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"Business Casual" or "Thoughts from a Rookie Vol. IV"

originally written and published February 20, 2013

I had my All-Star break completely planned out. By planned out I mean I purchased a roundtrip ticket from Boise to San Francisco (which in my opinion is the only important detail, but allow me to elaborate). It was not just any ticket, I selected the earliest possible departing flight Thursday—where I could depart practice sans shower, luggage in hand if necessary— paired with the latest possible return flight for Monday. Sure, maybe I would have to wear my practice gear on the plane and go to the gym straight from baggage claim but, when it comes to vacation, we worry about those intricacies when necessary.

The stars had aligned. Some divine intervention had made this weekend possible. We had four days free of schedules, obligations, appearances, reminders, etc. It was the type of vacation that kicks off with, “Siri, delete all my alarms… Yes, I’m sure.” Then couple this sudden freedom with Stanford’s UCLA/USC PAC-12 home-stand and a chance reunion with the seniors from my final season as a Cardinal. To top it all off, I was bumped from the return flight on our last road trip (these things happen in the D-League) so courtesy of a flight voucher, my vacation was essentially free. Like I said, I had my All Star break alllllllll planned out (with minimal effort). All I had to do was suffer through check-in and the body scan at the security checkpoint.

Thursday morning I did in fact have an early departure. Even so, I did not sleep much the night before. Instead I shuffled through memos, emails, itineraries and the paltry wardrobe with which I moved to Boise. I sat on bed’s edge deliberating the definition of “business casual” and which clothes-shoes bundle would qualify my bag as a carry-on; it was a nightmare microeconomics utility maximization problem.

An hour of sleep and a pomegranate greek yogurt later, I dragged to the ticket counter, through security and to Gate 8A without so much as a questionable TSA glance at my hulking duffle bag. The run of glory ended after the gate attendant announced a full flight and limited overhead storage space. I scanned the seating area. I looked at my boarding pass. GROUP 4. I scanned the seating area. I stared at my bag. The anxious passengers around me stared at my bag. The gig was up.

“Ok, I see you’re just stopping in Salt Lake. Let me make sure I send it all the way through your final destination,” she said typing furiously away at the computer. “Here’s your baggage claim ticket. Hold onto that. Annnnnnnnd yep, you’re all set! It’ll be waiting for you in Houston.”

Yes, Houston. Not SFO. Not SJC. Not even the airport in Oakland that I never fly into. Houston. After an unexpected phone call, an attachment laden email and a waffling text exchange, I was headed to George Bush International instead of the palm tree lined gates of west coast heaven. Saturday afternoon I would compete in the NBA D-League Dunk Contest.

The All-Star break (like any off-day) is a rare and coveted opportunity to rest the mind and body. Not only is it a vacation, but a psychological indicator that half the marathon season had passed—one more half to go. That said, the break is a natural place to take pause and review the past, assess the present, and plan for the future. After checking-in, I lay in my hotel bed pondering how the madness flooding the lobby, congesting the highways, and spamming as far as the eye can see was conducive to preparing for the second half of the season. I hesitated to embrace the experience.

Personally, I had been looking forward to the break. I had not been playing as well as I would like, nor had I reached all the goals I had lofted for myself before arriving in Boise almost 3 months prior. While I was relatively healthy and injury free, my body would appreciate some extended rest and recuperation. If anything, the break would help get a recently nagging hip flexor under control. No better place to recharge than my alma mater, Stanford University. In my mind, the last thing I needed was All-Star Weekend but instead, extra shots, recovery exercises, therapy and sleep.

I was wrong.

Sometimes in basketball, it is easy to lose yourself in the season’s grind. In a game where attention to detail often determines success, we obsess over everything from defensive shooting percentages to post-practice body weights. Most of all, we want to know that we are doing everything in our power to get better everyday. As athletes we live for that feedback—for some measurable growth.

A vacation is no exception. Can I get up extra shots? Can I get healthier? Can I reestablish mental clarity? While vacation is very much a physical escape from the maddening grind, it is perceived an opportunity to stay ahead of it. In this pursuit, we lose ourselves focusing on all those things we think we are not doing instead of appreciating everything else—including the grind itself.

I will be honest. I did not sleep more than 12 hours between my Thursday afternoon arrival and my early Sunday morning departure. I went to bed late and rose at godforsaken hours each day. Though at the center of the basketball universe for three days, we did not shoot hundreds of extra shots either. There were more memos, reminders, itineraries, and meeting times than ever. Hell, I could barely hear myself think most times I was outside the confines of my hotel room. And yet, I would not trade my All-Star Weekend experience for anything.

Justin and I at the NBA Fit Clinic

I woke up early for community outreach clinics (like NBA FIT) where we led drills and encouraged youth to get active. Instead of shooting extra shots, I played dribble-knockout with our biggest fans. In the weekend shuffle between hotels, events, and the convention center, I met countless ambassadors for our sport and enjoyed plenty of casual conversations with everyone from PR and marketing personnel to our security detail. In my free time I shared the experience with my teammate (who was competing in the 3-Point Contest) and his family. When I was up late, I ran into some basketball family from The Farm and even bumped into some classmates from Exeter. Perhaps these are the simple joys and pleasures afforded by this game that we can too easily overlook.

You may be wondering about the dunk contest. You know, the real reason I was in Houston. I thought you might ask. Well, see for yourself!

In case you were too impatient to watch the entire clip, I wound up placing second. As a competitor, I was certainly disappointed; the goal was a dunk crown. Still I know the true win was the All-Star experience in itself and getting exactly what I needed— a reminder that deep down behind the things we stress and obsess over, this is an amazing game we play and a beautiful grind we live.

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