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Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The funny thing about basketball is that playing it makes me feel young, but watching it makes me feel old. Then again, maybe that’s only funny about me. They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I would add that you don’t know it’s gone until you watch somebody else actually doing what you thought you were doing.

What I am talking about here, though, is what kids have that older people have lost, and I don’t mean elasticity in the skin below their chins or firm triceps muscles. The thing I refer to is what wakes a middle-age person in the middle of the night by a cold sweat. No, it’s not menopause, either for women or metro-sexual men who are prone to that. It is the thing that makes every person endurable in youth – potential.

At some point, we come to the realization that we are what we are and most of the things we might have been we will never become. I don’t care if you are the president of France; once you are at the age where you begin to consider mortality as a distinct prospect you begin to write off possibilities like being shortstop for the Yankees, the front man for the Eagles, or a member of the Bolshoi Ballet. A kid can be any of these.

It’s not about success, it is about dwindling options, and that’s oftentimes enough to begin the onset of midlife crisis. It is then that we are tempted to do something rash with our lives like lease red convertibles with ridiculous annual mileage limits and impossible-to-recoup residual values, or get into real estate developing, which at least gives the illusion of achievement for all of its other drawbacks.

Thus, it is pure joy to watch kids play basketball at the cost of a long drive to Fort Collins, where the annual Colorado 3A state tournament is held each spring. I had never been before, although I now know that it is much easier to get there as a spectator, even one forced to detour the long way around a rockslide in Glenwood Canyon, than it is to earn the right as a player. My hat is off to the boys from our hometown that made it to the finals this year for the first time in Aspen High history.

There’s a group of kids for you that understands potential, at least in an instinctive way. Either through nature, nurture, outstanding coaching, or just lots of self-study in pick up games in driveways, our boys have learned that they can sail farther together in a pool of shared potential than they could each in their own separate puddle of it. It made me wonder if any politician ever played basketball on a contending team.

I am telling you that it has been fascinating to watch these kids all season passing off easy shots to teammates open for even easier ones. The assists were more exciting than the actual buckets they led to! As a player you just don’t do that unless you understand a little bit about potential. Normally you take the shot yourself, sink it about 50 percent of the time, and occasionally end up making an acrobatic shot that could be on ESPN, but is otherwise meaningless.

Full of envy and wonder watching the championship game I couldn’t help but search myself for one last bit of potential that previously escaped my notice. I have long fingers that seem to be pretty coordinated judging by how well I operate a calculator. I totally get music. It speaks to me like nothing else. Maybe the guitar was my calling. During a time-out, I stealthily log a reminder into the electronic calendar, using my left hand to further convince myself of my talent, to call K.C. on Monday to schedule lessons.

Then I remembered the thing I have forgotten: Potential is agonizingly difficult to harness. It’s nerve wracking to watch potential about to be unleashed. It’s why pregame warm-ups are almost unendurable for parents and fans. A train wreck can occur moments after the locomotive reaches full potential, or it can arrive at the next station five minutes early resulting in only a few raised eyebrows as the passengers disembark and glance at their watches, satisfied. You never know. You take your chances with potential.

Having potential means making big decisions on how to channel it. Where should I go to college? What should I study? What job should I take, if any? What do I need to I see in this world? Where should I live? Who shall I marry? Who the hell am I? It’s big stuff with consequences, and so easy to forget about when your life has boiled down to whether or not you should buy the new Prius in pearl white or beige. We need to be more forgiving of our children who face what we have survived. Been there. Done that. It’s easier to edit memories than script the future.

The good thing in all this is that potential can’t be wasted any more than losing a championship basketball game is punishment. You can’t lose a big game without great effort, commitment, and sacrifice. The same is often said about winning, but isn’t true. Look at the Yankees. Winning never made anybody a better person, only richer and more famous, which amounts to nothing, as we spend most of our adult lives convincing ourselves of until the end when we find out for sure that it’s true.

Yes, potential can be misapplied, but even then it always results in experience. It is the process of living. Throughout life we convert potential into wisdom. When it’s all said and done, that is a lot easier to manage for a middle-aged person.


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