The Art of the Dirty Rebound

Economic rebound? Legendary rebound of the Chicago Bulls? Neither.... and both.

 grew up in an L shaped kitchen with linoleum floors and 70s green countertops. At one end, the stove. At the other, a small television perched atop a dark brown cabinet. In between, my personal basketball court.

Pivot practice with the sink, one-on-one defense versus the dining chairs, passes off the cabinets. A top pantry shelf littered with candy served as a makeshift hoop with boxes of cereal creating the backboard, while the fridge marked the free throw line. In lieu of a crisp swoosh, the sound of a blue koosh ball (remember those?).  I thought I had it made.

Luckily, my mom loves sports, and in season, almost always had basketball on in the background. College or pro, I would make my way around the “court” mimicking moves and plays of those on the television, most of all, the Bulls. The cabinets would serve as my Pippen assist for the Jordan slam dunk into the Red Vine bucket. It was All-Star material.

But when it came to rebound practice, I got serious. Outside with an actual, bonafide basketball serious.  Still no court or hoop, just the back of our chimney, since painted and ensconced behind rose bushes. Taking position, I would “shoot” the basketball against the uneven bricks, then, arms extended and channeling Rodman, I would jump up, grab the rebound and toss it back up again. I did this a hundred plus times a day, every day.  Rebounds defined champions and secured championships, my coaches said, and judging by the games on in the background, I could not disagree.

Interestingly enough, rebounds have become a lost art.  At first, I thought it was just my personal passion for the craft that made me take notice, babbling on to my husband about it over cheap wine at sports bars across NYC, but a few years ago sports journalists started to report on their demise, as well.  In fact, the last two NBA seasons marked an average all time low of under ten offensive rebounds per game.  That is hardly any.  Let me explain.

There are two types of rebounds, defensive and offensive.  Defensive rebounds are when the team playing defense grabs the ball after their opponent misses a shot.  These have remained relatively constant over time, but have increasingly converted into fast breaks, meaning, a fast, sharp move of the ball down the court in search of a quick score.  Offensive rebounds are when the team playing offense misses a shot but rebounds the ball themselves, creating a chance then and there to take another shot, or pass it out to start a new play, and score again.

Coaches and analysts claim that the decline in offensive rebounds is due to a change in the style of play.  The game is now centered upon three pointers and the aforementioned fast breaks.  Or in real life terms, big shots and glitzy, quick fixes.  To add to it, the longer range three point shots create more unpredictable trajectories off the boards.  Meaning, grabbing their rebound is harder and not as straightforward.  Somehow, this extra effort has been deemed unnecessary, which worries me, and believe it or not, concerns you.

At this very moment, we are all anxiously hoping for a rebound - an economic one.  But, generally speaking, the economists mapping it out are a literal, linear folk.  They define economic recoveries as shapes and letters, L, V, U, for example, and tend to see things as black or white.  They revel in projections, statistics, and ‘f#k%!ng’ econometrics, as I referred to it while initially majoring in economics in college. Economists are trained to look at data, past and present, take a side, pick an acronym, and stick to it, no matter what real, unquantifiable life swirls around them.

But as we have discussed here before, we are in uncharted, non linear territory, lacking any equivocal precedents, effectively discrediting all future projections.  Despite our leaders making calls on everything from the future of price chicken wings to the growth of the sweatpant market, these are nothing more than prognostications; they are not assurances. The way I see it, basketball, specifically rebounding, are our only assured playbook.

In basketball, rebounds are more than one thing.  They simultaneously provide protection and create optionality, marking both a beginning and an end to a period of uncertainty.  In such, rebounds are inherently a transition and an opportunity.  So are economic troughs, and recoveries.

The economic rebound we long for will not come clean and neat off the boards.  It is going to be messy, with a lot of elbows thrown in the paint and burning glutes from blocking out. Probably even some bruises.  It will present itself as a series of old school back and forth offensive and defensive rebounds, dirty but rewarding.  While economists tend to exalt efficiency over resiliency, this economic rebound will demand the latter, and with a deep and deft bench. Grit, creative thinking, and resilience will have to become the norm.

Yet, both on and off the court, our mentality has shifted from trained resilience and structured teamwork to homologous playbooks in aims of quick gains.  As the stats show, we prefer taking a lower probability, higher scoring, three point shot than get down and dirty to sink a more assured two pointer.  We are addicted to speedfire flashy breaks, and get bored with intricate plays that engage critical and creative team thinking.  We have largely written off the value of the assist, and have instead turned high scorers into demagogues. In many ways, our basketball tendencies have highlighted our impatience, consumerism, and civic complacency.

More importantly, unlike previous economic rebounds, this one is inextricably linked to the actions of each and every one of us as citizens.  Like basketball coaches of yesteryear professed - you cannot wait for rebounds to come to you - you need to go get them.  This starts with personal responsibility and integrity.

As individuals, we must take the precautions advised and be true to our health and that of those we may come in contact with.  We must be patient with the uncertainty of the pandemic and its process, despite the discomforts. We must control the urge to ‘forget’ the mask, “just get a haircut,” or impatiently nudge ourselves inside the six foot radius for the sake of our self determined schedules.

As businesses, we must implement safety practices that protect the employee over the shareholder, and offer honest pricing that encourages the consumer over the stock price.

As governments, we must respect citizens’ privacy and freedom, be candid about the facts and data, and honest as to the ‘why’ of each decision.

Collectively, we need to take responsibility for the minutiae of our actions, bench our individual desires in the name of the team effort, and make our word our bond again.

Just like personal behavior has proven to be an important variable in the fight against the virus, personal integrity and responsibility will prove to be critical factors for our economic recovery. They are essential in order to web the net of trust this economic rebound demands.

Rebounds are that extra effort that can pay off big; they are the unsung hero, the uncelebrated force that leads to memorable victories.  Unlike others, this economic rebound cannot be shrugged off and put on the plate of a political party, lobbyist, business owner or leader.  This one is ours.  As one of the most famed rebounders of all times, Dennis Rodman, said, “Every rebound is a personal challenge."

So, economists, lace up. Retirees, bring out the tape real.  World leaders, check in with the trainer.  Recent graduates, study the playbook. You, my friend reading this, dust off your kicks.  Tip off is here. It’s time to hit the court and attack the boards.