Basketball: Journey better than medals

By Travis Lisle | Published Wednesday, March 11, 2015
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Most people don’t want to hear a 28-year-old talk about getting old.

For most, including myself when thinking rationally, 28 is still quite young in this day and age.

Travis Lisle

Still, as the warrior/philosopher/archeologist Indiana Jones once put it, “It’s not the age, it’s the mileage,” and lately I have been feeling a little more nostalgic than in years past, I have to assume that a lot of that deals with where I am in life.

Though I am young, much of my life’s to-do list has already been accomplished.

I have a beautiful Christian wife and two sons who are both uniquely perfect in their parents’ eyes, no matter how much discipline they require.

I would imagine that other 20-somethings that don’t have wives and kids wouldn’t feel like so many major events had already happened in life.

I’ve got a college degree and steady employment. I could use a little extra money, but in a nutshell, I would have to say that I’m happy with where I am in life.

So why do I find myself thinking back on old times at this point?

Another quote, this one from the late singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live is to Fly” may sum up my predicament: “Where you’ve been is good and gone, all you keep is the gettin’ there.”

In other words, it’s the journey that gets remembered, not the destination.

Recently, a fond section of my past has been placed front-and-center of my mind while following the Bridgeport Bulls’ run through the basketball playoffs.

I was lucky enough in high school to be a small part of a 3A (now 4A) basketball team that lost in the regional final in 2004, and made it to the state championship in 2005, before ultimately losing to Van.

That time, with that group of people is something that I still cherish as some of my favorite memories, regardless of how “peaked-in-high-school” that may seem.

It’s hard to forget being so supported in a small-town setting, and hard to forget how great those friendships were and still are.

Now, I’m getting the chance to relive those memories and feelings when I watch Bridgeport, though the arenas and gyms may be different since we played. Back then the regional tournament was held at Texas Tech’s United Spirits Arena and the state tournament at the University of Texas’ Frank Erwin Center, but seeing those emotions and those friendships between players like Caleb Smith, Keenan Holdman, Jacob Tibbels, Devonte Patterson, Ethan Chapman and Jacob Del Angel, just to name a few, is all too familiar. Everybody cares about everybody else at this point, no matter how many points they average or how many minutes they log. Everybody is part of the journey.

It’s funny that I remember next to nothing about actually playing in that state tournament.

I remember the thrill of getting an early lead on the Jermichael Finley-led Diboll, and I remember getting beaten up pretty good by Van early on and not being able to come all the way back.

But as far as real on-the-court things that happened in those games, there isn’t much there. (Luckily I have a DVD of the games.)

The things that I don’t need pictures or DVDs to remember are those people that I went on bus rides with. The people I spent countless hours of practice with, playing at any gym or hoop we could find.

I hope the Bulls pull it off and get that championship ring to remind them of winning it all years from now.

That would be a really nice thing for those kids, but if they don’t take that final game, as someone who has been through it, those relationships with friends that you suffer with and experience that glory with will not fade over the years.

The town will send the team’s bus off to San Antonio with a big parade and everyone will be there to welcome them back, win or lose.

The school board will certainly honor them during one of their meetings and then comes the nice standing ovation at the spring sports banquet, and just like that, it will all be gone.

All you will have left are the people you experienced all those very specific memories with.

Communication may slow down between these friends over the years, but every time you see one another you will always feel that brotherhood toward them.

To me, that’s a pretty nice thing to have earned.

A few months ago we all had to re-unite in our hometown of Graham to say goodbye to one of our brothers.

Nik Hobson was a quick shooting guard who could get the first step on almost anybody and had a nice jump shot off the dribble that left his hand at the peak of his jump.

He wasn’t much of a ball-handler in the open court, but in one-on-one situations he had several crossover moves that could create ample spacing or get defenders off-balance.

His mind was always in the game. His goals and mine were intertwined completely. We had each other’s back.

Sure, he was my friend for reasons other than basketball. We shared a taste for obscure rap artists and SLAM magazine, we both considered ourselves outside the box type people. But really when I remember Nik, I think of the work we put in and the times when he came through for me, and the praise he gave when I came through for him.

Nik passed away at the age of 27 and upon hearing the news all I could think of was a few months before his death, he showed up at an open gym and completely dominated a bunch of high school players with that same shot, those same moves and that same quickness.

It was a total flashback and afterward he told me that he hadn’t played in three years.

Though I believed him, I was still amazed that he had somehow retained that muscle memory for that long.

A few short months later he had passed.

As I prepare to go cover the state tournament in San Antonio, I hope that all of the players involved remember what they mean to each other.

At the risk of sounding cliche and corny, those people around you will always have a special place years down the line.

For me and my teammates, it was a decade ago that we lost the final game of the season, and as the UIL does, the Van Vandals will be called to midcourt during a ceremony this weekend to commemorate the 10th anniversary of their victory over us.

I hope I’m not in the gym when they do just because that competitive streak hasn’t really gone away, but in actuality it will just make me feel old.

It seems like yesterday that me, Nik, and the rest of my teammates were playing ball without a care in the world.

I guess looking back on things isn’t so bad, especially when you have so much to look forward to.

I love horsing around with my 3-year old and making my sixth-month old show off his brand new laugh.

My future with those boys and with my wife is far more important to me than any high school game from a decade ago.

But I also like to think about the good old days, and I guess if that necessitates me feeling old now and then, that’s a small price to pay to reminisce on the people and places from days gone by.

Some don’t ever get the chance to feel old.

Maybe life is about the mental balance between the past, present and future.

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