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(That’s 2 meters tall, international readers!)

At 6’ 9" I’m the same height, gender and skin tone as Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City Thunder. In fact I’m basically the same height, gender and skin tone of the entire NBA, which is where most of the world sees extremely tall Black men on a regular basis. We mainly exist in a fantasy world of oversized arenas and hi-def television, where demigods perform superhuman feats with regularity, and the closest one can tap that demigods’ power is by wearing a jersey emblazoned with their name. You will never witness that divine power on a human scale.

All that rapture is built up in humanity, steadily rising, and then one day I take my extremely tall Black self into a Safeway and BLAMMO!

“DO YOU PLAY BASKETBALL?”

Night or day, dressed up or down, with people or alone, I’ve received this question roughly once a month for 30 years. But over time I’ve learned to pick up on the variations, and the themes that run through the minds of the questioners. In no particular order:

#5. “You…Michael Jordan…basketball?” (spoken while pretending to shoot a two-pointer).

Usually asked by:
Non-English speakers

Level of aggression:
None. They are always very sweet about it.

Why I think they are asking:
As Nike still makes $1 Billion per year from the Jordan Brand, everybody still likes Mike. He represents athletic excellence and wealth, two positive attributes that transcend cultural differences. Plus, this is where their English vocabulary ends.

#4. “Yo man, what team were you with?”

Usually asked by:
Black guys

Level of aggression:
Low, but raises to medium when I don’t give them the answer they were expecting.  With their assumption that I should fit into their mental database of sports teams, they sometimes feel insulted or disappointed that I would give up a life of Escalades, Champagne Rooms, and ESPN covers.

Why I think they are asking:
All the extremely tall Black guys they ever knew were on a sports team. At least their question opens it up to me playing a sport other than basketball. (OK, it’s just football. They weren’t thinking about curling.)

#4. “You mush be a bashketball p-player!” (said while attempting to stand straight up).

Usually shared by:
Drunken cougars

Level of aggression:
It tends to change word by slurred word, but generally high. Notice that this isn’t even a question.

Why I think they are sharing:
It’s a grossly unsubtle pickup line. Did I mention they are drunken cougars?

#2. “Didn’t you make that [impressive maneuver] at last night’s [sporting event]?”

Usually asked by:
Middle-aged white guys

Level of aggression:
Slight, although elevated if they ask me near a sports bar. (If I’m in a large hotel or airport these guys will tumble out of a sports bar to find me like a Miami Heat™-seeking missile.) 

Why I think they are asking:
They believe they’re in the presence of a demigod. Do you know how long it takes to convince a tipsy conventioneer that you didn’t help them win their Final Four pool? Two long repetitive minutes.

#1. “Do you play basketball?”

Usually asked by:
Everybody else

Level of aggression:
All over the place, but generally mild.

Why I think they are asking:
My presence fulfills their dreams of being tall enough to execute a backboard-breaking dunk or a swish from downtown. I know this because after I say “no I don’t” they begin listing an unbroken stream of desires they would attain if they were my height. The arc of their monologue starts at amazement, hops into sadness, and rolls over into bemused acceptance.

And then it’s over, until the next brief encounter, where I once again try to divine why someone would expose their vulnerabilities to a total stranger aka surrogate demigod.

But sooner than later, starting off slowly before cascading into violent jubilation, all five questions will collapse like Russian nesting dolls into a singular refrain:

#0. “DID you play basketball?” 

Much like Jordan’s last year with the Bulls, I will have to learn a new way to pivot, to volley, to respond. Because much like the Jordan Brand, the interest behind the question has no end.