“I suck today.”


The words bellowed out from the big man—spoken in truth, spewed out with passion, offered as a strange form of self-affirmation.



My minds-eye abducts me back to high school days, and pick-up basketball games in the gym. I can picture what I believe was the north gym of Lenape High School, where jocks, gym rats and teachers would occasionally play hoops together after school.


The pictures are somewhat blurry, which may be a good thing, as I’m sure we all sported shorts that would be ridiculously revealing by today’s standards. Revealing of stuff I don’t really want to see. So my memory is steered to the audio images, complemented by the occasional video from the waist-up.


Enter Mr. Barrett—Joe, to the teachers who called him Joe back then. 6’2”, 260 pounds, bespectacled and somewhat intimidating to a skinny (that was then, remember) eventually 5’11” kid who never had him as a teacher.


The ball would get passed into Big Joe Barrett, or maybe he would corral a rebound from a bunch of smaller teachers and kids. He was a pure grunt; the word ungainly seemed to be made-to-order for BJB.


BJB never passed the ball to anyone else. Invariably, he would have an almost uncontested lay-up, and throw a scud missile at the rim or backboard. His version of a shot would have as much chance of scoring two points as Charlie Brown would have of kicking a football through the uprights with Lucy holding.


And then we would hear his pronouncement. 




I think we suppressed the urge to explode with laughter every time he did so.  Perhaps, we didn’t give in to easy laughter because he was an intimidating sort, or maybe we had some compassion for the man. In truth, I should probably go with the first option.


I’m not exactly sure what brought BJB and this phrase to mind today, but along with the free laughs the images provide is the suspicion that the man may have been a genius.


I probably had the pleasure of playing with Barrett on about five to 10 different occasions. On every single occasion, he sucked that day. He knew he sucked, and anybody that saw him attempt to masquerade as a b-ball player suspected as much.


Here’s the genius part—of a sort. It probably occurred to Big Joe that he could fool some of the people who only saw him play once or twice. By saying, “I suck today,” he was speaking to his believers, or were they non-believers.



Don’t look at my sucky performance today; consider that I’m just having an unusually sucky day. You don’t know that I’ve missed 1,247 lay-ups in a row; I’ve only missed 12 in a row today. I didn’t suck yesterday, and tomorrow brings visions of blessed, non-suckiness.



Don’t you see the genius in that? And of course, when you spew words of self-flagellation in front of everyone, who but a sadist would have the gall to pile on? It’s a brilliant ploy: a preemptive strike, and a signal to all that you don’t really suck, contrary to popular belief. And truth.


Many years later, I prefer to think that Big Joe actually played his best on those days where I was privileged to watch him strut his stuff in those hideous mini-shorts.


And I regret that I didn’t use his “I suck today” strategy more often over the years. Many were the days that I sucked at something, and perhaps I could have deluded myself or others into believing that I didn’t suck the previous day and I wouldn’t suck the next day.


My mind is now conjuring a bastardized version of the signature theme from the musical Annie.


I may not suck


Better your cheap-o gym shorts

That tomorrow

I won’t suck…


So, just remember, folks. Anybody can say, “I suck” but it takes a cockeyed optimist to assure the world that his suckiness is confined to just one 24-hour period.


I took me years to grasp the genius of Big Joe Barrett, and I wonder if he’s still purveying his nuggets of wisdom in classrooms, basketball courts, football fields…and who knows where.


This reminds me that genius is not always recognized in its own time. One has to look past convention, expectations and other such weighty obstacles in order to find it.


So, one more time, here’s to Big Joe Barrett: the worst basketball player I’ve ever seen, but one of the best motivational speakers in the history of South Jersey.


In your honor, Joe, I will try not to suck too much today, but if I do, there’s always the deluded vision of yesterday and those blessed visions of tomorrow.


As always, thank you for reading, and please spread the laughs, smiles and occasional wisdom.. Please check out my other books, blogs and speaking information.






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