A Friend's Role in Fond Basketball Memories

Occasionally, I don’t realize how good an experience was until years later. That was the case with my weekly basketball games in New York City (1995 to 2004) – some of my best sports moments.

Those wonderful memories came back in abundance after a friend asked me to write a testimonial for his basketball training endeavors.

Sundiata played an invaluable part in those fierce games as the instructor in charge.  He never got in the way, settled all disagreements fairly and kept the intensity of the men (many in finance) focused on the competition. In addition, his conversation was lively and basketball knowledge top notch. He exemplified leadership.

After the daily challenge of working in Manhattan, I couldn’t have wished for a better few hours; especially for the stress relief it provided.

Below is what I wrote for him.

Happy Gswede Sunday!


Words about Sundiata

The first thing I remember upon meeting him was his positivity.  Soon thereafter, Sundiata and I became friends as he was in charge of basketball games at the Reebok Sports Club in New York City (NYC).

It was easy to bond with someone who loved the game of basketball as much as I do.

I played at the Division 1 level in college so there were never a lack of topics to talk about whether it was sports or life related. Playing weekly basketball games at the club was one of the thrills of my work week. The intensity of competing combined with the stress and tension that was released was priceless. And to have Sundiata’s support and basketball advice (yes, one is never too experienced to learn) was invaluable.

Two moments remain etched in my memory:

1)      I was playing with a celebrity and noticed that despite being a fine athlete, he wasn’t very good.  His future performances were similar although it was clear that he enjoyed the game.  

It would be several months before we played together again. This time, he was a different player. He rebounded better, passed well, ran the court more efficiently and moved without the ball.

This next scenario in our game caught me by surprise:

He rebounded the ball quickly and I sprinted out to the right lane. He then threw a long pass that was ahead of me, yet perfect.  I didn’t expect that type of pass from a player I knew to have limited basketball knowledge. Usually, only skilled players know how to throw the ball ahead of someone that effectively. Fortunately, I caught up to the ball despite being almost caught off guard and made an easy layup. I congratulated him after.

Later, I was telling Sundiata about this person’s basketball transformation and the pass that impressed me. It shouldn’t have surprised me when he said, “I’ve been training him one on one”.  Now, it made perfect sense. In only a few months, he had improved dramatically. That is the power of a good teacher.
2)      On more than one occasion, I had the pleasure and pain of a Sundiata 2 hour group workout.

The pleasure was the joy of strong drills, skill work and the competition against other players. The pain (the good kind) was from the intensity, passion and pressure one gets under his training.

Each time, I was out of my comfort zone and had to use all my talent and grit to perform well.  In addition, we worked on some of the fundamentals of the game which are key elements to success. I was a little rusty with the basics so the extra training helped.

There has never been a time after college when I was trained so thoroughly as well as given a tremendous workout! One of the best feelings was AFTER his training was over; rarely, has my body felt that good.  Again, the power of a strong basketball mind along with passionate teaching.

For anyone who is serious about improving their basketball game and learning about what it takes to succeed in basketball, time spent with Sundiata will be well worth it. In addition, his personality and love of life makes him even more effective as a teacher.

He is all business on the court and that is what people need (especially young players) if they want to reach new heights and rise to the talent level they aspire to. Off the court, his discussions about life were always interesting and his sense of humor was refreshing.  

If my young son or daughter shows an interest in basketball, we will certainly make that trip to NYC and visit with Sundiata, so they can get a taste of what it takes to be successful in basketball and life.

            George Payne


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