Basketball and Writing


Next week is March and that means basketball “March Madness” around the country.  From high school to college, teams will compete in tournaments where excitement is at its peak.  

One of my hobbies is to work as the official scorer for the Wheaton College (Illinois) men’s and women’s home basketball games.  I started doing this back in the late 70’s, took some time away from it when our kids were young and then started up again in earnest about eight years ago.

I sit at the scorer table at center court, in a striped referee shirt and mark down in a book what happens.  If I am wrong, someone gets mad.  Players check in with me to enter the game.  Theoretically, whatever is in the book is true.    

The most interesting aspect of this work is that I need to be completely objective, show no emotion, be as helpful to the referees and coaches as possible and basically work so that no one in the gym even knows I am there.  A good game is where all the information is correct and no one gets mad.

Anyone close to me or who works with me, knows that I eventually make sports analogies to just about everything, from relationships to business.  (Even if the comparisons are a stretch!)  So, I figured, what better time to compare basketball to book publishing than on the eve of March Madness?

Here are some things that are true in basketball and writing books:

  1. You can’t play all home games – Your family and friends love you…the reader 500 miles away?  Not so much.
  2. Timing is everything – it is not what you do, but when you do it.
  3. Keep your head about you when all around you are losing theirs – emotion can either ruin you or drive you. Tense moments need people with cool-heads who respond to crisis.Decide now.
  4. Sometimes bad things happen – no one to blame, it just happened. You slip on some sweat on the floor and lose the ball.  Looking for blame is pointless. A printing press breaks down and your book is late. Relax.
  5. People make mistakes – referees, editors, proofreaders, sales people…agents.
  6. If you don’t play by the rules, don’t be surprised when someone gets mad – treat people badly or do something against the grain?  This is why the referee has a whistle and literary contracts have cancellation clauses.
  7. Adversity is an opportunity – You can tell a lot about a person by how they respond to adversity. It not only builds your character but also gives a tangible update to everyone on the current status of yours.
  8. Nothing happens exactly as planned – Detailed game plans are good until the opening tip…then it’s about responding to adversity. (See #7)
  9. Sometimes the other team gets hot – You do everything right, but the other player heaves in a 50 foot shot while falling into the stands. Great books sometimes don’t sell as much as popular books.  Get over it. (See #2)

Good coaches throughout all levels and types of sport know there are life lessons to be learned by them and taught to athletes.  If you speak with anyone involved in sports, their memories are fuzzy on game details, but crystal clear of the people they have known and lessons learned, like my incomplete list above. 

Anything to add?

11 Responses to Basketball and Writing

  1. Judith Robl February 25, 2014 at 5:40 am #

    Love the basketball analogy! And your list is spot on. Thanks, Dan. And thank you, Steve, for publishing it.

  2. jackielayton February 25, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    I’m from Kentucky and love March because of all the great basketball. I live in Wilmore, home of Asbury University which has some connection to Wheaton.

    Asbury Men’s Tennis Team played their first tennis match on Friday. It was an away match, and the other team definitely had the home crowd advantage. My husband and I drove over to cheer for our team.

    I love your list, Dan. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Chris Malkemes February 25, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    All I know is my family is self absorbed with basketball in March madness, the ball has not choice in the matter and my love of the game hasn’t added one inch to my five feet.

  4. Angela Breidenbach February 25, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    Having just come from Jamestown University’s senior night where my son is an assitant coach and soon-to-be graduate, basketball is his world and close to our hearts. The Jimmie conference win was incredible and very surprising in the 30+ spread. My son and his team cut down the net to cheers! And yet there are more levels of success beyond their conference.

    My son will be a coach as his chosen career. Fascinating tidbit~he has one of those statistical memories that remembers every play and every score. He can tell you play-by-play all the way back to junior high. Not just his games. Any game he coached or watched!

    Now he’s heading to graduate school and we can’t wait to see what school he decideson. His passionate goal is college coaching. Ours is to watch him succeed and change the world because character is something he coaches into his boys.

    Perfect analogy for me today, thanks, Dan!

  5. Ron Estrada February 25, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    How about this: no matter how good you think you are, the coach (or publisher) is going with the players he knows first. Keep practicing, keep working hard, and eventually you’ll be a starter.

  6. Ed Hird February 25, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    I enjoyed the basketball analogy . Here is my article from that perspective:

    • Dan Balow February 25, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

      Nice article Ed. Well done.

    • Rebecca LuElla Miller February 26, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

      Ed, I enjoyed your article, too. I’d never known that Naismith was a believer, and I didn’t know what all went into why he made the decisions he did about the game.


  7. Rebecca LuElla Miller February 26, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    I wrote my “Basketball And Publishing Fiction” post a couple years ago ( ), though I was using professional teams, not college, in my analogy. The lesson, in short, which I drew from it is that writers must produce good stories no matter whether they’re playing for a team expected to win and advance to the next round or for an underdog looking to dethrone the big guns.


    • Dan Balow February 26, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

      See…sports applies to everything!

  8. Jenny Leo February 27, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    A snazzy uniform means nothing if you can’t play the game. (I believe this is my first-ever sports analogy.)

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