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I Want to Get Better | Why I'm Here
Things don’t come easy to me and I've failed a bunch of times at many different things. That has given me endless chances for self-improvement, and it's why I love covering the NBA Draft.
“I think it’s ‘bout time
That I warned you I might cry in front of you”
Those are the first lyrics you hear when you throw on “Best Buds,” the 2016 album from the band Mom Jeans. When I first played it, I felt a rush of different thoughts converge in my head. “That’s kind of cringy,” “that’s heavy,” and “oh man, what am I in for?” It was over-the-top, aggressive, honest, insecure, and showy. That…that’s me. So, I’m thinking it’s about time that I warn you…I might cry in front of you.
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I wish I was brave
I wish I was stronger
Wish I could feel no pain” ~ Box Car Racer, “I Feel So”
The first time I remember feeling insecure was in third grade. I’d transferred schools, and I didn’t know a single soul. I had no idea who anyone was, or if kids at my new school would like the same things as the kids at my previous school. It turns out that there was some carryover on the hobby front (yes to Pokémon, no to Crazy Bones). The fact that I didn’t know anyone was remedied by a crafty teacher, who basically assigned someone to each of the new kids to include them during recess. It turns out the kid who was assigned to me was basically a giant dork, as another kid immediately nudged me and told me to hang out with him instead. Slowly but surely, I felt more comfortable, and the insecurity dissipated.
That lasted for about a year. Most of my memories of fourth grade are of being bullied and dreading going to school because of said bullying. My one refuge was the bus, where kids were nicer to me, but I ended up getting bullied on the bus by the end of the year. Any time I tried to work up the courage to say something to a teacher, I’d crumble. For the first time in my life, I thought, “I wish I could disappear.”
Fifth grade was better, but by sixth grade, it got even worse. We had reached the age where boy-girl parties were more common and scandalous. Kids were “dating” (sending “hi” and “sup?” on AIM and then never talking face-to-face at school). As a result, the social hierarchy MATTERED. Any chance to assert yourself above someone else was a golden opportunity, and as a fat kid with bad teeth, I was a prime target. I remember one incident where a kid knocked my lunch out of my hand and then kicked me squarely in the ass when I went down to pick it up so that I landed face-first on the ground. Needless to say, it was not fun! The “I wish I could disappear” thoughts intensified into something more severe.
I had a burning desire within my soul to be one of the cool kids. I didn’t want to do the things the cool kids did (dating terrified me and seemed pointless at that age, and I had no interest in making anyone feel bad), but I wanted to be liked. This craving for approval and acceptance would rarely exit my brain. But two things helped me escape: professional wrestling and basketball. We’ll get to the wrestling stuff later.
As for basketball, I grew up on the Chicago Bulls, but they stunk now. I was on a wanderer’s journey. In fourth grade, I turned to Allen Iverson because I felt like I related to him. He was constantly getting “bullied” on the floor, but he was fearless. He never relented, attacking the basket with no regard for his body and willing to take any and all contact from massive big men despite his diminutive frame. By sixth grade, I was onto Tim Duncan. As a tall kid, he was someone my dad (a basketball coach) could point to as a great example of all things fundamental. One of my most distinct memories growing up was playing as the Spurs in NBA Live for Xbox, Duncan going down for the season with an injury, and still managing to snatch an NBA Championship. Basketball was a refuge.
“My hopes are so high that your kiss might kill me
So won’t you kill me
So I die happy
My heart is yours to fill or burst
To break or bury
Or wear as jewelry
Whichever you prefer” ~ Dashboard Confessional, “Hands Down”
I never stopped being insecure. Middle school and high school were kinder to me, as I grew into my height better, developed a sense of humor to fend off bullying attempts, and became a more charismatic person. I was selected to be on Homecoming Court my senior year, which previously seemed like a highly unlikely outcome. But when I got to college, I felt like I did in third grade all over again. I purposefully chose a school where I didn’t know anyone because I wanted a complete change of scenery, but at the same time, it terrified me. I’d meet a girl I was wildly attracted to and immediately fumble my first attempt to talk to her, coming across like a giant dork. The only reason she talked to me again was because I was in the Improv club with a group of her friends. We ended up hanging out a few times, and soon, we were dating.
This is where the insecurity comes into play. She was way more attractive than me, so I was already acting out of a deficit of sorts. But she was also smarter than me and WAY more hard-working than me. She grew up on a farm, for Pete’s sake. I had to prove to myself, and more importantly to her, that she wasn’t wasting her time and making a mistake by being with me.
This relationship ended up shaping my college years and changing my life for the better. In high school, I was an underachiever. My standardized testing scores were good, but my GPA was always around a 3.1, which was lower than it should have been. In college, I started to apply myself. In the first semester of my sophomore year, I got a 4.0 for the first time in my life. I got really into writing poetry, got my work published, and was even nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I hosted two radio shows (one got canceled because we had a contest where we gave away $25 and TGI Friday’s gift cards to students who came to the station and peed in their pants, which was deemed “not acceptable” by university administrators), was president of our Improv club, and always worked a job so I had some cash to party on the weekend. I was a completely different person than I was before, and I was ready to take on the real world…at least, I thought. But we’ll touch on that in a minute.
Something I need to note is that I very much fell out of love with basketball in high school. I played for a coach who sucked all the joy I had for the game out of me. I still regularly attended both boys and girls team games to support my friends, leading the student section in a variety of chants and taunts. But playing? No thanks. Paying close attention to the NBA? Egh, I’d rather watch college football or an NHL game. College changed this. I lived on a floor with a lot of athletes, and basketball was one of the most agreeable sports. It was always on in our common area. I watched it all the time, and we were constantly embarking on multi-season, multi-player Association modes in NBA 2K together. The love that had been beaten out of me grew back strong with some help from my friends.
“There is a map in my room, on the wall of my room
And I’ve got big, big plans
But I can see them slipping through,
Almost feel them slipping through the palms of my sweaty hands” ~ The Front Bottoms, “Maps”
I thought I had ‘em in the first half, I’m not gonna lie.
My life after college was a mess. I bought into the hype I’d created around myself. I struggled to find full-time work, and when I did, I was awful at my job at first. Without going into too many details, about five months after college, I had a “conversation” with someone I cared about deeply. I used air quotes because it wasn’t so much a conversation as much as it was them yelling at me and laying out what a disappointment I’d become post-college. I’d never felt lower in my entire life. I played it as cool as I could to their face, but later in the day, I had a panic attack. It was my first one, but it wouldn’t be my last. Still, it was the most intense experience I’ve ever had in my life, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’d spend the next several months in a depressive rut, again constantly wishing that I could just disappear. It was the absolute worst time of my life.
Basketball was my escape. I’d come home, lay in bed, and watch NBA League Pass games on my computer. My job didn’t start until later in the morning, so I could stay up late watching the West Coast games. I also became deeply invested in the Philadelphia 76ers again. “The Process” had begun, and they were
tanking entering asset accumulation mode. Every day there was a new story to monitor. Is this guy on a 10-Day Contract eventually going to stick as a part of the long-term core? Is Michael Carter-Williams actually good, or does he just get to have the ball a lot? Who is coming up in the draft next year? That last question would be a big one for me, and it was the beginning of me becoming a Draft Sicko. The month before the draft would be spent scouring YouTube highlights and DraftExpress so I could gain as much information as possible about prospects entering the league. Little did I know how far this would go.
“And I’ll find a way to fix things
I don’t understand what your texts mean
I’m hiding my feelings in blue screens
This isn’t how things are meant to be” ~ Worst Party Ever, “Trying Harder”
During this same time, I began hosting a podcast about professional wrestling. RBR: Weekly Wrestling Talk had existed for years already, and I was a loyal listener. After winning a call-in trivia contest, with the prize being an opportunity to guest host the show, I began to receive invites back to fill in when needed. When one of the hosts left the show, I was given his spot on a permanent basis.
It’s important to consider the context of this: personally, I am a turbulent mess, and my most meaningful relationships are all a disaster. Now I’m being thrown onto a show with a sizeable audience and replacing a beloved person in the show’s history. Fans of anything don’t like change, and this was no different. Listeners would complain that they missed the old host and that I wasn’t as good. I’d had no personal relationships with the other hosts, who had been friends for years, and the lack of chemistry was obvious. Needless to say, doing a show for thousands of listeners and a good chunk of the feedback being “you stink” made things even worse.
Eventually, the audience slowly turned in my favor. My unique takes and “purposefully so bad they’re good” jokes grew on my fellow hosts and, more importantly, the listeners. Still, a key part of my RBR experience and my biggest takeaway from the show comes from this: I was, and am, very stupid. I grew up largely among people who had the exact same upbringing and background as myself. While I was confident, I was also ignorant. Hosting RBR made me incredibly grateful because it exposed me to different types of people from all over the world with different backgrounds. When I would say something stupid or off base, listeners let me know, and it genuinely changed me as a person. When you host a show that ventures off-topic and goes three-plus hours for several years, you inevitably end up saying things that are wrong. People approaching me with kindness when they were under no obligation to do so helped me become a kinder person. They didn’t need to do it; they just wanted me to be better. It changed the type of jokes I make, it made me more empathetic, and it made me slower to talk and quicker to listen when I’m not well-informed on a given topic.
Much like my relationship with my wife, the show was something that inspired improvement. When I left the show in August of 2021 (because I didn’t want to have a time-consuming hobby with a child on the way, which…I’m writing here, so whoops, looks like I replaced one with another LOL), the thing I knew I was going to miss most was the community. The people around the show made me better.
“I fight through to see tomorrow
Don’t get tired, don’t beg or borrow
I fight through to see tomorrow
Held so tight, now watch me let go” ~ With Confidence, “Gravity”
The year was 2016, and I was doing much better, at least on the surface. I got much better at my day job, and in addition to podcasting about professional wrestling, I was also doing commentary for several local independent promotions. An opportunity that I’d long dreamed of presented itself: I was made the booker for Freelance Wrestling. For the uninitiated, a booker is essentially a lead writer. Wrestling isn’t scripted down to a T, so basically, I provided frameworks, storylines, outcomes, and I worked with a promoter to decide which wrestlers we wanted to perform on the shows.
During my time, I got to work with an incredible slew of wrestlers, many of whom you may know if you watch WWE or AEW (Mustafa Ali and Ruby Soho were regulars for us). It was a dream come true. Commentating while a story I wrote was playing out in the ring and the fans reacted just the way I wanted them gave me the biggest rushes of adrenaline I’d ever experienced. Much like hosting RBR, booking also gave me the opportunity to meet and collaborate with people from all over the world I would never have met otherwise.
Simultaneously, doing this drove me to the brink of self-destruction. As I talked about earlier with my experience in grade school, I deeply cared about what people thought about me and, in this case, my ideas. I would spend countless hours on Twitter reading every single thing people said about our shows, and I’d sink into a bad mood when I saw criticism. I never lashed out in response, but I let these negative thoughts fester. My craving for approval was insatiable, and my anxiety grew out of control. I couldn’t lay in bed without brainstorming ideas or panicking about how a storyline would be received. My sleep suffered, and I was constantly on edge. At the end of 2016, I walked away from Freelance Wrestling. Since I was a kid, I’d dreamed of being a booker, but it was ruining me. My health, both mentally and physically, was in deep need of repair. For the first time in my life, I went to speak to a professional about my mental health. It was never something I needed to do regularly, but just doing that simple act let me know that help was there when I needed it. Since then, I’ve never come anywhere near as close to feeling helpless, alone, or out of control mentally. I’d start to get serious about making changes to my physical health, too.
If you look at pro wrestlers, aesthetically, they’re usually in much better shape than the average human being. This would play to my advantage. During my lows of 2013 and afterward, I gained a significant amount of weight. Food was my coping mechanism. If I was sad, happy, anxious, or manic, it didn’t matter: food was how I treated the problem. I developed an unhealthy and disordered relationship with eating, causing me to gain a massive amount of weight. At 6’5”, I’d ballooned up to 350 pounds. I need to change for myself, my wife, and the future child I dreamed of one day having with her.
Pro wrestlers became an invaluable resource on this journey. Many of them on the independent level work “shoot jobs” AKA day jobs in the realm of fitness and personal training. Wrestlers like Stevie Fierce and Isaias Velazquez helped me more than I’ll ever be able to put into words, and I can never thank them enough for it. They encouraged me, helped me understand how to balance healthier eating with a realistic, sustainable lifestyle, and gave me instructions as to how to ease into weightlifting. The weight came off; I would lose over 150 pounds. At my lowest, I was 194 pounds. I’ve subsequently done a few bulking and cutting cycles, and I’m about 220 pounds right now. Changing my eating habits and exercising more regularly improved my mental health significantly, too. I sleep better, I don’t get as worked up, I feel more in control of my actions, and I seek approval far less often.
My fitness journey was fueled by my loved ones and friends, but also a desire to improve myself and get better. I took baby steps, slowly challenging myself to eat better than the day before or lift a little bit more weight. When I had setbacks or made mistakes, I’d re-assess, learn what caused the issue, and get back on the horse. “Health” never ends— every day is another stop along the way. You have the chance each day to do better than the day before, and if you don’t beat yourself up over your slip-ups, you can improve dramatically over time. Ultimately, I achieved my goals— for myself, for my wife, and for the child we had together in October of last year.
“I’m alright and I’m always getting better
Let the fire burn low cause we like it that way
We let the ash flow down
Our throats so stout but we don’t mind the burn
We will never ever let it go out” ~ Modern Baseball, “Coals”
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had nothing to do. I was sitting at home, and sports weren’t on TV, which threw me for a loop. I’d long used basketball as an escape, but there was no basketball happening. However, I knew that at some point in the future there would be an NBA Draft. As a result, I started to dive deep into the 2020 NBA Draft class. I had no idea what I was doing. I’d scour the internet for videos and full-length games with mixed results. I was watching games from other countries for the first time. YouTube videos from the legendary Coach Spins and podcasts from the likes of Sam Vecenie, Nathan Grubel, Tyler Metcalf, and Nick Agar-Johnson helped guide me along the way. Slowly, I was becoming a Draft Sicko.
When I was going to leave the wrestling podcast I’d hosted, I wanted to have some sort of hobby lined up to use as a creative outlet. I started a Substack called BaumBoards, and over time, people who I respected started to read it. Eventually, I ended up here.
But it’s the “why” that matters to me. The draft, and basketball in general, have been such a big part of my life for two primary reasons: escapism and improvement. Nothing takes my mind off the world like seeing players capture my imagination. Whether it be a gorgeous Steph Curry jumper from deep behind the three-point line, a dazzling dime from Courtney Vandersloot, or a big-time Joel Embiid block followed by a taunt, nothing gets me going like basketball. No matter how bad of a day I’ve had, I can watch a basketball game and find a reason to put a smile on my face. But it’s the self-improvement of basketball and draft analysis that grab me more than anything else. Nothing makes me more excited as a fan than seeing players add new wrinkles to their game. Seeing Tyrese Maxey knock down threes and orchestrate offensive sets was my favorite part of the season as a 76ers fan. Jaden Ivey regaining his confidence from three and Keegan Murray developing a previously unseen set of wing offense skills made college basketball more exciting this year.
And as a draft analyst, my own opportunities for self-improvement are limitless. Every year, even the best of us will get things wrong. Anyone who is arrogant about their takes in this field is a fool. You’re never going to be spot on about everything, and you’re going to be wrong every year. If you’re going about it the right way, you should constantly be getting humbled. Each prospect will develop new wrinkles to their game, some surprising, some more easily anticipated. All of their journeys give us new data points to learn from going forward. X’s and O’s are constantly evolving with new offensive sets and defensive tactics. Basketball never ends, and there are limitless chances to hone your craft as an evaluator.
I’m here for two reasons: because basketball puts a smile on my face, and because I want to get better. Life is hard, and sometimes you have little control over many of your circumstances. Even in those moments, basketball has been there for me. As an evaluator, I’ve already had my fair share of misses. But you can always get better, and I love getting better. I want to do it every single day.
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