Basketball Dream Diary #3: Fans

Basketball Dream Diary #3: Fans by Kelly BulkeleyThe Blazers beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 116-96, last Wednesday night, to even their season’s record at 2 wins and 2 losses. They played excellent defense and held Ja Morant, the Grizzlies’ young star guard, to 17 points, half of what he had been averaging the first few games of the season. The Blazers had a strong second half, with more amazing dance-and-shoot moves from C.J. McCollum, who plays with astonishing grace and fluidity. He excels at step-back jumpers, mid-lane floaters, sneaky inside drives, and quick-release 3-pointers, always hunting for the spots where he knows he can elevate and hit his shot. Damien Lillard played well enough on offense to give C.J. room to maneuver, which seems to be part of the season’s overall design. And the bench continues to gain in confidence and cohesion. There was a great play towards the end of the game when Dennis Smith, Jr. took a C.J. Elleby outlet and made a touch pass to Greg Brown for an alley-oop dunk. Everybody loves to see that.

Again, the question arises: Is this the real team? Or maybe the question should be instead: Is there even such a thing as “the real team”? It seems every other franchise in the league has already had at least one truly great game, and at least one shocking clunker. Every fan now has good reason to hope their team can make a championship run, if their guys can just play the way they played in that one game… And also, every fan now has good reason to fear the whole thing could collapse in a second, and their team tumble into the bottom ranks, especially should one of their key players gets injured, which in the NBA in recent years has felt like a matter of “when” rather than “if.”

None of this made any apparent impact on my dreaming imagination that night. Instead of dreaming about the game, I dreamed about the experience of attending and watching the game with other fans:

Jane Fonda at the Center

 A group is helping Jane Fonda with something inside a place….She is happy, being treated like a VIP….Everyone is trying to take good care of her, she is smiling in the center of it all….

(10/27/21)

The dream quickly brought to my mind two aspects of the game-attendance experience I had noted the previous night. First, the efficient staff at Moda Center, from ushers to security staff to entertainers to servers, all of whom have been doing an excellent job of making people feel happy and well-treated, like VIPs. Second, the shameless antics in which people will engage to attract the attention of the television cameras, with the ultimate goal of simultaneously performing and seeing oneself performing on the jumbotron screens hanging over the center of the arena. To give people the feeling of being a happy VIP at the center of it all—that’s clearly considered by fans and stadium alike as a highly desirable feature of attending a Blazers game. Live and let live, I usually say to myself during a break in the on-court action when the TV cameras roam through the crowd to find the most wildly dressed and/or dancing people for their three seconds on the jumbotron. What do I care if the world is sinking into a vortex of narcissism, and people are lost in screen-mediated labyrinths of their own egos? So what? No harm, no foul. The game will start again in a few seconds….

This whisper of misanthropic negativity towards my fellow Blazer fans seems to have evoked later that night a surprising dream response, in the form of Jane Fonda. I can say with confidence that I have never dreamed of Jane Fonda before. Nor does she appear often in other people’s dreams (just 1 reference in the 30K+ dream reports of the SDDb). Yet here she is at the center of my dream the night following an excellent, highly satisfying Blazers victory.

Hmm….

An unusual, anomalous character like this raises the question, why her rather than anyone else? What are the qualities of Jane Fonda, in my own mind at least, that make her a singular figure?

Overall, I suppose I have a positive impression of Jane Fonda. In fact, I’d say I admire her. She’s a very talented actress, a cultural innovator, a passionate advocate, a courageous risk-taker, a source of surprise and wonder. She is physically beautiful and has remained so throughout her life. She has courted controversy, defied authorities, and made very public mistakes. Some people find her unbearably annoying.

Hmm….

Would I describe her as a narcissist? That seems too harsh. But I would say she has a very healthy and robust sense of her own importance, which seems consistent with what transpires and how she behaves in my dream.

Aha!

Maybe Jane Fonda embodies a spirit of courageous creativity that I admire, even if it generates flak and friction from others—myself included. Can I recognize that same spirit in the Blazer fans around me? Can I stop rolling my eyes and appreciate their creative energy, too? Their unusual talents and risk-taking aesthetics? Their willingness to provide others with three seconds of surprise and wonder?

That makes sense and feels like it carries forward the energy of the dream. And yet, it does seem like there’s more….

Hmm….

Okay. Can I also recognize my own yearning for public attention here? My inner Jane Fonda, my unconscious desire to be a VIP at the center of everything, smiling and happy? Can I turn the critical analysis of my fellow fans around and see how I am projecting my concerns onto them? Am I anxious about my own fortunate status as a “VIP,” by being able to attend so many games this season? Yes, that’s in there, too.

Two nights later, the Blazers hosted the Los Angeles Clippers, who had crushed Portland by 30 points. This would be a chance for the Blazers to show they can bounce back from that kind of loss. And they did, beating the Clippers 111-92 in convincing fashion, even though their star forward Paul George III scored 42 points. Damien Lillard played his best game of the season, scoring 25 points to go with 6 assists. A winning brand of Blazers basketball is emerging: good team defense, hustle rebounding, a deep bench, and so many offensive weapons that someone is bound to have a hot hand. It was a very entertaining game, and promising for the future of the season.

That night I had a dream that carried forward the theme from the previous one:

The VIPs Behind Me

I going to my seat at the Blazers game, and there are complications and confusing aspects with the ticket and my phone….hmm, this is stressful….but I get there, it is all going to be good….But several other people, VIPs, one of them former President Trump, have come up behind me, and they want to pass me and go ahead….I say no, you have to wait, we will all get there in time….

(10/29/21)

I did have phone troubles at home before game, trying to get my ticket to appear on the screen. Everything was fine once I got to the game, but I must admit I felt very anxious waiting in line at the arena, because what if it happens again? That’s a very uncomfortable prospect, of fumbling with my phone while other people wait in line behind me, growing increasingly frustrated. A true nightmare.

Hmm….

It suddenly made me think of waiting in line to get on an airplane, the same feeling of anxiously making sure my papers and documents are in order, standing in a closely-packed crowd of people with whom I am about to share several hours in an enclosed space. Trying to be diplomatic, managing my own discomfort, biting my tongue at the rudeness of some of those around me, keeping an eye open for possible bogeys who might snap and cause serious disruption…. And yet unlike an airplane, the people coming into the arena are expecting to yell and scream, not sit quietly; to express their individual passions, not comply with federal regulations; to drink as much as they want and eat as much as they want and get up and down as much as they want.

Hmm….

The ex-President’s appearance adds metaphorically to the feeling of an increasingly rowdy, mostly male crowd wanting something it believes it is owed and yet being unfairly denied. And I’m blocking them, slowing them down, standing in their way.

Hmm….

The dream does suggest that there is a potential for all fans to get what they desire, if they can just show a little patience. The line is moving, slowly but surely. My troubles have been fixed, and everyone will arrive where they need to go in plenty of time. I say this to all the other people who act as if they are VIPs and should get special treatment, at Moda Center and elsewhere; I also say this to myself, insofar as the ex-President represents at some level my own selfish impatience in these situations, my own temptation towards arrogant, boorish VIP behavior. Whoever we are, however fast we move, wherever we sit, and whatever we do when we get there, can we all come together as fans to enjoy the game?

Basketball Dream Diaries #2: The First Two Games

Basketball Dream Diaries #2: The First Two Games by Kelly BulkeleyThe day before the opening game of the Trailblazers’ 2021-2022 season, I was bothered by something I read online about Damien Lillard, Portland’s best player. The article ranked him lower among the league’s top players than I think he deserves; it dinged him for his defense, and emphasized the catastrophe that would befall the Blazers should he ever leave. The tone of the article reflected the very low expectations people seem to have for Portland’s performance this season. The Blazers hired a new head coach, Chauncey Billups, who has never held that role before, but whose previous assistant coaching focused on defense, and that’s where the Blazers most needed to improve (tied for 3rd best team in the league in offensive efficiency last year, but 19th in the league in defensive efficiency). Otherwise, Portland made no big roster moves during the off-season. They let Carmelo Anthony go, which I thought was too bad, he had a great run with the Blazers the past couple years. They re-signed their big mid-season acquisition from last year, shooting guard Norman Powell, which is certainly good. They added several new players to the bench, including two big guys who play great defense, Cody Zeller and Larry Nance, Jr.

What’s not to like? The fear is that it doesn’t add up to enough in an NBA that gets faster and more skilled every year. Yes, Damien and C.J. McCollum will score points. But will the rest of the team be able to perform at championship-levels of competition? Nothing that happens in the preseason should cause too much anxiety, but losing all four games didn’t help in calming the worrisome vibes as the first game approached.

The Sacramento Kings were the visiting team. Led by veteran Harrison Barnes, they have lots of quick, young, talented players who clearly want to change their reputation as one of the league’s weakest teams. They certainly succeeded in gaining new respect from the Blazers, who lost in a very dispiriting fashion, 124-121. Portland played terribly for the first three quarters, made a comeback in the fourth, then fell short as Damien missed a last-second 3-point shot. For the game, Damien missed all nine of his 3-point attempts. Ouch. The team had no chemistry, and looked slow and out of tempo. The defense was awful.

Prospects of a truly disastrous season suddenly loomed. What if the Blazers had suddenly dropped into the lower ranks of the league? What would that mean for Damien and C.J., who have been the subject of trade talk throughout the off-season? Watching a franchise go through a sudden decline is a very, very painful experience for a fan…

That night after the game, I had this dream:

Will Damien Be Distracted?

Damien Lillard goes onto the basketball court with a gift someone gave him, a white rectangular box with a few things in it….He is happy, but I am confused….Won’t this distract him from the game?….

(10/21/21)

The dream made me think back to the opening ceremony before the game started, when Damien stepped to center court and spoke to the crowd. He welcomed everyone back to live action (yay!), and promised the team would try hard, even if the initial results might not be pretty to watch (hmm).  The announcer thanked him as “Dame D.O.L.L.A.,” his musical pseudonym (double hmm). Now that I thought about it in light of the dream, it struck me at the time as a strange moment, breaking the fourth wall to reach out and lower our expectations, while gesturing towards his career beyond basketball. Damien is the not just the leader of the Blazers, but also the unquestioned athletic Alpha of the city, so it felt jarring somehow to hear him talk like this.

In the dream, I don’t know what’s in the box. It seems like a gift box for nice candles, or small jars of preserves, or little containers of grooming products. Whatever it is, it makes Damien happy. For nine seasons, a happy and confident Damien has led to a lot of Blazers success. What makes me worried about him now? His gifts. Literally and metaphorically, Damien Lillard is amazingly gifted. And that’s exactly what worries me. He has so many talents and future potentials, what if he isn’t totally committed to the Blazers anymore? What if he could do better as a musician than as a basketball player for Portland? It feels disrespectful to Damien even to think such a thought—so it comes out in a dream.

But one game does not a season make. No matter what’s going on with Damien, he’s not going to miss every 3-pointer he shoots. We could certainly hope for a better showing in the second game, even though it would be against a much better team, the Phoenix Suns. Led by rising star Devin Booker and all-time great Chris Paul, the Suns went all the way to the NBA Finals last year. If the Blazers were ever going to show a new level of defensive competence, now was the time to do so.

And lo and behold, an entirely different team showed up. The real team? Maybe. The Blazers overwhelmed the Suns, 134-105, and it could have been much worse. Booker did what he does, and scored 21. But the Blazers out-shot, out-rebounded, and out-hustled the Suns on both ends of the court. C.J. McCollum was hot and scored 28, while Damien had 19 points to go with 8 assists. Lots of bench guys got to play, and they looked great, too. Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons brought high energy and confident shooting, and Dennis Smith, Jr., had 5 assists in just 15 minutes of play. Ahh. What a wonderful exhale of a game.

That night after the game, I had this dream:

A Knife’s Edge

I am paying attention to a guy, his story, like in a book….A knife’s edge is threatening something of his….A round dark piece of fruit?….He is doing ok, though, overall….A couple, a man and woman, are sitting next to me on my right….But they just see the pages in the book, the images; they do not hear the story, and so they have no real idea what is going on….But I do….The guy in the story just has to keep moving forwards, that is all….

(10/23/21)

In the dream, the people to my right reminded me of the young couple sitting next to me at the game. They were in a happy party mood, friendly and chatty, shouting at the players by name, and getting high fives when they could. And yet… For most of the game they were fiddling with their phones, taking pictures, making videos, instagramming, etc., completely oblivious to the actual game in front of them.

To be clear, I have no problem with a fun date at the basketball game. Courtship at the court is an awesome thing and should be encouraged whenever possible. The dream doesn’t really seem to be about this couple or my feelings towards them. To be honest, the obnoxious man sitting to my left was much more annoying, so if this was a crowd-focused dream, I’d expect something from that direction. Instead, the dream revolves around the guy, his story, and the image of the knife and the round dark fruit. When I think of the dream in the light of the previous night’s game, the fruit immediately reminds me of an ad (for whiskey?) I saw on TV recently in which an artist spins an art-work basketball made of black shiny ceramic. That struck me as really cool and creative. And the guy in the dream with his story makes me think of each individual Blazers player, and what a big win like that means to them, how it opens up a new vista of confidence, reassurance, and possibility.

All of these basketball-related associations hover around the dream. Yet they shouldn’t distract from what Ernest Hartmann called the central image of a dream, in this case the piece of fruit and the knife. Sports aside, what other symbolic and metaphorical meanings can be connected to this specific, vivid image? Hmm. It could be seen as a vision of perilous sexuality, with the knife a phallic danger. It could be seen simply as part of preparing a piece of fruit to eat, and thus an image of impending nutrition. A knife and piece of fruit are common elements in classic paintings of “still life” scenes. Hmm.

The biological purpose of fruit is to bear seeds into a favorable growing environment, carrying the potential vitality of the plant into the future. Aha, there’s something that strikes a chord. The seed idea feels connected to the preseason-as-fertilizer metaphor from BDD #1, like an extension of nature-language to make sense of the basketball experience. In the dream, it felt like the fruit-like object needed to go forward with him, that’s the desired flowing growth of the story. But the knife is a threat; it could stop the flow (a player could be cut from the team?), and so it requires great caution in moving forwards (the Blazers’ weakest position?). The fruit is right next to the knife, right by its edge…

That seems to be the metaphor of the dream, or at least one of its metaphors: Playing on the knife’s edge. That’s what all the guys were doing last night. The story of the Blazers’ new season, the stories emerging for each player, the fate of their deepest seeds of potential, all entered last night’s game in a perilous and uncertain condition. Who is this team? How well can they perform?  Do they have a future? By meeting this challenge with such a powerful and thoroughly entertaining performance, they put those questions to rest, at least for a night.

The couple in the seats next to me did not seem to share any of my concerns, but that’s fine, they clearly had a great time at the game, too. To be honest, they reminded me of Ronnie and Amber LaFontaine from “Modern Family.” I tried to be a really, really good neighbor.

The Basketball Dream Diaries #1: Preseason

The Basketball Dream Diaries #1: Preseason by Kelly BulkeleyEarlier this week I attended the preseason basketball game between the Portland Trailblazers and the Sacramento Kings. Although the Blazers played with lots of energy, the Kings beat them handily, 107-93. That night (it was a Monday), I had the following dream:

Fertilizing the Basketball Court

Lots of people are engaged in some activity, trying to set up a sports game, on a basketball court…. They are sweeping and spreading lots of soil onto the court…. To fertilize it?…. I am confused, but I go along with it, curious to see where it leads….

(October 11, 2021)

This is the first basketball dream of the 2021-2022 season, and it offers a simple and actually quite beautiful metaphor for the meaning of the preseason. Of course, it might seem at first glance like nothing more than typical dream nonsense, the random combination of two incidents from my previous day—watching the basketball game, and spreading compost in my yard, which I did in fact do earlier that morning. The dream puts these two bits of “day residue” together in a way that makes no logical sense. Spreading dirt on a basketball court in the way it was spread in my yard would prevent a game from going forward, not help it along. But this is a case where we need to put aside a literal reading of dreams and think of them in metaphorical terms. As a metaphor, the soil may express something else, a meaning related to its literal qualities but connecting those qualities to a non-literal situation.

That sounds abstract, I know, so here’s a practical way to bring out the metaphorical dimensions of a dream. I call it asking questions of specification. Why soil? Of all the things my dream could have portrayed as being spread across the basketball court, why this and not something else? It could have been sand, or pennies, or ping pong balls—but it wasn’t any of those, it was specifically soil. What are the qualities of soil, of composting earth, that might metaphorically relate to a preseason basketball game?

Just as my dream might seem trivial and insignificant, the game that night could be considered trivial and insignificant, too. Only one of the Blazers’ regular starters (Jusuf Nurkic) even played, while Damien Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Norman Powell, and Robert Covington, Jr., sat out the whole contest. The Kings pretty much dominated at both ends of the court, with the Blazers making 27 turnovers and shooting only 21% from 3-point land. Not a pretty game. But was it meaningless? Not to the bench guys who did play, and played hard, every one of them striving to use his minutes on the court to learn, grow, and demonstrate to the coaches how he can contribute to the team. They were playing as energetically as they could, flashing their best moves and testing their newest skills. Pre-season games are vital for these players’ developmental progress, and beneficial for the whole team’s long-term success.

This suggests one aspect of the dream’s metaphor: Pre-season games are like composting a garden. And, composting a garden is like getting a sports team ready for a new season. They’re both about nourishing, preparing, getting ready for big moves and expansive growth. Fertilizing the future, empowering the fullest expression of latent potentials, fueling the competitive fires that animate all forms of life.

The concept of a season is another metaphorical link. Both gardens and basketball teams follow a regular annual cycle of activity and rest, with transitional states between. With gardens and Nature in general, the coming of winter brings a lessening of external activity and an inward focus on survival through the dark and cold, and preparing for new growth when light and warmth return. Basketball runs on an opposite (complementary?) cycle, with activities turning indoors and revving up just as the days shorten and chill of winter approaches. To understand the rhythms of a season for a garden or a basketball team is to understand the distinct and essential value of each stage in the cycle, and how that specific stage adds to the ultimate health, strength, and dynamism of the overall process.

And, as a further metaphorical extension, compost doesn’t smell great. But the stinky smell is actually a good thing! The strong, earthy odors of a well-fertilized garden—and the turnovers and missed-3s in a hard-fought preseason game—are all part of a deeper, long-term growth process. In basketball, it’s part of the magical transformation of a disparate group of individual players into a cohesive, high-performing, championship-level team.

And how good it will smell when the garden blooms again and the regular season begins…

 

About the Basketball Dream Diaries: Dreams about sports have been a recurrent theme in my life since childhood. Since moving to Portland, Oregon in 2010, I have become a big fan of the city’s NBA basketball team, the Trailblazers, and my dreams have reflected that interest with several references to the team, the players, and their interactions with the rest of the NBA. I’ve attended several games at Moda Center, and had a lot of fun each time. I have also noticed how the intense stimulation of the games, starting at 7 pm in the evening and going till 9:30 or 10, has a direct impact on my sleep and dreaming later that night.

This year, I’m unbelievably fortunate to have season tickets to the Trailblazers home games. In anticipation of possible basketball dreams to come, I’m starting this chronicle to track the influence of the Blazers’ season on my dreams, and to see how my dreaming imagination evaluates and interprets the Blazers’ performance this year. It’s going to be color commentary from the unconscious. A surrealist angle on the NBA. A self-experiment in sports-mediated dream incubation. And an open door and welcome mat for the metaphor-generating wizard of my sleeping mind.

 

Lucid Dreaming and the Future of Sports Training

Lucid Dreaming and the Future of Sports Training by Kelly BulkeleyA recently published study in the Journal of Sports Sciences adds new evidence to the idea that physical skills in waking life can be improved by practicing those skills in lucid dreaming. Although the study was small and needs to be replicated, the implications of its findings are potentially enormous for a new mind/body approach to sports training and peak athletic performance.

The study was conducted by German psychologists Tadas Stumbrys, Daniel Erlacher, and Michael Schredl. This team has an excellent background in sports science, sleep laboratory research, and lucid dreaming experiments. Their strong history of high-quality scholarship lends credibility to their claims.

The premise of their study is that a mental simulation of physical behavior is neurologically the same as a “real” enactment of that behavior, with the difference that the former does not extend to bodily movement, while the latter does. As Stumbrys and his colleagues put it, “covert actions are actual actions, except for the fact that they are not executed.” If this is true, as a great deal of neuroscientific evidence indicates it is, then practicing an action “covertly” should have measurable benefits when the action is later performed “openly.” This is the hypothesis that Stumbrys and his colleagues put to the test.

They recruited 68 participants (32 male, 36 female) who followed an online program that trained them in a sequential finger-tapping task on a computer keyboard. The participants were then separated into four groups with different instructions about how to practice the finger-tapping task: 1) actual physical practice, 2) mental practice while awake, 3) mental practice while lucid dreaming, and 4) no practice (the control group). Compared to the control group, all three other groups, including the lucid dreaming group, displayed significant improvements in a follow-up performance of the task after practicing.

The study was not big enough to say if lucid dreaming practice is better or worse than other forms of practice. But the results clearly showed that practice in lucid dreaming does have real performance benefits that are at least comparable to the benefits gained from other practice modes. Given the power of dreams to simulate reality with amazing intensity and accuracy, the possibilities for further development of this approach seem wide open.

In light of these findings, several questions immediately present themselves. What kinds of physical skills are most benefited by lucid dreaming practice? How deep and long-lasting are the improvements? What are the best methods to teach people to have lucid dreams in the first place?

Future studies will be needed to answer these questions. It is not too early, however, to envision some of the practical applications of lucid dreaming in sports training:

1) Providing a safe arena in which high-performance athletes can practice dangerous moves and risky routines, developing skills at the farthest edges of their abilities;

2) Offering injured athletes an opportunity to continue training and skill-building during their rehabilitation;

3) Enabling underprivileged athletes to engage in effective practice of their sports even if they have limited access to physical facilities;

4) Giving athletes at all levels a powerful psychological means of focusing their minds for optimal game-day performance.