I was walking out of school on one of those winter days that warmed up just enough so you'd remember that spring existed when my friend turned to me and said, "It smells like baseball." It's been our joke ever since. He texts me when baseball season approaches and I text him when it's time for basketball. Five years later, I think I finally know what he meant by "smells like baseball."
Saying that it's time for basketball or that I'm excited for basketball just doesn't cover it. The anticipation takes over all my senses, even smell. For eighteen years, my weekends between mid-October and mid-March revolved around basketball. And I mean eighteen years since my dad left during the championship game to be there for my birth the next day. The earliest birthday I can remember was in a hotel because it was during playoffs. I just assumed I'd be at every home game and at most of the away games because my dad coached and going to the games was how we supported him.
I couldn't even comprehend life without basketball until my freshmen year in college. No players I knew. No personal investment in the outcome. Was this still basketball? Don't get me wrong; I still love going to a game, especially in the Marriot Center with thousands of fans cheering for one purpose, but even that doesn't quite live up to the nostalgic sense of basketball I've built up from all the other games I've watched.
So when I walk out into the first chilly day of autumn, I take a deep breath and remember:
the warmth of microwaved burritos from the concession stand
my cheek bulging with a sucker my grandma brought so we wouldn't yell at the refs too much
falling asleep on the coat my mom laid on the bleachers
pretending to be sportscasters with my brother
covering my eyes when I couldn't take the excitement of a close game
the burnt smell of mozzarella sticks from the only restaurant open after the game
being the last people to leave the gym
chasing my little cousins around in the half-lit court while we waited
wearing green lipstick and nail polish--proof that I was a true Grizzly fan
the clean swish of a three pointer
the explosion of cheers after a dunk
spinning a basketball in my hand, my fingertips brushing over a thousand tiny hills
Saturday afternoons playing 21 with my dad and my brother
the sense of awe every time I walked into an empty gym and heard my own footsteps.
That is what I mean when I say "smells like basketball."