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Boys and basketball

Obviously, professional basketball appeals to teenage boys.

Ridiculously over-sized men doing ridiculously physical things with a ball and to each other. This all happens on a ridiculously under-sized court which appears to be the dimensions of a suburban shower cubicle.

How could this not appeal?

When I was seventeen some mates and I were all obsessed with basketball and more particularly the NBA, the professional American competition.

A match was televised on Sunday mornings and we’d all watch and discuss it that afternoon and at school during the week. It was my first real experience with sport that wasn’t Australian. Magic Johnson, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving were the big names and being adolescent I was seduced by their skill and their seemingly exotic names.

The teams and their locations were also mesmerising: Boston and the Celtics, Philadelphia and the 76ers, and Los Angeles and the Lakers. Given their rivalry, LA and Boston games were always the highlight.

So, I’m pleased and entirely unsurprised that Max, now gangly and twelve and curious about his expanding world, is besotted by the NBA. In his room he has about six basketballs, all arranged at the foot of his bed in a brown-orange pyramid. If he’s not playing the game during or after school, he’s in his room watching it online or talking about it to his brother Alex or me.

He loves the Brooklyn Nets.

With their New York City hipster-borough aesthetic this is probably the team I’d support if I were his age. Indigenous star Patty Mills plays for them as do some of Max’s favourites in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Australian export Ben Simmons is also on the roster but is currently spending much time on the bench, fouling out frequently.

Brooklyn’s a bit far to go during term time so I offered to take Max to the Adelaide 36ers and New Zealand Breakers match. He accepted.

It was my first time at a professional basketball match too. I’d been to footy, soccer, rugby league, golf, and cricket but not the hoops.

It was great.

We sat midcourt (not far from where Alex and I were at the Tame Impala concert a few nights’ previous) and it was engrossing, ridiculous fun. In his attempts to encourage our ownership, the courtside announcer often insisted, ‘Your Sixers.’ Max and I spoke of the implied ownership in the second person pronoun, ‘your.’ He gets it. As always, we’re being sold stuff.

Cricket’s Big Bash League has borrowed extensively from basketball’s entertainment formula. Merciless noise, music, lights, quick gimmicks and silly crowd participation. The curmudgeon in me tried to resist but couldn’t. It was harmless, sugary distraction.

And why not on a Friday night?

Max commentated throughout. He has the language and the technical insight. His vocabulary even seemed taken from Brooklyn with its streetwise, vaguely combative terminology.

An odd rite then occurred. Whenever the Breakers would earn shots from the free-throw line a mysterious ritual took place. Resulting, I imagine, from a weird sponsorship deal, the kids in the crowd began chanting.

‘Hungry Jacks! Hungry Jacks!’

Now, I wasn’t sure if hearing this was supposed to inspire or distract or scare the opponents with the thought that they might be force-fed a whopper, or, heaven forbid, a yumbo?

‘Hungry Jacks! Hungry Jacks!’

Maybe, I wondered, if they missed, the kid who yelled loudest would receive their (meagre) body weight in cheeseburgers or Baconators? This, of course, would likely condemn them to a life without any hope of being a professional basketballer.

But still they chanted.

Half-time at the merchandise stall I offered Max a hat or singlet but at his request bought him yet another basketball. Can you have too many? I’m probably guilty of having an excess of checked shirts in my wardrobe.

Using his surname as inspiration we adopted Craig Randall as a home team favourite while Antonius Cleveland also found our affection. The seven-foot Korean centre, Kai Sotto, impressed us with his dunking and gentle athleticism.

Despite the fuzzy etymology of The Breakers, they whopped us by thirty points. We turned the ball over too often and our Kiwi competitors made the most of their three-pointers, but it mattered little to us.

On our way home Max talked excitedly. I reckon we both won.

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