I’ve been having a tough time, these last few weeks. I don’t want to bore you with details, it’s personal stuff, but let’s just say the last month or so hasn’t been the happiest of my life.

We all go through times like these, and we all have our routines, the things we do, to pull ourselves out of them. Albums or songs we play, old movies we watch, old books we re-read, hikes we take, friends or relatives we call. They’re the comfort food our soul needs as it heals. In some cases, in fact, it’s actual comfort food that makes us feel better.

For me, it’s basketball.

It always has been. I’ve got an old-time manual scorekeeper’s book, and I’ve been known to watch a classic game on television and keep score by hand, just for the fun of it. I’ve got a giant collection of books about pro hoops, mostly from or about the 1970s (weird, I know, but hey, it’s my collection – go get your own). I’ve got tons of old issues of Sports Illustrated, dating back to that period, all with articles about basketball. I have DVDs of old games, featuring stars I admired, players I loved and looked up to (literally). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone through all of them, to the point where I have some absolutely memorized. But it makes no difference – they never fail to cheer me up.

I guess it’s an escape for me, the way science fiction or fantasy is for others. Like them, I’m reading about, or watching, people doing what for me seem like superhuman feats – flying, running faster than normal humans, performing acts of incredible strength. And when I read or hear fantastic stories about these people, my imagination just wanders and soars, and I forget, at least for a little while, about the things that have been nagging at me.

And I just realized why it’s such an escape for me – because I’ve never gone to a game, even one where the Suns have lost a heartbreaker, and had a bad time. I’ve been disappointed with the results, and I’ve played in basketball games and had a bad time, but I’ve never actually been to an arena and left wishing I’d just stayed home. So I associate anything to do with basketball with that kind of happy experience.

This go-round with melancholy, as with so many others, I’ve turned to the sport I love best. I’ve spent the last couple days with the new Sports Illustrated season preview (which I’ll save and put with the last 37 such issues). I’ve been concentrating furiously on pre-ranking my players for my forthcoming fantasy league draft. I’ve been scouring the Internet for news of my Suns, and the rest of the league. Last week, my friend Kenji invited me to be his guest at a Clippers/Suns preseason game, giving me my first look at this year’s team (We look good, people…and Amare didn’t even play).

And I even laced up my sneakers, pumped up the old Spalding, and shot jumpers for an hour, which I haven’t done in way, way too long. I found comfort and peace with the familiar geometry of the sport, the free throw circle, the parallel lines of the lane, the angles necessary for a clean bank shot from fifteen feet out.

I realize I’m romanticizing a simple game. I realize this isn’t the cure for some deadly disease we’re talking about. I’m not trying to make this more than it is, which is just my way of feeling a little better when I’m not feeling so well. It works for me. And the baby steps I’ve taken this last week or two, they’ve left me feeling lighter, more myself than I have in some time.

It’s almost November. Preseason is just about done. I can’t wait to get to the arena and get that old rush of being part of a screaming crowd. I’m getting that little flutter in my stomach just thinking about it. That’s how I know I’m doing okay.

It’s almost basketball season. And I couldn’t be happier.