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Christmas feelings: Basketball is joy wrapped up in a ball of hope

This Christmas, if there’s one thing I wish for, it’s that everyone has a thing like basketball in their lives. A place that brings them joy, hope and community. A place to belong. 

Dallas Mavericks v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Things are bad right now for a lot of people. There’s a war raging in Europe, resulting in astronomical energy prices, high inflation and a downturn in the economy. In other parts of the world, conflicts and natural disasters force millions of people to become refugees and even more people suffer from depression or other serious illnesses that affect their quality of life and the people around them.

We all have issues large or small and everybody’s struggling with something.

But as basketball fans we are lucky - some would call us blessed. Because when things get bad, even really bad, and we lose our jobs or are mourning a loss - we have basketball. The beautiful, entertaining and frustrating game that we all love, a sport that brings us together and gives us joy and light and community in a world that can sometimes seem very dark.

When we struggle with our private lives and feel alone, basketball is there to keep us company. When basketball is home, you’re never really alone.

I can attest to that personally. One year ago, I decided to return to the world of basketball. Not as a player, but as something else. I decided to let the sport I’d left behind, back into my life. I didn’t know what that was going to look like, but I haven’t regretted that decision for a moment ever since.

You see, after playing competitive basketball on club level and national team level for 15 years, I quit. I quit playing and I quit the world of basketball. With that decision, I lost who I was, my identity was erased and I was homeless. If basketball is your identity, who are you when it’s not in your life anymore?

I was 8 the first time I found myself on a basketball court with a ball in my hands. I didn’t really know the rules or what to do. But I knew that it brought me joy and laughter and friends.

Later, it gave me companionship when I didn’t know where else to go. When I didn’t want to be at home, I would stay and watch other teams practice. In my club in Denmark, some team between the ages of 8 to senior elite level was always practicing on one or all of the three courts in the building, so I would spend my nights watching the older teams play.

I would sit there on the bleachers watching drills, listening to coaches and the sounds of the gym. The squeaks of the shoes moving, the bounce of the balls. It became my safe place, my comfort in a confusing world.

In the basketball gym, nothing was confusing. Everything was straightforward. What to do, how to act, every new drill was explained. In the gym, you didn’t have to try and fit in and be a certain something, like most teenagers do. In the gym, it was about how you moved your body to your advantage, and if you did it wrong, you just kept practicing until you got it right.

Out in real life, I was a large kid. I was always the tallest in my class and I was not skinny, I was strong. But strong is not something you want to be as a teenage girl, unfortunately. On the court though, strong and tall are good. And so I found a place to belong, a place where I didn’t stick out.

I grabbed hold of it and didn’t let go until I felt forced to. More about that here.

Because what basketball essentially gave me was hope and community, something that is a rare and precious gift. And ever since I’d left basketball, I had been missing that community.

I had started feeling hopeless. What was I really doing in life? Why did I never quite seem to fit in anywhere?

Then a sports editor and my brother-in-law combined unknowingly to give me an epiphany: if I loved basketball so much, why didn’t I just return in another capacity?

Just start writing about it, the sports editor said. Well, I don’t know how, I’ve never written about sports before, I said.

But you know what you’re talking about, just get working.

And so I did. I wrote an article about the Mavericks for a Danish media. Then I joined NBA Twitter and to be honest, I never looked back. Because the feeling was uncanny, I had found my way back home. I suddenly felt part of a community of likeminded people, who cared about the same thing as I did.

I found my way back home a year ago and I am so grateful to everyone who helped me get here and for all the support people have shown me along the way.

The sport we love can be a stabilizing force in periods of turmoil, if you let it. No matter how heartbreaking your team is performing at any given moment, the pure joy of basketball sticks around and the hope it gives us is a precious gift.

This Christmas, if there’s one thing I wish for, it’s that everyone has a thing like basketball in their lives. A place that’s theirs, that brings them joy and laughter and community. A place to belong.

Find last week’s Maverick Feelings here.