Change of Pace

I’m feeling unusually sentimental today. For this post, I want to talk about basketball so my NBA-loving readers can get their fix, but I plan to use it as a tool for a greater cause. For every person that loves sports, there exists one that conversely hates them. I realize I might be preaching to a choir, since if you’re reading this you likely fall into the former category. However, I feel the need to defend sports not for their entertainment value, but for their therapeutic value.

We see it in everyday life. People come home from a long day at work and wind down by watching “the game”. That game becomes an outlet that allows individuals to relieve stress, or if you’re a Detroit Lions fan, induce it. Either way, it’s a win-win. That may sound counter-intuitive at first, but trust me, it makes sense. The reduction of stress is almost always a good thing, unless it’s achieved by a means that is “illegal, immoral, or fattening”(Bruce Gevirtzman). That it’s a win is a no-brainer. However, the increase of stress caused by sports is also a win because it shows how much you care about something. For whatever reason, people care about sports so much that it effects their mood.

I am talking about myself and countless others when I say that. It is good to know that you care about something so much that it can actually effect the way the rest of your day goes. You can buy that or you can disagree with it. It’s up to you.

Try telling Garylee Zuniga that sports aren't good for the soul. I dare you.

Beyond the obvious, there is a mystique that surrounds “the game”. I just finished watching a special on NBA TV that showed the story of a New Mexico native named Garylee Zuniga. Garylee is just a boy, but he learned at his young age that he would not be able to play sports due to having open-heart surgery. Having that kind of an operation can be crippling. More than just the physical limitations that follow such a surgery, there exists a mental element that is hard to overcome prior to it.

There is always a chance that you might not make it through. For a kid as young as 16 year-old Garylee to have to deal with that kind of trauma and use sports as his motivation says a lot about both him and the game. People rarely accept their mortality before their 30th birthday. As teenagers, kids, mostly male kids, feel like they’re invincible. I know I felt that way for a very long time. It wasn’t until I hit about 20 that I realized I wasn’t going to live forever, and that effected the way I did things thereafter.

It was hard for me to digest at 20 that any moment it could all end, imagine me at 16? I don’t think I could have dealt with it the way Garylee did. The NBA did the kid a helluva solid, sending him to L.A. to meet the Los Angeles Lakers players. He was also able to meet a good portion of their opponents, the Orlando Magic(See! Topical!). As I watched his encounters with players like Kobe Bryant, Ronnie Turiaf, Grant Hill, Jameer Nelson, and Tony Battie, I couldn’t help but think three things:

1. Jameer Nelson has a surprisingly limp handshake, while Kobe Bryant has a not surprisingly firm handshake.

2. 1 out of every 20 players knows how to act when in this situation(in this case, Tony Battie was the one standout; the rest of them were awkward and/or forced in their encounter).

3. Sports really can be the pillar that people in situations like Garylee’s can lean on during those tumultuous times.

First, Kobe left me satisfied, Jameer left me wanting. Second, kudos to Battie for being professional and for understanding exactly how to approach the kid. Third, this is an anecdotal, yet completely perfect example of why sports are good for the soul.

I play them when stressed, depressed, or appropriately dressed. It helps cure all listed ails and is simultaneously productive. Garylee is unable to participate, and instead has to live through his favorite athletes. Watching him meet the Lakers/Magic members was almost magical. The kid was absolutely floored. Ronnie befriended him, even inviting him to his house afterward to play video games. The kid’s mom, Polly Zuniga, was there throughout the whole thing.

She acted as ambassador, telling Ronnie her son’s story. The kid couldn’t help but break down as Ronnie offered him comforting words and shared his own heart surgery story(For those of you who were worried, the surgery was a success, and also took place well over four years ago). Ronnie’s words hit home with Garylee, and it was a heart-breaking spectacle. To be able to hear that from one of your heroes who plays a game you love is something that cannot be measured. “The game” has had an impressively positive impact on the kid. Meeting players and scoring free tickets to a Lakers-Magic game probably didn’t hurt either. Mostly, though, it was the reality of being able to share something with a hero of his and have them reach out to him.

The NBA may be a league dominated by testosterone, ego, athleticism, and attitude. It may be the cause of numerous hypertension cases. The damage it does to the bodies of its players becomes glaringly obvious after they retire. But at the end of the day, it produces (exponentially)more good than bad. Garylee Zuniga is a perfect example of this.

But beyond the positive effects it may have on its viewers, it also has a tremendously unique effect on its players. As I was reading Bill Simmons’ “Book of Basketball” I learned about something called The Secret. That will be saved for another post, as I’ll utilize the best cliff-hanger from my favorite childhood cartoon “Spiderman”, and leave you with a



5 Responses to “Change of Pace”

  1. Shani Says:

    awwww… 🙂 I agree. Even if you don’t think ice skating is a sport 😛

  2. Blaise Says:

    Great article Ant, although I distinctly remember that you did not feel invincible as a kid. Dead by 24? You’re a rare exception though.

  3. Daniel Cool Beans Lee Says:


  4. Tommy Hancock Says:

    I don’t see how anyone can argue this, you can love or hate sports, and I love and hate sports (basketball<3, naseball</3), but you can't deny when they do something great. A similar thing happened with a kid who loved wrestling, his favorite was The Rock, and he wanted to catch the damn elbow pad. he didn't get to during the program but he met all kinds of wrestlers afterwards. Both wrestlers he loved and ones he loved to hate. The last person he got to meet was The Rock who spent more time with him than anyone else. After Rocky walked out he came back and threw his other elbow pad at the kid, who caught it and saw it was signed. and apparently that made this kids life. You can love or hate wrestling, but i think that's an amazing story also. No matter what it is, I agree that it's good to care about something so much that it effects your day.

  5. Polly Zuniga Says:

    Just found this article on the internet of my son and just want to thank you for it. Garylee is currently being evaluated for a heart/double lung transplant in San Diego. He is still cheering those Lakers, as well as the Knicks because that’s where Turiaf now plays. You are right in saying that sports is a pillar for Garylee to lean on at this time. On Laker game day, he is dressed in his jersey, sweat bands, socks, and everything Lakers. Sometimes game day is what gets him through his day. We are looking to move to San Diego from New Mexico in the near future, so hopefully, we will might be able to take him to watch another Laker game.
    Once again, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: