Win Or Dip

“Are you guys out here every Sunday?” “How often do you guys do this?” “What is this?” These are intriguing inquisitions that an amalgam of vacationers and array of visitors excitedly exclaim each Sunday at Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California when they stumble upon the vibrant and vivacious, magnificent and magnetic, majestic and marvelous, and beautiful and brilliant Venice Basketball League. The Venice Basketball League, VBL, is an epicenter of ingenuity, conglomeration of cultures, combination of creatives, and compilation of competitors. The players are full of fervor deriving from a deeply embedded and intrinsically inculcated desire to win. The hoopers in the VBL play hard, run fast, jump high, speak loud, and are bold. Each player as an individual does as they are, art. They are all made in the image and likeness of God. They are each a marvelous mosaic, majestic mural, and magnificent masterpiece. That is who they are. That is who each is. Then, they do in accordance to this; meaning, they view basketball as an art, basketball as a skill, basketball as a craft, and basketball as a vehicle. This is not incredibly dissimilar to the perspective or prerogative a painter, writer, or musician might have about painting, writing, and composing. 

Now, the VBL has reached their final lap of the marathon that is this season, so it is time to “win or dip.” The team that is victorious advances, and the team that loses gets to go take a dip in the ocean. It is crucial and critical to concisely convey and clearly communicate the current standings of the teams in the VBL. On a structural, strategic, and skeletal level, the VBL playoffs is a best two out of three series between two opposing teams. The first two games of this three game series is played to 21 points by 1s and 2s. Each player has three fouls before they foul out of the game. If a game 3 is forced, that game is played to seven points by 1s and 2s. After each game the score and fouls reset, but the emotions do not. Within this game structure, on Sunday, September 12, 2021, Project Backboard lost in back to back games against SNS; therefore, SNS will be moving on to Championship Weekend this upcoming Saturday for their semi-final appearance and Project Backboard will enjoy a refreshing and needed dip into the ocean and out of the playoffs. As a preface or prelude to progression or procession we want to take a moment and acknowledge VBL star Chris Staples and special guests White Chocolate, Randy Gill, and Zach Andrews for their meaningful contributions and competitive spirit. Next, two prominent and expanding Vape brands, Timeless and Dompen, faced off to ultimately see who wanted the Smoke. Timeless defeated Dompen Greenlights in back to back games. This meant that the third game of the two out of three series was not necessitated, and unfortunately for Greenlights their season ended on Sunday as Timeless advanced. We are immensely thankful for a VBL Legend and connective collaborator Crushow for the unmatched passion and incomparable competitiveness he brings to the League each and every summer. Though each of these teams may be done giving people the smoke on the court soon, they both will continue to give anyone who wants it, the smoke off the court. Finally, the third and final match up from this last Sunday, September 12, 2021 was spicy and sizzling. Team Ultra played against Team Sunblock, and both of these teams were in tenacious pursuit of a convincing victory. Ultra was lead by Hezi god and Sunblock was lead by Aj Harris aka The Chosen One. Both of these electric and magnetic playmakers are former league MVPs and Uber competitive. Hezi god got off to a slower start early and then started cooking as the game play progressed. Sunblock defeated Ultra in the first game to 21, but Ultra bounced back and won the second game exhibiting resilience, exuding endurance, and exemplifying grit. This gave each team one victory and each team one loss forcing a heavily heated and excitedly expected game 3.  As points increased, emotions escalated. With each bucket came not only an influx in score but also an influx of tension. Ultimately Team Sunblock defeated Team Ultra in a competitive and controversial fashion. Nonetheless, the teams that are currently remaining in the VBL Playoffs contending for the championship are SNS, Timeless, Sunblock, and the winner of the Los Fearless vs. CGME. The following teams had a phenomenal season, but have experienced unfortunate elimination during this rigorous and riveting playoff era in which the have dipped out of to dip into he ocean: Green Lights, Project Backboard, Ultra, HoopBus, Ballislife, Seek Discomfort, Basketball Junkies, Rokit, and Dunk. This season is nearing its climax, culmination and conclusion, so expectations, excitement, and enthusiasm exponentially escalate with each sunset and sunrise as we prepare for championship weekend. 

One of the most provocative components and prying complexities of this entire Sunday experience is the reality that proximity persuades perspective. In the introduction and interlude I gave a few examples of questions we, the VBL family, get asked by first time guests. See, they do not live close in proximity to Venice Beach. When they approach the terrain, territory, and topography of the VBL they are invariably astounded, astonished, and amazed. They are confronted by a scene so surreal, setting so special, and situation so sacred that they find themselves befuddled and baffled. To the first time guest, who is typically not close in proximity to Venice Beach, this Sunday experience leaves an indelible impression. 

See, I just landed in Los Angeles on Saturday, the right in time for the play in games at Skid Row and playoff games at the beach. It was such a phenomenal transition to see the teams qualify in the streets to play at the beach. I have been distant, distracted, and deterred. I have not been close in proximity to this environment, so I see it with fresh eyes. I have a novel lens and invaluable vantage point. I come from a place that is not close in proximity to the VBL, so the VBL is still an enormous event, exhilarating environment, and enthralling epicenter for me. My proximity to the beach has not desensitized me to how radiant, rare, ravishing, and real the VBL is. Contrapositively, this “proximity persuades perspective” reality remains the same for the VBL family. To many of the hoopers, staff, and leaders we can get caught in the logistical components, administrative complexities, and rudimentary details and on a subliminal, subconscious, and subtle level forget how awesome this is. Furthermore, proximity to a place does not only persuade our perspective, but proximity to popularity can also persuade our perspective. 

A lot of the players have incredible ambitions and attainable aspirations, and once they achieve or acquire affirmation or acknowledgement their new found popularity can persuade their original perspective. Masses and multitudes of players have entered into the VBL as humble and hungry hoopers, but after being close in proximity to the VBL and attaining popularity from the VBL their sanity lessens and humility littles. What allows me to decipher, discern, or distinguish which players are rookies in the VBL and which players are veterans is not the “what” of their game, but rather the “how” and “why” of their games. For example, the “what” may be that a given player is a knock down shooter, or high flyer, or excellent finisher, or lock up defender, or exemplary ball handler, or morale booster. However, the “how” of their game is the manner in which they do these things. The knock down shooter may either be super confident or super cocky. The high flyer may know that he’s got it or still be trying to prove to himself that he is good enough. The excellent finisher, lock up defender, exemplary ball handler, or morale booster may do their thing in order to become enough or because they are enough. Furthermore and finally on this topic, the “why” is most probably what ultimately drives these players. Whether the “why” behind playing is trying to get or trying to give largely impacts a players attitude. If a hooper has been close in proximity to the VBL for an extensive or elongated duration of time, then they may have the most grateful, kind, content, compassionate, and approachable perspective… or they may be calloused, cold, cocky, and closed off depending on whether or not they have gotten that which they are trying to get. Some do it for the love of the game, some do it for the love of the fame; either way, the insatiable hunger for and unquenchable thirst for love remains the same. The human person ultimately has a deep, desperate, and dire need to be loved. Therefore, if they play in order to become loved instead of because they are loved then they will be dissatisfied, discontent, and disheartened. However, when those close in proximity to the VBL know that God loves us, have love for one another and care for the people around them, as the majority of the VBL family does, then we are repetitiously reminded of how special this is. 

Those of us who are close in proximity to the players and VBL have grown to expect crazy posters, insane dunks, astounding hezis, astonishing cross overs, ridiculous dimes, and riveting games. Though these things are magnificent, majestic, and mesmerizing they could grow mundane if not appreciated each time they occur. Therefore, it is inexpressibly essential for those close in proximity to the beach and streets that the VBL appears at, to appreciate each play. Additionally, this is in no way intended to say that the VBL somehow makes players worse if they are here for a long time, but rather it is to say that for all people, parties, and participants involved we can forget how special this place is and awesome these people are if we take it for granted. The answer and antidote is gratitude. A posture of gratitude will eliminate complacency, eradicate apathy, and excavate exhaustion. Gratitude will allow us to have fervor amidst familiarity. When we remember how wonderfully unique, beautifully abnormal, and brilliantly atypical the VBL is, the marvelous will not grow mundane. If we wake up grateful and go about our day thankful for the terrific trees, superb sunsets, spectacular scenery, breath in our lungs, life in our bones, love in our hearts, and ball in our hands our proximity may change but our perspective will not.