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Jetlagged Thoughts from the First Days of Offseason

I’m way behind on writing this (or anything for that matter), but over the last couple of weeks I feel as though I haven’t had the chance to hear myself think. Between the Final 4 loss, shoddily packing up 10 months of my life, and the last minute trip to Paris, I didn’t want to think. To be honest, I didn’t much want to feel either. I could succinctly wrap up this post here and simply say the season ended in disappointment. But there’s a depth to that disappointment and until now I guess I’d avoided wading in. 


At the moment it’s almost midnight in Palo Alto, California. Early this morning I flew in from Atlanta after a marathon 72 hours jampacked with a flight from Tel Aviv and a quick visit with the fam. And now, fresh off an ill-timed five or six hour nap, I’m wide awake and hungry. Unfortunately at this hour Uber Eats isn’t delivering any plant-based options so in the absence of food, I figure I can finally take some time to marinate in this undisturbed pool of postseason thoughts.


Diving in, there are really two layers. For the first we have to go back to the 2017-2018 season and my second year in Turkey. It’s a season we started off a combined 14-0 in Turkish BSL and EuroCup before failing to advance in Europe, then losing in the cup final, and ultimately losing 4-1 in the league final. 


Up to that point, as a professional I’d never competed for a championship. I’d qualified for the playoffs, advanced to the quarterfinals and even semifinals, but had never played for a title. I remember the confusion I felt at the end of the season. Proud that this unexpected group defied odds and injuries and made it to the final, but crushed that we’d come up short. Twice. 


I walked away from the season with a tiny taste and a huge appetite for a championship. But more so, I walked away with a better understanding of just how difficult it really is, just how many things have to go right to win one. Sitting here in bed writing this, I think to the Golden State Warriors’ fresh loss in the NBA Finals and how quickly two injuries derailed several months of hard work. That season in Turkey we certainly were not the Warriors or favorites, but it further drove home the point of what little margin for error (or unluckiness) there is in the championship pursuit. 


It made me reconsider how lightly I’d thrown around the idea of a championship in the past. Like in dating how loosely we throw around “love” in our youth then suddenly we mature to only using “the L word” when you really mean it. During that following offseason and free agency, it felt a little different telling my agent and prospective suitors that I not only wanted to win a title, but I wanted to be apart of a group that wanted the same thing. When I finally signed in Hapoel Jerusalem, I knew I was in the right place with the right organization and the right people.

I speak on that season in Turkey and championship aspirations only because this past year in Israel carved out a new depth to those feelings. Stick with me. It started with a press conference in August.


I don’t usually remember early season team presentations or media events. In all my past seasons, they had been a forgettable check on the itinerary. They were lost in preseason monotony right along with physicals and setting up bank accounts. But I remember this one because just before our team press conference, Yoyo (Yotam Halperin), a decorated Israeli point guard and legend within our club, announced his retirement from basketball at age 34.


There was a highlight video complete with nostalgic moments, big shots and slow motion cuts of hoisting trophies. Then after a few moments to gather himself, he was given the floor to speak. I didn’t understand a word of the Hebrew in the remarks he prepared. I didn’t need to. Choking on emotion and fighting back tears are part of a universal language that anyone can translate.


And while in the past I’d watched the tear-jerking press conferences and read the heartfelt goodbye letters of many athletes retiring from sport, none had ever felt this close. I remember soon after the event writing the somber realization in my journal, “these days I’m much closer to the end of my career than the beginning”. Obvious, I know. Technically I was closer to the end the day I picked up a basketball. But for whatever reason Yoyo’s announcement was the reminder that made it real again. It ignited a new sense of urgency.


As I sit here a bit past midnight a few days into my offseason, it’s thinking about this group and how the season ended that hurts the most. If that season in Turkey taught me how difficult if was to win a title. This team taught me how incredible it feels to do just that. No disappointment will ever overshadow the accomplishment of winning the State Cup in February. 


But I guess what stings is Yoyo’s reminder about chances and opportunities. Losing in the Final 4 wasn’t only about missing another window to compete for a trophy. Like all my teammates and fellow athletes, we know we won’t compete forever. It was about missing the window to compete for a trophy with this group. 


When you think about all the things that must go right to win a championship, I was sure we’d nailed the most important of all. I’ll tell you what I told management in my exit meeting. This was one of the most fun and special seasons because of the group--the family--that we assembled. I had good, optimistic feelings when I signed having known James and Jacovan. I’d competed against and known the character of other teammates like Dae, Lior, Yogi and Alex. But I could’ve never anticipated bonding the way we did. I wanted that championship for myself of course. But I think I wanted it more for this group of guys.


To conclude, I’m still very proud of everything we accomplished and thankful for the triumphs and challenges we faced this year. That will never change. Thank you to the entire Hapoel Jerusalem organization for the opportunity to be a part of this family. Thank you to the staff and all the people behind the scenes that don’t get the credit they deserve for making things run smoothly. I can’t thank my teammates enough. All love. And of course I can’t forget the fans. I’ve always believed the fans are an extension of the squad and it was a privilege having that support night in and night out. 


I don’t know what the future holds, but as always, I’m excited for the journey. As always it’s #UNFINISHEDBUSINE22.


In the meantime, I should probably work on this jetlag issue. Well and the food issue. Jetlag and food. Looking forward to doing some more writing this offseason. Until then.


All Blessings,


JO

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