A Dan Barry Essay: Basketball as Meditation in the Time of Covid

The birthday celebrations and the Christmas dinners and the morning bacon and the evening highballs and the many characters who played their roles on this living room stage, then went away.


I remember again the morning of our wedding 31 years ago, when Mary’s brothers and I played no-fouling-the-groom basketball in the backyard. The hoop, in fact, is still up, beckoning.

And that is why I am out here, bundled up in a couple of sweatshirts, flicking red-white-and-blue jump shots in the finger-tingling cold. The only heat comes from the embarrassment of my first few jump shots — so off that the lifeless, errant ball keeps rolling under a parked car.

Miss. Miss. Hit.

Here we go.

Basketball, when played alone, is meditation. Other people find their inner balance through counseling or running or 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 am among the fortunate to be experiencing minor symptoms, which in my case include waves of sheepishness. Amid so much Covid-related suffering, I am loath to imply that my health has been at significant risk; it would be like making a cameo in a classic horror film’s bad sequel.

Still: coughing, congestion, absence of family.


I have used basketball therapy since childhood. As a teenage goof, shooting baskets while trying to summon the nerve to ask a girl to the junior prom. (I just couldn’t let that red-blazer-plaid-pants combo go to waste.) As an adult, shooting baskets while trying to do a pick-and-roll against cancer. (I blamed all missed shots on chemo-induced neuropathy.)

What develops is an athletic form of reflection that veers from the mundane to the spiritual and back again. Sometimes the shooting is mindless; the muscle memory of tens of thousands of jump shots takes over. And sometimes it is mindful, as the contemplative, even prayerful, synthesizes with the competitive: If I hit 10 in a row, she’ll say yes. If I hit 10 in a row, I will survive.

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