Part of the team...

Mike Stobe

How is it that "fitting in" can mean you feel more alone? How can being one of the guys mean being the one who will never be included? Easy, tell them to be something they are not.

Disclaimer: I have been allowed a lot of creative freedom from people who are my peers and people who I consider my friends. Andrew Feinstein, Nate Timmons, Colin Neilson, Ross Martin, John Reidy and last but certainly not least Colin Daniels and the good people at SB Nation. I consider what follows below an extension of the amazing relationships I've developed over the course of these past few years. This is a short story about a basketball player at the crossroads of his life. I must stress this is completely fictional and not based on any person.

As I read the words in front of me, I realized I was more lonely and isolated than I've ever been in my life. How could this be, I asked myself, I don't even know this person? You are being over-dramatic you ... you ... queer! Pull yourself together.

I made it a point, my entire life, to fit in. Be someone I knew I wasn't so I wouldn't rock the boat. As a highly touted 6'6" shooting guard when I came out of college, much was expected of me. Now, in the 7th year of my professional basketball career I realized that maybe, just maybe I had been making a mistake my entire life. Maybe these years of hiding, of regret, of hoping beyond hope that no one found me out AND that I wasn't who I was had finally caught up with me.

There it was, staring me in the face, hitting me like bricks dropped from atop the Empire State Building. Just four words that could potentially destroy my life, my career and all my relationships. Four. Simple. Words.

I know about you...

My heart sank. Could this be true? How was it possible ... I ... I took so many precautions. NO ONE knew. Sure, there was that time that a teammate in my third year saw me grab the hand of an ex-boyfriend. He didn't make any further mention of it, and I figured he would have been too drunk to remember it. I was SURE of it. He couldn't have known ... no, he couldn't have.

There was my declining play and stats. I chalked it up to off-season knee surgery I had at the end of my fourth season in the league. I no longer had the lift in my shot I used to. Coach was bringing me off the bench more-and-more. That's ok though, you know, I get it ... I'm not as effective as I once was. Surely no one in the training staff knew about me. Right? I mean, I never socialized with them. Never ... uh ... never once...

I went to my liquor cabinet in my kitchen and grabbed the Johnny Walker Blue that was half gone already. I had been drinking pretty heavily since I came into the league. You know, "The Life." It's all good. Helps you cope with the insomnia and the anxiety of ...

I shook my head and drank straight out of the bottle. Scotch has a way of burning as it goes through your mouth, but it warms and tingles as it enters your blood stream. Calms you down. Calms you down. Being calm was always key. Conforming to what I felt the team wanted and expected of me was paramount. ALWAYS. Didn't matter if it ran opposed to my very core, I subjugated whatever it took ... even if it mean pretending to have girlfriends and going to strip clubs to prove I was "one of the team." I took another drink and I closed my eyes. I shivered as I swallowed the alcohol.

I know about you... Written on team stationary. Simple and direct.

I screamed to no one in my kitchen. So angry with myself. Would Larry Bird or Michael Jordan or any of the greats in basketball be having these emotions based on a piece of paper? NO! They wouldn't. You are weak. You are WEAK...you...you...

I hung my head and squinted my eyes. My tears hitting my shoes like raindrops cascading off a cold grey statue. Would being "outed" right now ruin my career? Would coming out to my team and teammates mean that they thought I lied to them all these years? I didn't know. I was stuck ... so very stuck.

I made my way to the den of my loft apartment and sat amongst my awards from college and high school. Never achieving quite the heights I thought I would in professional basketball. I had crumpled the note in my hand and began staring at my college player of the year award. Next to it was a picture of me and my teammates in college in a group photo after we won our conference tournament. I had a brief affair with a teammate on that squad. We were still friends. He said, "Never tell anyone ... ever." They want you to be like them, so be like them. Be. Like. Them.

I wasn't different, but conforming to expectations was crushing my soul. Maybe this was a ticket. A ticket out of hiding and into the open. A ticket to happiness. I just didn't know ... as I sat in my den I forgot to continue drinking and thought about what I would do. Would I ignore the note and continue on? We had a game the next day across the country and I could slip right on that plane and pray that no one would know. I could do that.

Or I could call my general manager and set up a meeting and tell him everything. Just let him know who I was and what I was about. Just let it all out.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and sat. The note left on my door in one hand. My phone in the other and I just sat and waited. Waited until the answer came to me....

***

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