I can’t stop thinking about the movie “Free Solo.” If you haven’t heard about it or seen it, it’s understandable, as to my knowledge documentaries about climbing mountains usually don’t break box office records. But “Free Solo” actually did pretty well, and even took home the Academy Award for best documentary. (It’s currently streaming on Hulu, and I actually caught a recent airing of it on the National Geographic channel on basic cable.)
“Free Solo” tells the story of Alex Honnold, an American rock climber who specializes in free climbing, which means climbing without any sort of ropes or safety apparatus. What Honnold does is he goes to these giant mountains, walks right up them, and then starts climbing. And he will either reach the top, or he will fall off the mountain and die. Those are the only options.
As we see in “Free Solo,” Honnold has climbed many of the most daunting mountains around the world, but the one that he’s never climbed—that no person has ever free climbed—is El Capitan at Yosemite National Park in California. El Cap is a chunk of granite that features a sheer sheet of rock that’s about 3,000 feet from bottom to top. I visited Yosemite last summer and saw it in person, and it’s a humbling, thrilling sight. People come from all over the world just to look at it. But nobody tries to free climb it. Ever.
Then one day Alex Honnold decides he wants to free climb El Capitan. Even though this is something no other person has ever accomplished, Honnold believes that this is something he can do. Is he afraid? Yes, he seems rightfully terrified. But something inside of him is telling him that he can do it. Or at the very least, he has to try it. And “Free Solo” is as much about someone climbing a mountain as it is about a human trying to conquer the gnawing fear inside of them. Could he do something nobody else has been able to do?
That fear of the unknown is real, and people deal with it in different ways. One of my takeaways from “Free Solo”—other than Alex Honnold is maybe the greatest athlete on earth—was that challenges are there to be conquered. So often we try not to acknowledge what is happening; something occurs that causes us anxiety, and instead of dealing with it head on, we try to dance around it and pretend it isn’t there, which in reality just makes things worse. What if we just go head on into our fears? Late last Wednesday night, I found myself lying wide awake in bed in a New York City hotel room, and I was… well, I wasn’t exactly scared, but I was a mix of nerves and anxiety and excitement. My wife texted me and said, “How are you feeling?” And I responded, “Everything.”
Vandi of Grizz Gaming looks on during a game against Wizards District Gaming during Day Two of the NBA 2K League Tip Off Tournament on April 3, 2019. Photo by Steve Freeman via Getty Images.
The thing is, I know we have a good team. But we are one of the youngest teams in the NBA 2K League, with three 19-year-olds on our six-man roster. We would be starting a backcourt of two 19-year-olds who had never played a game under the bright lights of the NBA 2K League.
And the games went just about how I expected. We started our first game slow, but bounced back and played even the rest of the way. Then in game two, we had a lead in the last minute of the fourth quarter, before missed free throws and turnovers took us out of the game.
So we lost our first two games in the tournament, which was the bad news. The good news is that as it stands now, heading into the first week of the season our record is 0-0, and we are in a 21-team tie for first place.
There are some parts of competing in the NBA 2K League that are pure fun. For me, there is no better feeling than seeing my guys be successful. But the flip side of that is the consumption that consistent winning requires. Like, right now it’s 11:39 p.m. on a Monday night, and I’m sitting on my couch watching Twitch videos of our upcoming opponents.
The NBA 2K League is a game, but it’s also not a game. Like I told our guys after our tournament losses, all we can do is try to get better each day. And considering the place we’re in now, if we can get better every day, we are going to be in a great place by the end of the season.
We’ll get there, eventually. Even if the only path is right through it.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.