Thursday, November 15, 2007

Better balling through chemistry: Glucosamine

I sometimes write about my frail-as-Kucinich ankles on this blog. Since a series of terrible injuries in my mid-20s, they've been really brittle and I've had to wear ankle braces to play. Earlier this year, I tore my achilles tendon, so things have been getting even messier down there.

A while back, a colleague of mine suggested taking glucosamine supplements. He also has brittle ankles and claimed that glucosamine had strengthened his joints and allowed him a greater range of athletic options. My mom also takes glucosamine for her arthritis and she swears by it.

So I decided to try it out and I have been taking two glucosamine pills every day for the past few months. I think it's working! My ankles have been feeling stronger and they don't "roll" as far as they used to. Unfortunately, age and lack of fitness have been taking their toll on my game and I'm still definitely on the decline, but my ankles are not getting as sore after games and I feel significantly more stable when I run and, um, "jump."

While it's a little weird to be discussing osteo-improvement with my mom, I'm really grateful that these little pills seem to be helping me prolong my playing days.

Setshotters, what are you taking to stay young(ish)? What about these steroids that everyone's always talking about? Can they help me?

Friday, June 08, 2007

What to do when injured: Homework!

I went on the DL in March with a torn achilles and since then, I've been looking for things to do to satisfy my hoops addiction. In a previous post, Cary suggested video games, and I've definitely had a little fun playing NBA2K7 on my rickety old Playstation2. I also spent a lot of time watching the NCAA tournament and the NBA playoffs.

Recently I read Mark Kriegel's biography of Pete Maravich, which was enjoyable to me in the same way that Us magazine is enjoyable to my wife. But the book discusses a series of instructional videos that Maravich made in the early 1980s called "Homework Basketball." I'd never heard of these before, so I decided to check youtube, which seems to have uploaded every video ever made by anyone.

What a revelation! Maravich is a great teacher of the game, which is not surprising considering his father's coaching prowess. (And he refers to his dad constantly in the clips.) The younger Maravich explains ideas clearly, and in describing various drills, rarely fails to note one or two little tricks that can dramatically improve performance. (Example: When throwing a behind-the-back pass, make sure your palm is "floppy" and pointing upwards.) With my busted wheel, I couldn't do a lot of the drills, but there were a number I could practice even while sitting on my couch in a cast, like:

This one on ball handling.

This one on shooting form.

I've actually adjusted the way I shoot based on one of the videos, rotating my hand clockwise about 10 degrees so my index finger sits in the center of the ball. (I've always shot with my middle finger in the center.) Wow. I thought I was too old to adjust my mechanics, but this minor change has really helped a lot. I've been going to the park and doing light shooting drills lately, and the Maravich method is definitely a lot more natural and smooth than my old way of shooting.

The funny thing is that the Homework Basketball videos were clearly made for kids learning to play ball, but I think that they can be useful for anyone who wants to get better. The youtube clips are all pretty short, but I learned something from every single one.

Do your homework!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Psychology: What does your game say about you as a person?

My last post was about a New York Times story describing Barack Obama's love of pickup basketball. The Times website also put up a great video interview with Craig Robinson, who is Obama's brother-in-law and coach of the Brown University men's basketball team. Robinson recalls how his sister Michelle, in considering Obama for husbandry, asked him to take Barack out to play basketball. Why? To find out what kind of person Obama really was.

Telling this story, Robinson reiterates a truth that almost all pickup ballers are aware of: "You can tell a lot about a guy by the way he plays basketball. You can tell if a guy is selfish. You can tell if a guy is phony. There's a lot of different ways on the court you can tell that."

Unsuprisingly, Robinson describes Obama as being humble, team-oriented and willing to admit mistakes, as evidenced by a readiness to call fouls on himself. (We'll see what the bro-in-law has to say after the campaign.)

Robinson's words really resonate with me. I feel that this principle is proven again and again on the asphalt and the hardwood. People who are jerks in real life act like jerks on the court (like this guy). People who are nice in real life are nice on the court. Self-centered people tend to ballhog, as they have trouble visualizing the game from other players' perspectives. The best point guards, I've found, are typically gregarious and thoughtful. And who plays dirty except people that live their lives dirty?

Of course, there are always exceptions. A guy that used to play regularly at the NYU gym was one of the most bitchy, complainy dudes I'd ever encountered, but when you saw him around campus, he was sweet as pie. Never could figure that one out.

But I'll stick to the position that there is an extremely high correlation between hoops personality and real-life personality.
Anyone else want to weigh in on this?

Barack Obama is a baller

Today's New York Times has a story about Barack Obama's lifelong relationship with basketball. Not only is he a dedicated pickup basketball player, it also sounds like he's got some game:

"Before Rickey Green, a former NBA all-star, played with Mr. Obama in a 2004 Senate campaign fund-raiser, 'I didn’t think he could play at all, to be honest with you,' Mr. Green said. But 'he’s above average,' for a pickup player, Mr. Green said. 'He’s got a nice little left-hand shot and some knowledge of the game.' ”

He also has a penchant for talking trash:

“ 'If he would hit a couple buckets, he would let you know about it,' said Alexi Giannoulias, who played in the late 1990s with Mr. Obama at the East Bank Club, a luxurious spot in downtown Chicago."

Friends say that Obama doesn't have much time for the game these days, but they, uh, have a dream:

"The solution, Mr. Obama’s friends say, is for him to win the presidency, so they can all play together at the White House. 'I always tease him about that,' Mr. Nesbitt said. 'If you win, you gotta have a hoop.' "

Well, that cinches it. Setshot officially endorses Barack Obama for president.


Here's some old footage of Obama playing ball on his high school team. Not bad!

And here he is draining a three in shirtsleeves while on the campaign trail. <Swoon>

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Reckoning, or How My Body Betrayed Me

On March 2nd, I tore my achilles tendon playing ball. Short story shorter: loose ball, jump, land, POP. I was in the emergency room within an hour, where it took them about ten seconds to tell me that yep, I'd torn it. (The doctor-types call it a "rupture," which makes it sound like my leg had an earthquake.)

This is the worst injury I've ever had. I was in surgery six days after the injury, spent about four weeks in a cast and on crutches, and am now in the midst of a long recovery period. I won't run again until June, and can't play basketball until August-ish. When I tell people what happened to me, their initial reaction is typically something like, "Ouch. That must have really hurt." Well yeah, it did really hurt, but to be honest, the physical pain of the injury was much less severe than most ankle sprains. The psychological pain of it, both during and after, was the bigger issue for me.

More after the jump...

I knew what happened as soon as I felt the pop. When I grabbed my achilles, it felt like jelly. When I tried to stand up, it felt like I had a heel lift in my shoe--or like I was standing on tippy-toes. That messed me up. It's terrible to be fully aware of a such a serious bodily malfunction. I mean, one second I'm running and jumping, and the next I'm sitting on the floor, broken.

The period following surgery was really hard. Being on crutches sucks in so many ways. I had to think about everywhere I was going. Did I really need that banana from the kitchen? In addition, being on crutches makes it impossible to carry anything. If I needed a book from the study, I had to strap on my backpack, crutch to the study, put the book in the backpack, and crutch back to wherever I was. And don't even get me started about going up and down stairs.

Now, as I recover and can imagine a day when I'll play ball again, I'm having to seriously contemplate my future relationship with the game. I'm 32 right now, and my skills were already in decline before the injury, but this basically pushes me off the cliff of suckitude.

If you know me, you know that I am addicted to basketball and I regularly need to do hoops-related stuff to stay sane. I was able to start shooting free throws and do some non-mobile dribbling drills this past weekend, which felt great, like getting together with an old friend. The big question is of course: How good can I ever be again? The initial evidence has been unsettling. At the court this weekend, I played HORSE with a sorta-developmentally disabled kid. He beat me one game out of three.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

An old lady basketball league: HOT!

A recent story in the New York Times describes a "Granny Basketball League" that has been organized in Iowa. They play old-school rules: 6 on 6, no running or jumping, no physical contact, and a two dribble limit per possession. It seems like the participation requirements are pretty loose. Says a spokeswoman: “You don’t have to be a grandmother to play. You just have to be old.”

I'm having fantasies right now that are a cross between "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Juwanna Man."

The GBL players all wear blouses, bloomers and striped socks, and the funniest league rule is that the refs call "flesh fouls" if a player reveals any part of her upper arm or upper leg. I'm all for the old school rules, but please let these fine honeys flash some skin! (XGBL anyone?)

You may be aware of my attraction to female ballers. At the present moment, I tend to be attracted to, uh, younger players. But that doesn't mean that someday I won't want to get down with that grandma with the sweet sweet crossover. Please ma'am, break my ankles.