“I just remember a lot of mullets. And a very rural, white, slow basketball team.”
I graduated in 1989 from Fife High School and at the time basketball was pretty important in my life. I would dare say it was one of the top two or three things in my life, next to, I don’t know what. Actually, it was probably number one, thinking about how much mental and physical energy I devoted to it at the time. I was pretty athletic—I could jump, I could run. I didn’t have that good of a shot back then, but I think I could have developed into an adequate small college player. Being realistic, I probably could have transferred to an NAIA school, maybe a small Division 2, something like Central Washington University. But I was a legit CC player for sure. There were a couple of community colleges that took some interest in me senior year. Columbia Basin sent me some stuff. The coach of Highline Community College in Federal Way came to watch me play. I don’t think I had any kind of real plan.
I think I was just generally clueless in high school about a great many things. I didn’t have a fucking idea in my head. About anything, I think. Back then I was just into basketball and girls, you know? It’s amazing that it worked out the way it did and I have a job now that I like, because good God, I got very little guidance either officially from the school, or from my parents, or anything like that. I felt like I was just floating. I was aimless as a student and my parents were aimless in their guidance of me into college. So I had no clue where I was going to school and didn’t even think until the last minute to apply to a college. So I applied to Green River Community College with the idea of maybe I would go play for them.
My plan was to do a two-year degree in criminology, or something like that, and go be a cop. I think I had a very romantic, foolish notion of what being a cop involved. When I think about myself at the time, I think about how just cliché my conception was of what that career looked like. And what my ambitions were. I was watching cop shows like, “Yeah! Law enforcement!” So I was going to play ball and do law enforcement stuff. Then I started the semester and there were these informal basketball tryouts—these “open gyms”—but it wasn’t really open, it was just the Green River Community College players, both current and prospective, and the coach was there, and we ran scrimmages, and I did fine. I could compete. Above all, what I remember about that team can be summed up in a word, and it is “mullet.” I just remember a lot of mullets. And a very rural, white, slow basketball team. I never felt out of my depth playing with those other guys. And the coach told me that he could not give me a scholarship but that I could play. And I thought that was pretty cool.
Now I don’t think I’m any genius, but I’m basically an intelligent guy. And I think I had that as a kid, but never really had an environment where that flourished. I think Fife was not a place where you were encouraged to be interested in ideas. But even Green River Community College—as unprestigious and probably not that rigorous as it was—was a universe away from Fife, in the sense that you can go take a class with a professor like Miss Questo, and you’re going to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and she’s going to explain the stanza structure, and she’s going to put it in historical context and actually treat it like it matters. And that was pretty cool, I thought. And even though it was Green River, it felt a world away from Fife, and Federal Way and working near the mall. I thought, “Hey, I can be an English major, I can go to college, I can maybe begin to have a thought or two,” and it slowly dawned on me that I still loved basketball but I needed to let it go. In a weird way, just on the heels of achieving what I thought was my goal, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted after all. What I really wanted to do was basically go to school and just try to figure myself out, which was a long process. So I called the coach three weeks before official practices were going to start and said, “You know what? I’m going to bow out. I’m not that interested in playing. I think I just want to play for fun and go to school.” And he was pretty indifferent, actually! I think that he was not that disappointed at all.
Now I think quitting the team was one of the braver things I’ve done. It took some level of introspection on my part that I, being a young man, probably wasn’t accustomed to. To realize that this is not a good path for me. This is a big waste of time. This is not going to be a good use of my time at this stage in my life. I think it was me closing the door on something and opening it on something else, and deciding, “I’m now going to try and take school seriously.” And that, for me, was really it.
But I will also say that because I quit I probably played more basketball in those two years at Green River than I did at any other time of my life. I got on this rec team called the Nucleophiles. It was this chemistry team—I was taking chemistry at the time, with a guy named Mr. Reem, and it was awesome. This kid I was friends with in elementary who eventually played at Sumner and then at Air Force, and then a little bit at University of Washington—there was this guy who knew him and played with him and he came and played on this rec team with me. And there was this big lab aide guy in overalls. And there was some other guy that played for a CBA team—the Yakima Sun Kings, I think it was—and he too was playing on our little rec team. It was actually pretty competitive intramural ball. And we killed it! I think I had more fun playing basketball at that time than probably any other time in my life. It taught me how to have fun at basketball. I learned how to just enjoy the game and not be like, “Oh, it’s this official thing, it’s a team game, it’s this competition, it’s league play, or whatever.” I totally enjoyed it.