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Zen & Basketball

Zen-related lessons can be found and applied anywhere – even unknowingly. Here’s a surprising example I came across not too long ago.


In a New York Times Magazine article, writer Sam Anderson said of Brooklyn Nets basketball forward Kevin Durant, “He meditates constantly, every day. Not formally, cross-legged, like a Buddhist. He meditates just by doing normal things. Shooting a free throw, he said, is meditation. Conversation with the right person is meditation. It feels like meditation, to Durant, to drive through New York City in his Tesla. . . .Durant is always searching, in all the noise, for relief, simplicity, stillness.”


Durant himself explains, “There’s a lot of stuff that we get distracted by, or we chasing, to make us feel a certain way. . .When it’s really basic. We should just be experiencing everything as human beings, as much as we can. Being normal amongst each other.”


There are other aspects of Durant’s life that probably would feel familiar to a Buddhist practitioner: his sense of awareness (even from an early age) and his strong sense of discipline that is evidenced from his diligent practicing even though his stats readily show he’s already one of the NBA’s top players of all time.


On a more fundamental level, these lessons are not just about basketball. They apply to life, too. We should be meditating in all we do; not just when we’re sitting zazen. This takes great discipline. And awareness helps, too. When zazen is a part of our work and our play, it will feel like our normal everyday life. This is zazen in action.


Though I don’t know if Durant is Buddhist, there is a connectedness about Durant that’s akin to a very Buddhist perspective to life. Anderson’s article describes it as follows:

Every time Durant shoots, the neurons firing inside him are the same neurons that have been firing since he was a boy – and when they fire he can feel the past and present pulsing as one, the action on this court merging in with every other court he’s ever played on, with every court out there in the world, on every continent and in every timeline, and the backspins on all the balls are rotating in perfect synchronicity, and when the shot finally drops through the hoop all the shots drop through together, the whole vast catalog of shots that he or any other player ever taken and made, all the way back to the very first ball that ever thunked into the bottom of a peach basket.


Now, it’s important to note here that for most people, basketball will always be just a sport. Only a very few can, or want to, raise the sport of basketball to the level of a , or a Way of Zen training. For those who do aspire to this level, however, they must come to this realization: Unlike in regular basketball, in Zen basketball, t


(*“The Moody Monkish Genius of Kevin Durant and the Hypothetically Unbeatable Superteam of Eccentric Basketball Superstars Built Around Him to Dominate the N.B.A. Playoffs,” by Sam Anderson, New York Times Magazine, 6 June 2021.)