The middle months of 2012 presented a crisis of confidence for me: For quite a while, I found that I simply couldn’t write the way I like to. A large part of it was finding the time, as I was stretched too thin between day job demands, moving to a new home and planning a wedding. I had plenty of ideas that never came to fruition, and it took a lot of editing and re-editing for me to get comfortable with the ones that did.
This isn’t to say I didn’t write a few things I felt far more than good about. About a year and a half ago, I decided to spread my wings a bit, so I started writing some pieces for a few different publications and web sites besides this one. It was an adjustment to have someone filtering my writing, but it was also rewarding to know stuff I wrote passed muster with people other than myself. My goal is always to write something that hopefully people enjoy reading, including myself, and I think I had a few of those this year that I’d like to share.
I don’t generally do lists — with one or two exceptions — but below are five essays I felt good about last year. Hopefully this time next year, I’ll be able to expand the 2013 iteration of this list to, say, seven or eight, starting with a profile on Karl Towns I’m writing for Dime now. (As a result, don’t expect to see me around these parts much for the next couple of weeks or so.)
The texts and tweets started rolling in around 8:30 on Friday night, as I stood next to a police officer looking at what was left of my Mustang. According to my phone, my alma mater, Duke, was behind No. 15 seed Lehigh late in their NCAA Tournament game.
I obviously didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t particularly care very much in that moment. But as I watched my fiancÃƒÂ©e climb into an ambulance to be examined by EMTs, I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help wondering why I ever cared that much to begin with.
Right before Christmas, I flew down to North Carolina to visit Duke, something IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d previously done five times since I graduated in 2001. Though a lot remains unchanged in my life since my last trip three years ago Ã¢â‚¬â€œ same job, same apartment, same obsessive sneaker collection Ã¢â‚¬â€œ IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve since met my future wife, which qualifies as a very significant positive change.
When we stopped for a snack at the general store adjacent to my freshman year dorm, a couple of wide-eyed freshmen, still shell-shocked from their first final exams, asked me what had changed about Duke in the thousand years since IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d been a student, and it got me to thinking.
I watched ESPNÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Fab 5 Documentary the night before I left for vacation and very much enjoyed it, lamenting the fact that I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have time to weigh in on Jalen RoseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s comments about Duke. Considering the instant-gratification Twitter-borne sports culture we live in, I assumed that by the time I got back a week later, it would be a non-issue.
It was to my surprise when I got back that it was even more a topic than it had been before I left. I still need a late pass, since the approaching baseball season has sucked up a lot of my time since then, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still on my mind.
Four years ago, following Duke basketballÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s weakest season since I enrolled there in 1997, my dad and I got really excited about the potential of the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s incoming freshman class.
In late 2007, right after my second marathon, my dad — who isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really a sports fan, but got into Duke basketball when I started there — surprised me with Beckett-graded basketball cards he had won on eBay of Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Taylor King in McDonaldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s All-American jerseys. We arranged the cards under the glass of my coffee table with some other Duke cards weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve collected over the years, a sort of makeshift micro-Hall of Fame.
And we began to follow their careers together.
The NCAA Tournament starts this week, and you know where I’ll be?
Cozumel, Mexico, until very late on Saturday.
I have no idea if I’ll have television access to the tournament there, and I’m not bringing a laptop.
And that’s absolutely fine with me.
It obviously didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work out like this, but even though I went to Duke, I was pretty sure I was going to pass on this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Nike Duke edition Kobe sneakers.
The texts and e-mails started rolling in on Wednesday, asking me how I was doing in the wake of Kyrie IrvingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s toe injury. They came from people who know how IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve followed KyrieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s early career over the last year or so.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m obviously concerned, more for him than about anything else. As incredible a player as Kyrie has looked, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still a freshman. And I know what itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like to be a New Jersey kid at Duke, where a 500-mile difference can seem like 500,000 miles when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re alone.
Despite Mike Krzyzewski saying he could be out for the season, I have to hold on to hope that this year is going to have a happy ending for Kyrie. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got a tremendous medical staff on his side, and the healing powers of youth.
But a part of me misses a simpler time, watching Kyrie do his thing at high school games at Kean University. And thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a part of him that deep down probably agrees with me.
I went to the Garden a week ago to watch Team USA play France. And as I watched Mike Krzyzewski sit on the bench, studying his players and working the refs, it brought me back to an October night back in 2000, when I sat in the home office in Mike KrzyzewskiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s basement.
Krzyewski is about as close to a living legend as there is in his profession. But he has dreams and aspirations, just like the rest of us. And it was a remarkable opportunity to get a rare window into what Coach K himself would define as success.
The usual disclaimer: If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been here before, you know I went to Duke. And of course, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m excited for another year of watching Kyle Singler play, and I certainly donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mind that it makes the team a title contender again.
But truth be told, it seems like a very good move for him.
The simple thing would have been for the Final Four Most Outstanding Player to strike while the iron was hot and enter the NBA Draft. But just like his coach, Singler is going against the grain somewhat, and to me, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s doing the right thing.
The biggest reason for that is that all this lockout talk is messing with everyoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s heads.