steady and quiet, not a show-off, but good.

11:40 PM

Vlazny - You are being way too humble. I'm sorry, but you are the epitome of a Dominator. How many other guys in the Stake finish fast breaks with dunks and hit three-pointers like layups?

9:04 PM

I was just thinking about how my future church ball career may wind up. When it is all said and done, my story will probably be something like this as I continue to age:

20's: Dominator
30-35: Uncle Rico
35-40: Oliver Granger
40-45: Gunner (during a sports-related mid-life crisis in which I try to recapture past glory)
45-50: FLWTH
50's: Break Glass In Case of Emergency (After all, it will be painful to play on my artificial hips, artificial knees, and fused spine)

9:07 PM
Megan said...

That was a great post!! I'm looking forward to the wife version. Don't forget me escaping to play the piano or always working on my knitting projects because I have a hard time watching Greg play.

As for my Greg, I think he is the combination of the Powder Keg and the Rabbit. For the most part his life isn't too stressful, but for some reason when he gets on the basketball court, all of his pent up rage and frustration from being the younger & smaller brother everyone else picked on growing up comes out and he goes nuts. I'd call him the geyser- not quite as deadly as the keg, but still dangerous.

6:17 PM