The Zen of Basketball: A Meditative Type 4 Reflection by Michael Naylor: a Point Guard and Enneagram Teacher

By Michael Naylor, Point Guard, and Enneagram Teacher

Bill Flowers stands at the free-throw line, his six-foot-six presence is statuesque, his gleaming eyes spotlights of alertness in harmony with his shining, African-American radiance, the raucous crowd chanting like a Buddhist-Basketball-Kirtan-Celebration, the emotional atmosphere of the court electric with anticipation. His angular spirit calmly collected, in unison with the thumping of the ball on the floor, whump, whump, whump, he readies himself to shoot two shots. It is March 1969, and we, the Grant High Generals are in the semifinals of the Oregon State Championship. These aren’t ordinary, everyday shots Bill prepares for. Not what-the-heck-no-big-deal shots. No, these are make-or-break-a-thousand-hours-of-practice shots. These are the-heart-and-soul-of-our-devoted-basketball-fans-joyful-or-decimated shots. These are what you prepare yourself for every day, the be-clutch-or-die-broken-hearted shots. He stands at the edge of a precipice which basketball players hope to occupy and fly from, while a deep canyon below him, cavernous and cold and shivering with disappointment, is inhabited by basketball teams and players who have faced this chilling moment and fallen, and now stare up at him. While simultaneously an energized, organic presence, the culminating real-time energy of a basketball season of 26 games presses around and through him, he in the slipstream of this historic flow of joyous teenage magnificence that has led us to this moment in time. We trail Klamath Falls by one point. 6 seconds left in this game. We have won 25 games and lost one on this tour of high school basketball majesty, and now are leaning into number 26. If Bill hits these shots we win and move another game closer to the state championship. He misses, and that’s The End. See you later. Nice Try. Over and out. Goodbye. 

Why in god’s green earth would a whole season rest in the cosmic space of 6 seconds, and two free shots to seal the deal, never mind the pressure building like a great tornado all around him.

Bill’s a Type Nine, easy-going, self-effacing, fluid as water, gentle, smooth, a friendly-soft and eminently kind 18-year-old, and a beloved of Grant High students, pauses here in the eye of the tornado. And less seen, but often demonstrated in the matrix of the basketball court, is a funnel of deep resolve within him, an unwavering commitment to his values, a monolith of soulfulness that is immovable. And…an awesome basketball player. A basketball player with heart and team-spirit, and floor-wise intuition in navigating the flow of the game. It is 1969 when all hell is breaking loose regarding civil rights in the US, and in particular, here in Portland, Oregon. He has been a gentle-firm participant, a Lincoln-like statesman who speaks up against the oppression that blacks have suffered and continue to suffer (much like the fierce classical pianist, surely a Type One, in The Green Room). And, at the same time, he is kind to everyone. He has the beautiful Type Nine essence that invites people to him, relaxes them, warms them, and creates emotional safety for them, that is so beautifully gentle and truly caring. His presence is quietly and unassumingly big. He gets inside you with his grace and dignity. And that gleaming sunrise smile of his melts all resistance. It is no wonder that years later he becomes a chiropractor, a healer of others. This towering, tall presence, face lit up with optimism, smile so full of joy, humor, and sweet mischievousness, walking through the crowded halls of Grant High students, head-high above them, bringing the light of hope to everyone (the best of the Type Nine)—and a familiar, joyful sight for myself.

On the basketball court, his quiet presence explodes when he lifts off the ground and snags a rebound off the rim, and at another time, when slam-dunks would be okay, he would double his point production. Next lifetime perhaps. And there he stands, my friend Bill, who has greeted me so many times with his sunrise smile, his welcoming dancing eyes, his joyful sense of wonder, his easy-does-it-no-big-deal charisma, now abides in the center of the tornado as 16,000 fans clamor in the basketball chapel of Memorial Coliseum. A stampede of sounds, the mantra, Bill! Bill! Bill filling the stadium. There is a strange zone one enters in these winner-take-all games, a soundless orb surrounding us, crowd sounds off in the distance like the wailing sounds of a faraway train. Only here is the sound of the ball whumping on the floor, the silence of the ball as it flows towards the hoop, the swooshing of the ball through the net, that clank of an errant shot. And from an Enneagram view, this is for certain. The five players on our team are instinctively woven into a web of intelligence that provides a knowing, strange unnamed confidence that in some ways creates that One-Mind, unitive, belly-center experience that takes each of us beyond our personal story and ego, our personal wish for stardom, into a felt unity of purpose that at its best is delicious, that is the stuff of invisible, transcendent well-being, joy, and causeless satisfaction, and so intuitively wise and held together by brotherhood and unnamable love. Inexplicable,  these are the words that arise as I remember us, this one-souled-team, and that knowing-how-to-move-and-think-in-unitive awareness that came together by so many mysterious moments of fate, and was so palpable that before our first game of the season I said, with full-felt-gut-confidence, I think we’re the best team in the state. I think we’ll win the championship. My heart warmed as I paused in this uncanny flow of sureness.  

This was unlike my typical, worry-wort, doubting Thomas, emotionally wavering, up and down, ecstasy-but-mostly-agony Type Four temperament that only fleetingly rested in this kind of solid self-confidence. But it came to me as a known fact, rock-solid-undoubtable, resting in the core of my being, without uncertainty, and herein I got the first taste of Type-Four-intuition. I never questioned this awareness. It just was. And perhaps these moments arise when one is engaged in something one loves, this fluid-like-prayer-Zen-game of basketball…and hanging with friends one cares for. And from this matrix of connection gifts arise: laser-like awareness—seeing through the eyes and souls of four other teammates–sharp-eyed attention, and uncommon-non-conceptual intelligence.

As Bill lifts the ball to shoot I’m thinking to myself, at the worst, he’ll miss one and make one, and we will go into overtime. At best, he’ll make them both and we will surely win. The first shot arches, hits the front of the rim, clanks, and bounces away. The stadium gasps and drops into a penetrating silence. Oh, Lord. I am standing next to the Klamath Falls star, 6-foot 11-inch Greg Brosterhouse, a towering tree of a guy, myself at a measly six foot one inch. Now, there is no thought, only animal instinct. Time-lessness intercedes. Bill, still calm, the sea of sounds weirdly held at bay by the bubble of the court, raises the ball to shoot and launches it again. It hits the right side of the rim and careens towards the giant, Brosterhouse, who reaches for the ball while I leap simultaneously up next to him and knock the ball out of his hands. It sails off the tips of his fingers into the out-of-bounds zone. Whew! We retain possession of the ball and quickly call a time-out. Okay, 3 seconds left. (More than enough time for a heart attack!) Coach Rooney, another cool and calm type Nine tactician, standing 6 foot 5, says it simply and matter of fact, like no-big-deal-we’d-planned-for-this-moment, “Naylor, you take the ball out. Big Bill, you cut towards Naylor who’ll hit you with the pass.”

Got it. No time to think about this. Just ‘do.’  (Yoda, in the periphery, smiles. As does Skywalker, Hans and Chewy.)

Seconds later the referee hands me the ball. In a split-second, I hit Bill—moving silkily, flowingly from left to right across the top of the key towards me at the baseline—with a no-look pass. He’s eluded Brosterhouse and catches the pass, leaps skyward in front of Brosterhouse, a beautiful black eagle in flight, and at his apex launches the ball, his finger-tips gently guiding the path of the ball…and, as if from a high, other-worldly, mountainous perch… in slow motion, the eagle descends, the ball spinning, spinning, spinning and whoosh, the hoop-net dances as if suddenly wind-swept, in cadence with Bill’s pristine shot burning through the net! He hit it! And buzzzzzzzzGAME OVER!—as I rush Bill and throw my arms around him.

Teammates flow to Bill, eyes wide with joy and wonder. Oh my god, how awesome is this? This meditative prayer we’ve participated in for 4 quarters of basketball. This moment of pure-Zen-hereness. Nowness. Love, the umbilical cord of our awareness and union in this Temple of Sport. I am blessed and participating with heartfelt guys and a devoted coach. Kind guys, guys who will do good in the world, and a bench of enthusiastic players who at the right time, right place, plug holes when needed. There is Donnie, five foot 9, a jet-black-hummingbird-Irish-setter, defying gravity and logic as he moves, quick-as-lightening, now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t, A Type Seven guard. Always grinning. Wide-mouthed, toothy-joy radiating. And Artie, a smooth-as-silk, Kobe-Bryant-like, graceful and gifted Type Three, always got that Three charisma and charm churning, shucking and jiving, playing it cool, his essence saying, “I’m cool and I’m cool with being cool, and hang with me to catch some of this cool,” —–having such fun hot-dogging-it, celebrating his Threeness in an innocent, kid-hearted way. And a dedicated and devout student of basketball, a magician sophomore with enough inherent grace, agility, and basketball wisdom to outfox the best, and will rise to his own glory in later years. And Ed, a Type Six forward, loyal, does the grunt work, dutiful, committed, security-oriented as all get out (of course he will become a banker later in life), an anchor of steadiness, no need for the glory or spotlight, keep the matrix of our team under control and interwoven, a quiet center in our fiery wheel, unspoken and unsaid, providing the final mix of intuitive chemistry. He, a gentleman, to say the least.

Such blessings we all received from each other. Such blessings.

And two days later, 8 PM, we stand at center-court ready to
play McNary High in the semifinals, one game away from the state finals. 

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