I promised I’d finish the puzzle before I left. And to be honest, the first attempt was a failure. Patrick, Maxwell and I spent hours sipping wine and Caronas trying to ease the pain of yet another piece that, though we were sure would wiggle into place, just didn’t fit.
On the box mocking our glacial progress were sprawling mountains peaks, small cottages, and colorful flags. Maxwell explained it was a picture he’d snapped on a family vacation and thoughtfully had turned into a puzzle as a gift to the family; puzzles were a hit household hobby. It was a beautiful picture, a place I’d perhaps like to visit some day. But at the moment, it was a patchwork frame of frustration, the magnificence of the picture dissected into to oft blurry, pixelated cardboard blobs that undermined the perfect image on the box.
Wine by wine, beer by beer, we tested strategies and celebrated our smallest triumphs. We pieced together a large, daunting section of overexposed white clouds and then a few dinners later, another expanse of out-of-focus forestry. We had worked off and on for a month. No telling how long it had been there hogging the kitchen table, discouraging breakfasts and late night snacks before I arrived for the summer. But for the first time, I was confident we’d actually finish. Then in late July when I stopped by to let the family know I’d returned from my blistering two week Las Vegas stay for NBA Summer League, it was gone and a new professionally shot image graced the puzzle box in its place.
Even after signing your contract, the offseason’s impending end doesn’t feel real until having received your ticket and confirmation number. A new email notification and an unsuspecting flick through your inbox have the power to bring your meticulously outlined offseason tumbling under the force of reality; in so many days, you’ll be packing your bags and moving overseas for nine months. Suddenly the pieces of your offseason bucket list are a jumbled mess, last minute plans no longer seem to fit and there’s simply a shortage of time.
As I begin the process of ever so slowly plucking clothing from my half unpacked suitcases and working on a new puzzle here in Trento, Italy, I remind myself of the pieces of my offseason that did happen to wiggle into place.
Upon my return from Tel Aviv I took some needed time away from basketball to see family and loved ones in Atlanta and Kentucky.
Then to Stanford to begin shaking off the vacation rust. I watched some good friends graduate.
I rehabbed. I handled special operations as a camp counselor. As part of camp store, I also regrettably sold sugar filled snacks and beverages to campers just before bed.
I put my engineering degree to work on a broken BBQ pit and saved the 4th of July. I worked and worked and worked on my game. Then it was off to the desert. I trained with our game’s best minds and talent for two weeks at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. I lost $100 in 4 straight hands playing blackjack. I swore off of gambling. I won a championship.
I connected with mentors who continue to inspire me back in Silicon Valley. I said goodbye to a puzzle. Then started another. I went to my first concert.
And then to my first music festival.
With the help of a friend, I repurposed my unused “vacation fund” into a camera. Then more family and friends and a dash of MOMA and visa paperwork in New York.
Did I do everything I would’ve liked? No. I didn’t. Two and a half months to squeeze in a season of lost time at home is never an easy task. But excuse my inner nerd for a moment while I tap back into ECON1A; in economics, we learn that scarcity has the ability to enhance a good’s value. While that certainly applies here given time’s already finite nature, I’m most appreciative of the people with whom that time was shared. Whether it was fighting jet lag and living on a couch my first days home in Georgia, hiking through caves in Kentucky, weekly Sunday dinners in Atherton, music festivals in San Francisco or simply eating cookies on the Upper Westside, this offseason has reminded me to never underestimate the value of time spent in good company. And I’m thankful for that.
I wandered over from the pool house an hour or two earlier than usual. By good fortune of family friends’ schedules aligning, we were having a traditional Sunday dinner on a Tuesday. While Maxwell and Karen were still putting the finishing touches on the meal, and before all the guests arrived and crowded into the kitchen, I’d have a chance to finish the puzzle; I was leaving Thursday morning. There were still errands to run. There was an impossible amount of clothing and shoes to purge. There were still bags to pack. My mind clouded, the remaining whole in the puzzle was equally haunting.
By the first forty five minutes and second glass of wine, I’d mustered only a few pieces. Though I’d claimed the last section as mine and mine alone, Patrick took a prospective seat at tables’ end. After a few moments observing my haphazard progress, he took a sip of his Carona, grabbed a seemingly random piece and effortlessly slid it into place. I didn’t object. These things aren’t done alone. One piece here. Another piece there. Then Peter sparked a conversation on cyber security. The clouds cleared. Another glass. Maxwell wondered over and found a piece. Suddenly we’d filled two rows. And then just two remaining cardboard splotches. I gently placed the piece that was in hand, the last laying in front of Patrick.
“You have to finish the puzzle.”
It was one hell of an offseason.