Play the Game Before the Game Plays You - Jordan Abdur-Raoof

Basketball, you are the worst best thing to ever happen to me. 

It has been four months since the end of my career, and oddly enough I have not picked up a ball more than three times. During my time on the team, I fell into the predicament of having to play for two college coaches, one coach my freshman and sophomore year and another my junior and senior year, making it feel as if I graduated with no head coach and no real relationship with either person. It was a weird feeling to hear a post-game speech about how I was better than other players, yet I didn’t get a chance to play. It is a weird feeling when your career ends, and you are beyond happy the stresses of the game can be left behind. I was never someone who was happy to ride the bench, but that is exactly how my career ended. I specialized in cheering on my teammates and making sure that my seat was a perfect 98.5 degrees. It was in these moments that the coach and the sport taught me the biggest lesson of them all, one that my coach affirmed in his final sendoff speech to the seniors: Life is not fair. It is in these unfair moments that I learned more about myself than a job, interviews, classes, or failing an exam could teach me. 

I learned how to always know your role within an organization. It does not matter where you are, what your talents are, or what you can do - you should always fill the void that needs to be filled to the best of your ability. My role was once to be in the starting 5, provide energy, and not make mistakes, and by my senior year, I was a practice player. It is a hard pill to swallow to know that you are capable – to study for a test that you never get to take. Fans would come up to me after the games saying “Dang, I wish you weren’t hurt” or “Why aren’t you playing?” and I’d stare blankly back at them and say, “actually I am healthy, I just don’t play.” It was agonizing and mentally torturous to end fifteen years of work by simply not playing, but it was for the greater good of the team. This year was Cornell’s most successful year since their run to the Sweet 16 in 2010. I never asked for playing time or to alter my role, only how I could help and if there was anything else I could do for the betterment of the team.  

Jordan Abdur-Raoof and Bryan Knapp.JPG

As I reflect, I can confidently say the single best thing I did in my life was to play the game before the game played me. I used basketball to get me to a place that I could never have gotten without the sport. Had I put all of my eggs in one basket(ball), I would not be where I am today. I was able to gain access to Cornell University and the Ivy league; a feat my high school metrics alone likely would not have granted. It opened doors and opportunities for me that I did not think existed, from internship opportunities to networking events, I was able to gain experiences that I never thought possible.  My horizons and dreams have been broadened all because I used a ball in a strategic way. Basketball allowed me to get a foot into the door, and from there I excelled. 

My mom taught me to never half-ass anything, but, I admit, as the end of my career approached, I saw that the ball was going to stop bouncing sooner rather than later. To all the basketball players and college athletes as a whole: remember that it is okay to invest in yourself outside of your sport. Coaches will try to make it seem like an internship will stymie your progress, and you will only succeed if your sport is the sole priority in your life. But remember, of the 480,000 collegiate athletes only 2% will go pro. So, invest in your sport in an intelligent way:  attend athlete-only networking and job events, get internships, and gain work experience to prepare for whatever you will do in life. For when coaches worry about the possibility of being fired and tell you that you are messing with their livelihoods, or they try to coerce you into playing when you aren’t healthy, or try to get you to dismiss an internship that is a great opportunity – remember you are building your own livelihood and no one else will build it for you. Always remember what they tell you in similar situations: “Life isn’t fair.” 

Jordan in Cornell Daily Sun.jpeg

Ultimately basketball is a tool to learn from, to enjoy, and to love. In high school, I singularly defined myself around basketball, but as my college career progressed, I was able to open myself up to other avenues. I was able to say something other than, “Hi I am Jordan, and I am on the basketball team.” It was in this broadening of my horizons that I realized ball is not life, and there are thousands of things that can give me comfort. Seeing the impact an article on IvyUntold has on the contributor and their surrounding environment gives me just as much utility as seeing a ball go in a hoop. Creating an impact on those around me in a positive manner gives me more satisfaction than anything else in life. It was only in college that I had that realization, and I am happy I gave myself the opportunity to see the things that give me true and lasting joy. I will be counting down the days until I can play basketball on Roosevelt Island, in the Equinox, in men’s leagues, and countless other gyms that New York City provides. Thank you basketball, for allowing me the opportunity to attend an ivy league institution, to meet the future best men at my wedding, to travel domestically and internationally, and most of all, thank you for being the biggest challenge of my life – I have learned more about myself through these hardships than any other life experience. 

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Jordan Abdur-Raoof

Cornell University '18