Coach Miles Cartwright reflects on playing professional basketball internationally and how his experiences have influenced his perspective on sports.
As a student-athlete, the only things that I would ponder were my next game and my next exam. Working on my craft and completing assignments always trumped many other things in my life. There were many parties missed, outings only to be heard about, and general instances of feeling left out. However, this was the price I paid to be the best version of myself every time I stepped onto the basketball court. The game of basketball has a beauty about it that cannot be matched. Studying team defenses, executing the coach’s special late-game plays, and even shooting free throws are all examples of things that make my love affair with this game so special. As I grow older, though, as a professional and as a student of the game, I am starting to realize that there are other important things about the sport that have nothing to do with playing help defense and using pick-and-roll screens.
For the last two years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to play professional basketball in Germany and in the Netherlands. When I first picked up a basketball as a young kid, I never imagined this game would be my passport to travel the world. Learning a new style of basketball, going to the Louvre with my family, and exploring Anne Frank’s house with my girlfriend were all firsts for me. The newest and most life-changing experience, however, was being on a team with no one similar to me. For the first time in my life, I felt excluded. This was not about basketball anymore. My mind immediately shifted in our first practice when I realize the guys to my right and my left did not understand the plays I was calling. For a moment, I thought Chris Tucker walked into the gym and uttered, “DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH?” I was not only adjusting to the speed and physicality of the professional game, but I also had to learn how to ingratiate myself with my Dutch teammates in a way that I’d never had to do before. Thankfully, my teammates were all amazing in my transition. Not only I am blessed to have played with them, I am even more thankful for how they included and accepted me as one of their own.
Athletic participation can be beneficial to multiple aspects of our life. In addition to staying healthy and fit, sports allow us to learn important lessons relating to leadership, time management, and the importance of friends and family. Because of this, it is on us “to make the appeal of sport as broad and as inclusive as possible [because] it’s really important that no individual or group of individuals are excluded from what sport is doing” (Laura McAllister, The Guardian). Inclusion in sports is essential. We need to not only welcome diversity; our community must own it, live it, and breath it. For decades, athletics has diversified the world, unified grudging races and ethnicities, and provided a platform to speak out against chaos outside of the sports bubble. Now, as we experience more racial tension than any other period in World History, our athletic fraternity has a duty to continue to fight against the social norm.
Less than a century ago, women and those without a light skin tone could not experience the beauty of being a professional athlete. Athletic inclusion gave athletes such as Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, Bill Russell, Toni Stone, and Muhammad Ali the stage to speak out against oppressions towards women and minorities outside the sports world. For our community to continue to develop and prosper, we need to continue to welcome and encourage those who may look, love, and believe differently than us. We shall never lose sight of the beauty of competition. We all love to win and hate to lose. It is key, however, that we give EVERYONE the opportunity to win some and lose some.
Miles Cartwright is a coach of Strive Sports Challenge. He attended and played basketball at the University of Pennsylvania where he was a four-year starter and three-year captain. Currently he plays professionally in the Netherlands for Aris Leeuwarden. Coach Cartwright is from Los Angeles, CA.
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