Josh Owens: The Legend of King Slick Back

After the bouncing staccato of basketballs concludes and the orchestra of squeaking sneakers fades, the last movement is best described as a crescendoing cacophony of rolling punch boxes, thwarted speeds boosts, crackling lighting, and deadly bear traps. A steady bassline of cursing and outrageous insults brings a sense of cohesion to the seemingly rhythmless mess. There we sit in the locker room ferociously punching at iPhone screens, barely out our uniforms and wallowing in sweaty socks and spandex. Much to our team manager’s displeasure, showers can wait.

Fun Run probably brings out the worst in people. There I said it. But, that doesn’t stop CB, Harp, VC and me from playing just about everyday after practice. It’s a tradition we nurtured in the frozen tundra of Idaho and rekindled upon our impossible reunion here in Tel Aviv. VC was curious about the daily post practice racket so we invited him to a league tryout with open arms. Just a quick download. It’s FREE. There’s only two buttons. Naturally, he got hooked. Whether he regrets the download or ever pressing play that first time, we’ll never know; we’re each too busy pondering the same exact question.

Of course the game is fun. It’s also unfathomably addicting. And at times, it’s downright frustrating. This holiday season has been quite the run. When I last checked in at Thanksgiving just over a month ago (good heavens time is flying), we were coming off a tough loss to one of the best teams in the league. Since then we’ve continued to take our time learning and growing as a team; we’ve now won six straight. A reporter recently asked what’s the secret to the recent success. All I could tell him was that we continue to embrace playing together. Not only is that when the game is easiest, it’s also when it’s the most fun.

In the midst of the last month or so’s madness, it’s been easy to lose track of everything outside the game—and outside the country. I’m not going to lie, I lose track of the days all the time. It doesn’t particularly help when Thursdays feel like Fridays and Sundays are supposed to feel like Mondays. There’s strangely an addictive monotony, a minimalistic rhythm that you can fall prey to overseas. Wake. Eat. Read. Nap. Eat. Practice. Eat. Read. Sleep.  Even well balanced routines should be managed appropriately. These past few weeks I’ve been thankful for the opportunity to mix up my schedule a bit.

As a team we had the chance to visit a children’s hospital and deliver some smiles, laughs and fresh donuts. On another occasion, CB and I stopped by one of the organization’s youth basketball camps to talk about our experiences, answer questions and prove that we could in fact dunk. And most recently, Tamir and I had the pleasure of speaking on the value of education at a school in South Tel Aviv where Hapoel TA is running a special service project for children in the community.

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(Carlon and me at the Hapoel TA youth camp)

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(Tamir and me after speaking about education in South Tel Aviv)

With everything going on, it wasn’t until December 23rd that I started to internalize Christmas’ impending arrival. Though I’m rarely home for the holidays and I’ve never been big on candy canes, eggnog and Christmas cheer, I still associate this time with family.

One of the most frustrating adjustments has been navigating the sporadic communication I’ve had with family and loved ones back home. Even with technology, there’s no ignoring a 7 or 10 hour time difference. Add in uncoordinated messaging applications, and I couldn’t be happier a few of my family members switched over to iOS devices. At one point, I was (real-time) messaging my little brother exclusively via Snapchat. Hilarious to say the least, but happy to send a normal text. In addition to a very special basket of snacks and munchies, one of the best Christmas gifts was simply being able to make a single iMessage group chat with my brothers and sister. (I also can’t forget to mention the very thoughtful gift and dinner the staff presented to the American imports on behalf of the organization.)

As a professional athlete overseas, it is times like the holiday season that I am especially grateful for the little things that make you feel a bit closer to home. It’s a short FaceTime conversation with your Mom when she’s cooking dinner and you’re restless at 2AM. It’s getting out of practice to find a 56-missed-messages stream of emojis, gifs and ridiculousness on your sibling group chat. It’s racing a blue bear outfitted with skis and a slick back against a helmet wielding panda, a hover boarding penguin, and a skateboarding turtle after practice.

The final series of the week is the only group of races that matter. The weekly Race for the Crown is a nerve-racking first-to-10-wins display of mental health toughness. The prize? The winner not only claims bragging rights for the week but also exclusive permission to purchase the king’s crown for their avatar in the Fun Run online store. Not to brag, but I’m on a two week streak after winning that coveted first title.

We come to the gym with at least 75% battery. We shower almost immediately after practice. We obsessively test the 3G connection in the locker room. If it’s spotty, we move the festivities outdoors. As a committee we decided there cannot be systematic disruptions to gameplay or player momentum (as glitchy gameplay may or may not have been blamed for losses in the past). Outdoors, the noise and emotions are at an all week high. The language isn’t suitable for a first grade classroom (or any classroom) and most of the insults are so outrageous they no longer make sense. One of our Israeli teammates will pass us huddled over our phones as he leaves the gym.

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(A picture snapped by one of our passing teammates during the the Race for the Crown)

“Unbelievable! You guys are ridiculous,” he laughs.

Of course we are. But it brings us closer together and makes being an ocean away from home a little bit easier.

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Joshua Owens
2° of Freedom
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