An essay by Dan Barry: basketball as meditation in the time of Covid

The birthday parties and the Christmas dinners and the morning bacon and the evening highballs and the many characters who played their parts in that living room scene, then disappeared.


I still remember the morning of our wedding 31 years ago, when Mary’s brothers and I played clear basketball in the backyard. The hoop, in fact, is still in place, beckoning.

And that’s why I’m here, bundled up in two sweatshirts, doing red-white-blue shooting jumps in the freezing cold. The only warmth comes from the embarrassment of my first jump shots – so far that the lifeless, errant ball keeps rolling under a parked car.

Miss. Miss. Hit.

Here we are.

Basketball, when played alone, is a meditation. Other people find their inner balance through counseling, running, yoga, or tending to tomatoes and cucumbers in the garden. I find it with basketball. Just me, a ball, a hoop.

And, now, Covid.


Fully vaccinated and boosted, I’m one of the lucky ones to experience minor symptoms, which in my case include waves of sheepishness. In the midst of so much Covid-related suffering, I am loath to suggest that my health has been significantly threatened; it would be like making an appearance in the bad sequel to a classic horror movie.

Always: cough, congestion, absence of family.


I have used basketball therapy since childhood. As a teenager, shooting hoops while trying to work up the courage to invite a girl to prom. (I just couldn’t let that red blazer-plaid pants combo go to waste.) As an adult, shooting hoops while trying to pick-and-roll cancer. (I blamed all the misses on chemotherapy-induced neuropathy.)

What develops is an athletic form of thinking that veers from the mundane to the spiritual and back again. Sometimes the filming is thoughtless; the muscle memory of tens of thousands of jumps takes over. And sometimes it is conscious, because the contemplative, even the prayer, synthesizes with the competitive: If I hit 10 in a row, she’ll say yes. If I hit 10 in a row, I’ll survive.

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