"So Was Xerxes" or "Thoughts from a Rookie Vol. VI"
originally written and published April 15, 2013
This year I convinced myself to start packing a few weeks ahead of season’s end. It just seemed like a good idea. If I were to be completely honest with myself, based on past experiences I probably should have started even earlier. No matter. I have had my packing mishaps in the past, but this would be nothing like moving away from Stanford after 5 years or even moving back home from Exeter each summer in high school. Truth is I did not know how it would be. A recurring theme with most experiences as a rookie. And after two weeks of haphazard-semi-packed-flux I found myself starting from scratch two nights before my flight.
There is something terrifyingly exciting about the end of the season. You call it uncertainty. Most athletes (especially those leaving the NBA D-League) call it “I don’t know where the hell I’m going”. This complicates packing even the simplest possessions. All I brought to Boise were clothes and my travel bag. No TVs. No game consoles. No dead weight. Still there I was desperately trimming away dri-fits, shorts, shoes I wore once or twice, some that I had never worn at all, and my feelings for the season ended.
Packing is a terrible thing when you do not know where you are going—especially when you travel with your life confined to the baggage policies of you favorite commercial airline. Should I pack this jacket in my luggage? Will it even fit? Do I need it? In a box to send home? Send it to Mom or Dad’s? Wait do I need it though? What if I get sent somewhere to play this summer where I need it? I’ll bring it just in case… Great, there’s no room. Somehow we make it all fit. Somehow we all find somewhere to go.
My roommate was going home to Indiana. Having played in the NBA for a season before coming to the NBDL, I imagined he was a bit more established in terms of an offseason plan. Then again, there is no certainty in this business. As a rookie preparing for my deep sea plunge into the offseason waters, his experience with this sort of thing was enviable. I sat perched atop a pile of unfolded clothes—pecking away at my keyboard instead of packing— when he ever so casually strolled in to say his goodbye.
“Aight, Xerx. I’m gone.” Plain and simple. I appreciated that about him.
The moment was perfectly orchestrated to the wailing crescendo of the Django Unchained theme playing on my computer. I rose reluctantly and gave him a handshake and hug.
“It’s been real. Safe flight.”
As he floated from my room and out the front door, I think I mumbled something about seeing him at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. In basketball, like in all professions, the higher you ascend, the smaller the world becomes. I will see him again. My teammates headed to Philly, Chi-Town, Virginia, and even the glorified NBA heavens? I’ll see them too.
I discovered his sign a few hours later. After falling asleep atop the bed of clothes, I drunkenly stumbled towards the kitchen to rummage through the fridge’s remains. I confronted all fears when my wondering hands finally found the door handle. Just some condiments, eggs, and a pound of frozen ground turkey meat. Nothing I could work with. I should have emptied the misfit stragglers right then. There was no way I would eat the food before my flight, but I have something against trashing good groceries. I left them. Turning my back on disappointment, I gaped out the living room window, past the other apartments, the parking lots, and in the direction of the Albertson’s to which I already knew I wasn’t walking. I’m not THAT hungry. Just before retreating for another round of sleep, I noticed the wrinkled blue paper resting delicately against the TV.
“JJ WAS HERE.”
It’s all a bit awkward sharing a good, long laugh with an empty 3 bedroom apartment—something like finally catching that punchline hours later while you’re alone brushing your teeth before bed. I guess I caught it a season later. Satisfied and at peace, I chuckled back to my room. I had to pack. I was flying home to surprise my mom in the morning.
I find it difficult to close the book on a season’s body of work of which I’m not proud. In my exit interview a few days prior, I told the head coach I thought we were better than our record indicated. I absolutely hate using the word “potential”, but it felt like there was more work to do before leaving. But reality is reality. Sure it was great putting some quality victories together down the stretch and ending on a three game win streak. Still the fact remains that in just about every category—team or individual—I fell short of my goals. And yet, aside from my redshirt junior year at Stanford, I cannot remember a season in which I learned so much about myself and this game. During one of our road trips in the final weeks of the season, I finally got around to watching Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture”. I jotted down one quote. He said, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” As always, I’m incredibly blessed and thankful for that—experience.
Thank you to the Idaho Stampede organization for the opportunity. I’m appreciative of the fans (especially the Stanford Alumni Club Boise Chapter) and all their support. Thank you to the coaches, trainers, doctors, staff, and interns that have gone above and beyond in this collective pursuit of success. And of course, what is the NBDL without teammates? I’m grateful for them all (and special thanks go out to the B-Mob).
Before I locked the apartment for the last time, I didn’t have the heart to throw away the dozen Krispy Kreme donuts I bought the night before. My entire face was still writhing with pain from the last minute dentist appointment I had that morning. I left them on the kitchen counter hoping one of the interns would take them when they performed the final sweep. I left several pairs of shoes and a note to have them donated. I left JJ’s sign. I took my disappointment with me. I have a special spot waiting for it in the Maples weight room and practice courts. On the way out I grabbed a Sharpie and the last page of an end of season player memo. I set it neatly adjacent JJ’s, took a picture then locked the door.
“SO WAS XERXES”