The ‘Unexpected Guest’ at My Final High School Basketball Game

In what would turn out to be my last basketball game in a fun and stellar high school career (1000+ points in two seasons) in Central Pennsylvania, I was equally anxious and excited.

Anxious because I knew that our school (Central Dauphin East High) was facing a better team; one that would need me to perform beyond spectacular in order to win. The excitement came from envisioning a win, which would mean advancing to the State Playoffs – where the spotlight would shine the brightest.

Even playing one game in the playoffs meant that I (and my teammates) would receive significant exposure to colleges in that relentless chase for a college scholarship. Fortunately, I already knew that I could have my choice of many Division 2 & 3 schools, but my goal was to play at the top level – Division 1.

Unbeknownst to me, a man was in attendance that evening who would have a major impact on my life, both negatively and positively.

The game was hard fought and one of those battles where the obstacles to success never ceased. Our opponents were in control throughout the game and compared to our team, their skill and talent was superior. Being particularly focused, I went beyond my typical pace by being more aggressive and taking shots outside of my usual shooting range. I remember making one shot from beyond 25 feet!

I was on fire and played one of my best games of the year, but as I mentioned earlier, I needed to go beyond spectacular for victory. I never reached the higher level. As a team, we gave it everything we had, although the game was never in doubt for our opponent. We lost. It was a supremely disappointing defeat, but I had little time to sulk as my mission to obtain a free college education (via scholarship) was the top issue in my young life.

My collegiate choices were narrowed down to a handful of Division 1 schools, which I was thankful for. Despite scoring almost 25 points a game my senior year (before there was a 3 point line), I didn’t get the exposure that kind of scoring average would receive today in our social media world. In addition, not being able to compete in the aforementioned state playoffs was a critical missed opportunity to showcase my talent to colleges.

During my decision making process, I was surprised to find out that the Head Basketball Coach at the University of Vermont (UVM) was the person at my final game. When I heard the news, I could only smile as I knew my performance that night had to impress him. The fact that Vermont was my top choice made the moment even sweeter.

I signed my letter of intent (scholarship) to UVM, at my home, in the spring of 1982. My parents and the Head Coach were in attendance and our picture appeared in the local newspaper. As a 17 year old, I couldn’t have been more satisfied. Since I was 11 years old, my dream was to go to college for free and play basketball. All the hard work, sacrifice and discipline had paid off beautifully.

The decision to go to Vermont was one of the best choices I ever made. I wrote about it a few years ago in the below passage and article.

“College should be one of the best times of your life and provide moments which are hard to equal in the real world. It was for me and many of my 1986 classmates. I still find myself randomly reminiscing about the abundance of great (and often glorious) moments at UVM.

Outside of my time on the basketball court as a student-athlete, there was rarely a dull moment, whether it was a private event, hanging out in downtown Burlington, a fraternity party, a random dorm gathering, the energy of a hockey game, the often bitter cold temperatures or simply vibing with someone before or after a class. Being an athlete gave me a unique and privileged view of a variety of experiences, which I appreciated and soaked in as much I could.”

Unfortunately, my 4 years of basketball was ‘okay, during the best times and ‘miserable’ at the worst. It was primarily due to the same Head Coach who gave me the scholarship. He should have never been hired in that role as he was ill-prepared for such a challenging job, although that is a story (or book) for another day. He resigned (but had no choice) my senior year with the strong support of several key college faculty, instrumental supporters and 10 of our 12 team players.

Despite the basketball chaos, I couldn’t have asked for a better college journey. I’m thankful for being able to attend our wonderful university. And if my coach wasn’t at my final game, I may never have had the sizzle and thrill of UVM; years that helped me grow wiser, endure and learn from immense struggle (basketball) and experience joy beyond my wildest dreams.

Those Burlington, Vermont years were the catalyst for my early life success and they continue to pay dividends to this day. Without that scholarship, I doubt the road would have been paved so smoothly for me to live in New York City, Sweden, Belgrade and Tokyo, along with travelling to many places throughout the world.

UVM encouraged me to dream big. And I’m still dreaming. 

Happy Gswede Sunday!       




A Friend’s Weight, Mom’s Smoking – What They Needed To Hear


A decade ago, one of my childhood friends and I weighed approximately the same – less than 200 lbs (91kg), although he was probably a few pounds lighter than me.  Since that time, he has slowly crept up to the 215 lbs (98 kg) level. He never had a weight issue previously, so I’m sure he was a bit surprised when he saw 215 on the scale that I recently bought for his family.

While he still looks good at 6’3 inches (189cm), he realizes that he needs to lose weight; even admitting in subtle ways that he could use an improvement in his hectic lifestyle.  While some men can carry his current weight effortlessly, it doesn’t suit him well.

This past summer, I spontaneously gave him a goal of 205 lbs (93kg)….to be achieved by July 15, 2018. I’ve never understood why friends and family members dance around the weight issue of people they care about. Why are we so afraid to tell those people who are important in our lives that they need to lose weight, improve their eating habits or get in shape?

I’ve rarely had problems with my weight, yet it has happened on several occasions (a 20lbs/9.1kgs gain) due to lack of proper eating and/or exercise. Those close to me never failed to express how bad I looked…and they were right. With my athletic background, I shouldn’t have been that careless. They would joke with me sometimes about my weight, but were never preachy or malicious about it.  I’m grateful for their concern as it made an impact and helped me in my journey back to health.

The aforementioned friend is one of the most well-rounded, liked and giving individuals I know. He has a good life and loving family, yet not making health and/or weight maintenance a priority can not only make life more stressful for him, but could severely hamper that positive life in the future. In addition, his kids are watching closely and as we all should know as parents, our actions tend to have a bigger impact than our words.

I want him to have the best life possible and he seems to want it as well now, writing this to me recently.

“As for my weight…I lose it overnight. That is not hard for me. I will be under 200 soon.”

He’s clearly optimistic which I love. The ball is in his court. 

I encourage all of you to reach out to those who need an extra push. Don’t shy away from telling people close to you what they need to hear. You don’t want to wait until they are in the hospital or have irreversible health problems before you have the courage to speak up. They may not like to hear what you say, but do it anyway. We should always be upfront and honest with those we love or care about. If it is done in a loving way, they might not appreciate it right away, but will one day.

My mother smoked cigarettes for most of her life; something I didn’t like or approve of. There weren’t 6 months that went by when I didn’t remind her about the ills of smoking. I would send her articles, talk to her and find other avenues to get my message across. Year after year I stayed on message. I knew that my concern wouldn’t be the catalyst for her quitting (only she could do that), but as her only son, I knew it would have an impact. 

My mother never admitted this, but I felt that it was a good friend of hers dying from lung cancer that made her quit. This woman (a smoker) was a healthy and beautiful 50 year old, and after being diagnosed, died within 3 months. My mom quit smoking not long after her death. 

Mom was 55 when she gave up smoking and never looked back. I was thrilled. Because of that decision, along with embracing better eating habits, she was able to live another 22 healthy years. She told me that she appreciated the way I never gave up on warning her about the dangers of smoking.

Some years after she stopped the nicotine, I advised her to adopt a healthier eating style as that time after smoking can be rough with the appetite desires. She fell victim to those desires and her body showed it. I knew she wasn’t happy. 

This time, it didn’t take long for her to change, as she could see herself going down the wrong road. Again, it was her courage to pivot away from poor food choices, although I sensed that I had a big impact on her from the questions she would ask me about food. I was surprised and proud when she wholeheartedly embraced healthier eating habits.

I have no doubt that my friends (and wife) will speak up if they see me becoming unhealthy again. I will let those close to me know if I see their health is going in the wrong direction. Will you do the same for your sister, friend, wife, husband, child or father?

If you do, be gentle and loving in your approach, yet don’t be afraid. Stay firm, committed and keep reminding them that there is nothing more important than their health.

"Happiness lies, first of all in health."
(George Williams Curtis)

Happy Gswede Sunday!



Sweden – All Our Passports Are The Same Color


With similar terrorist attacks happening in Germany, France and England in the last few years, it was only a matter of time before another major city fell victim to this form of terrorism (using a truck/car); this month it was Stockholm, Sweden – a city I lived in for 6 years. Five people are dead from a man (an immigrant) who drove a truck into pedestrians on one of Stockholm’s busiest streets. Maybe this was our wake-up call to be more open-minded, along with embracing awareness and preparation in the future. Additionally, we (Swedish citizens) need to be more demanding of our government.

Even though we’ve had two high profile assassinations in Stockholm, along with ample warning signs, this tragedy was a shock to many of the city’s residents. Some Swedes are outraged, angry and find it hard to swallow that our capitol city has lost its purity. The CEO of Stockholm’s Chamber of Commerce, Maria Rankka wrote this:

It’s another reminder that Sweden, with its many positive sides and — from a mainstream international perspective — also some cultural peculiarities, is a European country among others. For better and worse.

We are not immune to terror and violence even though we haven’t been at war since 1814. On the other hand, Sweden has experienced the murders of one prime minister and a foreign minister within my life time. So we shouldn’t be totally naive.

Life is definitely getting back to normal, but it will never be the same.
(https://english.chamber.se/page1-eng/stockholm-will-never-be-the-same.htm)

When I heard a Swede (those born in Sweden) living in Stockholm say “I don’t want to hear about this ‘just be accepting’ crap” (referring to refugees) in response to this attack, that gave me cause for concern. Yes, his feelings are understandable with our myriad of immigration issues, although I wonder if he was as outraged when a Swede with a sword targeted an immigrant school in 2015, killing 2 teachers and a student – this also was a terrorist act.

We know we need to act now in forging more togetherness, which is evidenced by the outpouring of love and solidarity, including a touching gathering of thousands in central Stockholm in the days after the tragedy. The big question is whether we will continue to act with love. This is our chance to look in the mirror and be more accepting of one another.

I wish there was a stronger reaction 10 years ago when tensions were beginning to scratch the surface between those born here and those who came for a better life. I wrote this in 2010:

A few weeks back, I was talking to an intelligent immigrant taxi driver (9 years here) who was fighting the tears as he spoke of his journey. He informed me of his insane monthly hours and the meager pay he received for his driving efforts – shocking to say the least. According to him, it was the only job he was able to get.

Other malicious things flowed out of his mouth as well – words that were frighteningly harsh. He’s a bitter man and displayed a rage I had never seen before; a rage that should worry Sweden.

After our 15 minute conversation, he said to me, “all of the immigrants in Sweden are strangers. Some are treated better as I am sure you are coming from the USA or those from the UK. People like me (Middle East) or Muslims have a much tougher road to navigate. But, remember, we are all strangers.

It was clear to me that tensions would start to bubble high, which I tried to get across with my words. I’ve rarely seen that aforementioned rage from an immigrant. The comments below my article made me feel that I didn’t succeed with my intended purpose. “Learn the language” was a common theme in those comments, yet the vast majority of immigrants I’ve talked to are fluent in Swedish.

It seemed as if my readers didn’t want to address the elephant in the room ( to act on or at least talk about immigration and how to improve it), although the anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats were more than willing to speak about it - and people listened, thus the significant rise in their party since that time. 

Sweden’s fidelity to humanitarian values resulted in its accepting more than 80,000 asylum seekers in 2014 and more than 160,000 in 2015, before tightened procedures led the number to fall to fewer than 30,000 last year. It has not been easy for a nation of 10 million to accommodate such a large number of refugees — many with little education and hailing from vastly different societies — in such a short time. Well before Friday’s attack, a vigorous debate was underway on the best way forward, and not all Swedes are happy: Support for the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats grew from just under 3 percent of the vote in 2006 parliamentary elections to just under 13 percent in the 2014 elections.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/12/opinion/swedens-wisdom-on-terrorism.html?_r=0

Our collective inaction let the party who wants to do away with all integration win and gain support…at least in the short term. If we don’t act now, their influence will continue to ascend. 

What does give me hope is the way Swedes and Immigrants of all colors and cultures opened up their hearts and homes to those in need, as many people were stuck in Stockholm in the aftermath of that chaotic Friday. That was a beautiful gesture to read and hear about. We can’t forget about those important acts of giving.

We need that kind of support if we hope to see a bright and thriving Sweden in the future. I’ve heard from numerous people who believe that Sweden will be a shell of itself in 15-20 years. Below is a message from one of them:

“G.. I can tell you all that Swedish way stuff has lost its appeal... I've heard more than a few Swedes ask what the hell is the Government thinking with such lax terrorist laws.. people are fed up now!  These acts of terrorism, open boarders, riots in the suburbs, friendly social welfare system and increase drug use has people feeling they've lost their country...  it will be felt at the voters ballet box. I can almost guarantee you. Major shift is on the way...”
(Citizen who has lived in Stockholm almost 20 years)

I’m more optimistic than the words above, but I’m not na├»ve. In order to flourish in the future, we need to see an abundance of unifying energy and comradery in our local communities weekly, not just during the aftermath of a tragedy. There are Swedes and Immigrants who have shown that spirit of togetherness in their daily lives and I’ve heard heartwarming stories about the way both groups have worked to help one another adjust to the heavy influx of 300,000+ refugees into Sweden in the last 5 years, yet most of us need to do more or simply begin the process of doing something.

If you are a Swede, when was the last time you had an immigrant in your home? Have you ever had an immigrant (family not included) in your home?

I would ask the same two questions to an immigrant who has lived in Sweden for a significant period of time? Do you spend quality time with any Swedish born person?

One Swede told me recently that his son plays sports with immigrants, yet all his friends are Swedish born. In addition, I’ve heard from plenty of immigrants who have no desire to get to know Swedes on a personal level.  We have to improve upon this, particularly with our youth.

I’ve been accepted fairly well as an American, although I’ve been to a surprisingly high number of events throughout my 11 years in Sweden where I was the only immigrant.

If we are going to help mend our Swedish society, both Swedes and Immigrants have to learn to embrace each other in a more productive way and get to know one another more deeply, which will require spending quality time together. 

We need folks of all backgrounds to open your minds and hearts and change the way you interact.

How about making it a point to have lunch or coffee with someone who doesn’t look like you and/or comes from a different culture? That person could be the one in your office who you like, yet never considered having a private conversation with.

Instead of hiring the Swede that makes you comfortable, how about considering an immigrant who is just as qualified, and will add diversity and a different voice to the business? I never thought I would have the following 2004 interview anywhere in my life, but it was one of my first impressions of Sweden and occurred before my wife and I moved to Scandinavia. I hope we are in a better place today.
  
I was excited even though I had those ex-pat voices spinning in my head. I had the interview when my wife and I visited one month before our move. It was pleasant, enjoyable and obvious that I was the most qualified candidate. The VD (CEO) of this very well known organization said after, “You have more experience than all of the other six candidates combined”, which was nice to hear. He later said, “I can’t hire you because the employees wouldn’t be comfortable with a non-Swedish speaker”.  Keep in mind that everyone spoke English. That was a bitter pill to swallow as I could have helped them immensely despite the language discomfort but they were more concerned with what I call “Comfort over Improvement” in hiring; something that occurs far too often here in regards to employing foreigners.

On the positive flip side of that disappointing day, a Swede hired me in Stockholm in 2007 for what I have done (merit) and could do at Pearson, and not once did I feel that she evaluated me for things I was lacking. I’m thankful for her courage. I went on to have 9 wonderful years, which I wrote about after I left the company.
  
I’m full of gratitude for my almost 9 years at Pearson. Our Nordic team had a boatload of success, but I realize that it wouldn’t have been as good (or fun) without the support and care of numerous EMA colleagues that I was fortunate to work with since 2007.
http://gswede-sunday.blogspot.jp/2015/09/thank-you-pearson-education-family.html

Imagine what would have been lost for me and Pearson had she not hired me because I wasn’t Swedish and/or didn’t speak fluent Swedish. 

Sweden has been good to me and I’m a happy citizen. My family is moving back this summer after two years in Tokyo. Even though I’ve done my fair share of integration (with both Swedes and Immigrants), I need to do more and I will.

My basketball program (13th year) has flourished and we’ve had the privilege of working with, teaching and learning from a wide variety of youth and coaches at several Swedish (and Japanese) basketball clubs. We can’t settle for things we might have done in the past though, as our efforts of outreach and interaction need to be consistent from week to week or month to month.

Finally, awareness and preparation is something we can all improve upon. As citizens, we must keep our eyes open and antennas up, especially if something doesn’t look right or feel right or seem right.  Awareness is vital for our own safety. When you find yourself in popular tourist areas, big crowds or ones where cars have easy access to a large group of people, you should be on the lookout for anything or anyone out of the ordinary. 

That doesn’t mean we need to be paranoid or fearful to go out, although avoiding awareness leaves one vulnerable…like a sitting duck. We need to live our lives to the fullest, but we also have to keep a constant check on our surroundings. We can’t be happy go lucky anymore as we go through life in Sweden or elsewhere. With awareness, at least there is a chance of reacting to help someone or for one’s own survival.

Preparation is a key element as well. It’s not enough for citizens to be aware and prepared if our politicians are not. To have and maintain our best safety efforts, we need to be more demanding of our Government. We have to insist that they step up their counter-terrorism efforts in the area of research, surveillance, education, and cooperation with other countries or whatever else is needed in the fight against those who want to do us harm. Laws may also need to be re-evaluated or made tougher, along with ensuring our generous social welfare system is utilized effectively.

By the way, the truck that was used in the Stockholm tragedy was stolen. With similar attacks in other countries, that theft should have forced a high alert in Stockholm and other towns in Sweden. Maybe that did occur, although I doubt it.

I implore all citizens and residents of Sweden to not slip back into the comfortable flow of thinking that our lives can be ‘business as usual’. There is nothing usual or typical or easy about the state of our country or the world. If we keep doing the same things we did before this tragedy, we can’t blame anyone but ourselves if we are an incohesive, unaware and unprepared society when terrorism rears its ugly head again.

We are all in this together. 

Our country was once the envy of the world. We have a chance to rise back to that occasion. Let’s not allow Sweden to slip into the darkness of anti-integration, fear, segregation, apathy or terrorism as the norm. This is our moment to shine, but it will take a majority of individuals vowing to act, in ways big or small, and making a meaningful difference in their communities, jobs and spare time.

Be Open-Minded. Be Compassionate. Be Loving. Be Accepting. Be Giving.

Be Open to a Conversation on Immigration.

Be Aware. Be Prepared. Be Demanding.

The choice is yours. What will you do?

Happy Gswede Sunday!


The Privilege, Confidence (and Illusion) of the Ski Slopes


We had a fantastic weekend with friends in Hakuba, Japan in late February – our first ski vacation as a family. I felt nothing but gratitude throughout, as the scenery, snow, comradery and sun was majestic at times. The nearby city of Nagano was the host of The 1998 Winter Olympics.

Our children learned to ski (daughter) and snowboard (son) in 2 days. My wife hadn’t been on a snowy mountain in over two decades, although she picked it up again rather easily. As a beginner, I wasn't nearly as good as my son but could confidently snowboard down the hill (including a Red run) after one private lesson and a few days on my own.

The privilege and joy of being on the Japanese Alps brought back memories of when I gently burst a teenager’s privilege bubble after he said to me - without me asking – “I'm a great skier”.  He’s a good kid and I like him, yet it never fails to concern me when someone proclaims greatness out of the blue.

Since I knew about his ‘below average to average’ history in non-snow sports and had seen him in action, I let him know that most able-bodied youth can learn to ski within a few days. He was surprised until I asked him this question:

"Tell me another major sport where you can learn to do it competently as a beginner in a day or two?" 

He had no answer.

I told him that one can't do it in basketball, golf, baseball, swimming, cycling, hockey, soccer, cricket, tennis, athletics or American football. For beginners, those sports take much more time just to feel confident on a pitch, court, field, course… or in an arena.

I mentioned that to be a college or professional skier (or high-level in any major sport) is impressive, with most considering it a great achievement, and that maybe he would fall into that category one day. I didn’t want to discourage him from dreaming. Judging from his lack of athletic ability though, I doubt that he could be great in any major sport.

He seemed to be in that privilege bubble of thinking that he was a special skier, unaware of the family finances that allowed him to be on the slopes, along with not realizing that he wasn’t particularly good in other sports. Why is it that far too many youth (and often their parents) have an inflated opinion of their athletic prowess? If he was a better athlete, I would have been more inclined to believe his claim of greatness. For some, skiing can give the illusion of significant athletic accomplishment.

His confidence is off the charts (which will serve him well in life), not unlike my own 10 year-old son, who not only thinks he can do most sports well, but was making declarations about being a very good snowboarder before he ever put two feet on one. I also have to bring him down to earth now and then.

During our 5 days in Hakuba, I saw two young men who looked like they had been snowboarding for years. Impressed at their skills and after chatting with one for a few minutes, I found out that they were only beginners – having snowboarded for 2 days. I wished that the aforementioned teenager and my son could have witnessed this twosome.

Most of those I know who ski or snowboard do it well, although interestingly, a good portion don't perform capably or have interest in any other sports. If it wasn't for the privilege of their yearly trips to the mountains, they wouldn't have a sports rack to hang their hat on - not unlike this young man. In his defense, he was probably elated to find a sport he was actually good at, thus the abundance of overconfidence.

My hope is that I opened his eyes with a small dose of reality, including (and maybe most importantly) how we are amongst the fortunate few in our world who have the luxury to ski. He knows about my college basketball background so he seemed to respect my words.

Wealth and/or access to opportunity (like the slopes) can be a blessing, as it gives many youth a strong belief in their abilities, which is useful in getting jobs, networking effectively and advancing in the business world, but it can be detrimental as well, when they think that they are better than they actually are due to the privilege of having access to things that most don’t.

This kind of privilege can manifest in the worst way when a child grows up in a thriving family business, gets his/her choice of job and then proceeds to not only be underwhelming, but in some cases harm the brand that was so carefully built.

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), there is at least one child of privilege (Jim Buss) who got a high profile management job from a father (NBA Lakers owner Jerry Buss) who was not only ahead of his time, but also a diligent and smart visionary. I often wonder how he couldn’t see that his son was ill-equipped to follow in his flourishing footsteps. As EVP of Basketball Operations, Buss was recently fired after years of dismal results. As a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan, I’m thrilled that we now have the chance to rise again.

Privilege and the confidence that comes with it can be a wonderful thing, as long as the picture of who people are or what they can become is not lost in a distorted reality.

Guess that is where strong, competent and wise parenting comes in.

Happy Gswede Sunday!


Hakuba, Japan

Hoop Dreams – 12 Years Later


It was a crisp and beautiful Sunday in Tokyo as my family and I were walking to the nearby basketball courts. Our only plan this January morning was to casually shoot some baskets together. Not long after arriving at the two action-packed courts, a much younger man asked me to play on his team. I was in my running shoes, which wasn't ideal for basketball, although I've played in non-traditional footwear plenty of times.

Having purposely avoided 5 on 5 basketball in the past 12 years, I was hesitant, but for the last six months, I've been shooting baskets often, as well as teaching my son to play. I also participated in a friendly 1 on 1 competition a few years ago.....and what I remember most from back then was how painful my left knee was for weeks after.

Despite being in good shape during our neighborhood 1 on 1, along with the knee not hurting before or during the games, I didn't anticipate having any post-game issues with pain - a rarity in my basketball life. Momentarily forgetting that I was approaching 50 and not 30, I shouldn't have been surprised at how my knee felt.   

With the aforementioned thoughts swirling in my head, and before the rational part of my brain could deter me, my attention was diverted by my wife and daughter - both encouraging me to play. I quickly said yes.

Most of the players were 19-34 years in age, although I could instantly see that I (52) was in as good or better shape than most of them, which provided a warm sense of comfort. My real concern was whether they could play the game, both fundamentally and skill-wise. As long as I’m fit, I will always feel comfortable on any non-professional court.

I was the second oldest player – the elder being a 68 year old Japanese man who looked fantastic, was spry and had a good shot. I had 4 Phillipino men on my team. To my pleasant surprise, this foursome of friends had strong fundamentals, could shoot well and were aggressive. After the long layoff, I was a bit rusty at the start, yet found a solid rhythm mid-way through the first game. Their chemistry was magnificent and I simply blended in, as they knew how to utilize me effectively and when needed. We easily won 3 consecutive games.

Last year, I read about the desire of a high-level basketball official wanting to improve the skill and coaching in Japan in order to get closer to the level of the Philippines. At least on this day, it was easy to see why, as my Phillipino teammates were clearly superior to any Japanese players on the court

I could have played another three games, although I knew that the almost 1 hour of running, jumping, stopping, reaching, passing and shooting would take its toll on my body in one form or another. That same knee was hurting once again, although not remotely close to the previous pain, which I was happy about. My left shoulder was also aching from all the reaching for rebounds. Being the tallest on either team meant I got lots of inside shot attempts, thus more shoulder and arm movement than I’ve had in a long time.

The pain was only temporary though and went away within a week. The joy was immense and made my soul shine. I never expected to play 5 on 5 that day and couldn’t have imagined playing with such a cohesive group. Therein lies the magic of what life can provide when we step out of our comfort zone.

I was adamant in not playing 5 on 5 basketball ever again due primarily to the risk of injury. I had seen far too many young and middle-aged men with serious injuries due to their overly aggressive and weekend warrior basketball mentality. 

What made me change my mind and throw caution to the wind?

I believe it was a conversation my doctor and I had in New York City in the late 1990’s when I temporarily stopped playing because I didn’t want to strain an ACL or tear an Achilles; basically fearful of my quality of life being disrupted. I told her about injuries I had seen or heard of, hoping she might tell me that playing at 34 isn’t worth the risk of getting hurt.  She knew I played Division 1 basketball in college and hadn’t been seriously injured since my sophomore year of High School. We had this short interaction.

Doctor: “Did any of those people who got injured play basketball at your level?

George: Smiling, I said “no”.

What my doctor knew then and what I wasn’t thinking about is that my years of intense competition without injury, gave me an advantage in knowing how to play wisely and safely, particularly as I got older.  In addition, I knew my body well as it pertained to what to do and what not to do on the basketball court. As I thought about those friends who played basketball at or near my level, there was rarely a serious injury after college. 

She was a compassionate and caring doctor, yet the one thing I appreciated about her the most is that she never failed to tell me what I needed to hear. After giving me the motivation to start playing almost two decades ago, I could hear her words echoing when I decided to get back onto the court that Sunday; a court which played a crucial role in my development, confidence and ability to flourish.

That hour was sheer delight. My only focus was being a good teammate, enjoying the moment and battling to win. Each back pick, high five, 3 point shot, layup, block, fast break and victory was a thing of beauty. It was ‘flow’ at its finest.

I love this game.

Happy Gswede Sunday!


A Beautiful Sunday for Basketball in Tokyo