No Ceilings

There’s this magazine advertisement from the 1950s that I came across last semester. When I saw it, I knew immediately that I wanted to use it in my college writing class. It’s a big two-page ad, almost like a centerfold: On one side of the page you see a father and his kids watching TV and eating popcorn. On the other, you see a mother standing in the kitchen looking overwhelmed. In between the scenes, where the two pages meet, there’s this tall stack of dirty dishes, piled from the floor to the ceiling. The mother has a doomed look on her face.

Then your eyes go to the bottom of the page — it’s an ad for a dishwasher. A pristine, sparkling dishwasher. And the ad copy says: “Please … let your wife come into the living room!”

Jed Jacobsohn

A lot of people ask me about December 8, 2016, the night I scored 50. How’d you do it? How did it feel?

People probably think my answer is a little weird. The truth is that, yeah, I got hot. I was making all my inside stuff and I was running the floor pretty well, too, picking up easy fast-break buckets. I got off to a good start — which was pretty key for my momentum — with 18 points in the first 10 minutes. When we realized that I had a mismatch inside, our guards started lobbing the ball into me. I owe them for most of my points.

But the real story of that game was that I was a little distracted by that dishwasher ad. My mind felt like it was in two places. Not for the entire game, but at some point in the second half, when we were up by more than 20, I found my mind wandering. It wasn’t really the ad itself that was worrying me — it was the 20-page final project that was due the next day. It was going to count for a quarter of my grade. It was finals week.

I was stressed. I was exhausted. And all I could think about was that damn dishwasher — and the paper I had to finish.

The assignment was to write about what an old magazine ad revealed about a social issue of a past era. When I got to the gym that day, three hours before our 7 p.m. tip-off, I had 12 pages of the paper done. (Not bad, not bad.) But I still found it hard — I think every college student knows the feeling of having a deadline hanging over their head — not to stress. I knew it was going to be a late night. So I tried to block out that stress and just go out and play. I tried to see the game like a nice little study break.

And 90 minutes later — I had 50 points.

I remember one question I got after the game: “Do you think 50 points is your ceiling?”

I don’t remember how I answered, but in my head I was thinking: No way.

And I don’t even mean it in a cocky way or something. How do I know I could get more than 50? Because that night, I missed seven free throws. And you’ve just got to make your free throws. That’s the easy stuff.

So if I could’ve scored 57 with those free throws … well then, why not 60?

My phone was going crazy after the game — texts and tweets were coming in faster than I could open them. I’d never felt that much love pouring in — from friends and family, from guys on the men’s team, from classmates … and most fun of all, from total strangers. Fifty points is the most I’ve ever put up — in any game — since I started playing basketball. I wanted to thank everyone for their love. All these people I didn’t even know were saying all this nice stuff on social media. It was honestly overwhelming and really nice.

But there was this voice inside me — I don’t know how to really describe it … it’s that super adult voice inside your head that says, Don’t do it. There’s no time for that.

Then I just could hear my mom saying: “Shut your phone off, Kristine.”

I actually deleted my Twitter app that night (I re-installed it a couple days later). No time for that. It was getting late.

I had to get to Haas Pavilion. To study hall. Back to my paper.

I texted Ivan Rabb, a sophomore forward on the men’s basketball team. He and I were both in the same writing class, so he was facing the same deadline. Ivan had chosen a different magazine ad to write about, but we needed a little solidarity.

The men’s team was just back from a road trip in Hawaii. He congratulated me on my game but then it was back to business:

“The essay is due soon,” he texted.

Like I needed any reminder.

Ivan’s the student who sits at the front of class and answers all the professor’s questions. Yup, he’s that guy. Really smart. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you.

Then he texted: “Wait, you scored 50?? How’d you even do that?!”

I just texted him back, “Meet me at Haas in 30.”

Like I had any time to give him a breakdown of the game.

Jed Jacobsohn

By the time I got back to Haas, the fans had cleared out and the building was dark and quiet.

Ivan is a good study partner. He’s really quiet and focused, but he’s good at encouraging study breaks (more my style). A few different times, as we were typing in silence, Ivan would look up and ask me a question about my game that night. Then we’d go back to typing.

The main theme I ended up focusing on in my essay was what the dishwasher ad said about gender roles in 1950s America. I used the ad to explore how our ideas about gender have, and have not, changed in the last 60 years. Every time I got stuck, I’d stare at the ad until I noticed some new detail. In the background of the ad, for instance, I noticed that the house had Christmas lights, which meant that it had probably run during the holidays.

I think the message the advertisers wanted to get across was about time — how an appliance could save you time with the dishes. On the surface, it’s just an ad trying to help people free up more time for the family to bond. In my essay, the part I focused on was the presumption that the woman in the ad should be the one doing the dishes. I think underneath the surface, it said a lot about the expectation of women and men. The ad seems to suggest: If the wife buys this dishwasher, she’ll have more time with her family over the holidays.

The thing I was struggling with was finding a way to finish it. A few hours after Ivan and I had gotten to work, I hit on this idea for how to connect the past to the present day. A lot has changed since the 1950s, for sure, but I found myself thinking a lot about those outdated gender roles, and how some of them are still with us. Today, for example, many more women work full-time than in the ’50s, but I wonder how much housework and childcare duties have changed?

Around 1 a.m., Ivan was done with his essay and I just needed to add the final paragraph of mine. We decided to call it a night. I headed back to my dorm, with plans to do the final edits in the morning.

Walking back from Haas — weaving through the Berkeley campus and then down Telegraph Avenue — this feeling hit me all of a sudden. There were still some students walking around, even that late at night, but it was mostly quiet. I was exhausted, and my knees were a little sore. But I felt great.

I think I was feeling a sense of accomplishment about finishing my essay just as much as I was feeling good about our win earlier that night.

I was feeling grateful, too.

Grateful for my busy (sometimes super stressful) schedule — filled with not only basketball, but also a course load of classes, including Swahili, a theater class, a sociology class and more. It’s busy, but in the best way.

Grateful for classmates, who love this college atmosphere as much as I do. Grateful for a coaching staff, and for professors, who support student-athletes.

Grateful for basketball role models, like Maya Moore, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Kobe Bryant and Candace Parker.

But more than anyone else, grateful for my mom. Everything I do is 100% because of her. She’s one of the strongest people in my life and I’m in awe of her accomplishments: She has a Ph.D., and she’s written a book on women and minorities in Nigeria, the country our family is from. When I was a kid, she always emphasized academics first (I didn’t play basketball until eighth grade because she didn’t want me to be distracted from school). If I came home with a B on a test or on a paper, she’d be like, “You’re better than that, Kristine.”

And that’s all I needed to hear.

My mom instilled in me that women are equal to men — that it was O.K. to say that and to believe that. I don’t really do much protesting, like some Berkeley students, but I love being at a place where students care so much about what’s going on in the world. It’s exciting. And so the way I carry myself, and the way I want to be respected, comes from an understanding of the history of women who, like my mom, demanded equality.

Walking home, I was feeling grateful for all of it. I just felt very happy to be a college student, and very fortunate to be at Berkeley.

Maybe it was a second wind, the kind you get when you stay up late, but I think it was more than that. And yeah, maybe the fact that I had just scored 50 points (a school record, I later found out) was finally kicking in. I just felt alive.

When I got to my dorm, it was messy as usual, and my roommate was still up, on the phone with her boyfriend. I set my alarm for 8 a.m., early enough to give me some time to finish my essay, and fell into bed with my clothes still on. I slept like a baby that night.

What a good day.

Jed Jacobsohn

Now it’s three months later and a lot has happened. Our season has been up and down. After starting 13–0 (the best start in school history), we stumbled a little bit in Pac-12 conference play. But we had some big wins, too. And I’ve had ups and downs of my own. After that 50-point game in December, I had a few other big ones, but I discovered truly how long the season is — and how facing double- and triple-teams, night after night, can wear you down. There was a stretch where things just felt … off.

But I got back in the gym and just kept playing, and at the Pac-12 tournament last week, it all clicked again. My shot was falling, my timing was back. It just felt right.

In less than a week, the NCAA Tournament field will be announced. So now, we wait. There’s nothing I want more than to hear Cal’s name be called — to finally get to play on the biggest stage. But all we can do now is wait, and try to block out the stress.

Anyway, I’ve got plenty of classwork to keep me busy. It’s a new semester and I’m taking all new classes, including a course on black feminism that I’m really excited about. 

Oh, and last semester I did get my essay turned in on time. What a relief. I even got an A.