[Continued from The Big Kid and Basketball Part XVII … Above the Fray]
“Bobby dropped 21? Fantastic!”
Yes. I meant it. Bobby scoring 21 was fantastic. If only I was there to see it.
Tommy and I had been gifted tickets to go and see the Boston Celtics, (yes the team of Russell, Heinsohn, Cousy, Bird, Lewis), at the TD Garden in Boston, and the game happened to fall on a day of one of our Gorham High School Recreation basketball games.
“Doc, I cannot go to Boston to see the Celtics. I can’t let the team down.”
“Tom, you have been coaching for over seven years. You have rushed home from Boston after intensely stressful workdays to coach when you really should have been taking care of yourself better. This Celtics game is for you and Tommy. You need this. This will be good for you two. Pete can coach the team.”
There was no doubt in my mind that Pete can coach the team. Pete Sampras and I have coached for years together. He is a caring and smart man. He would be fine.
And yet … and yet it is my responsibility and it is my job. (My non-paying most rewarding job I have ever had.)
“Don’t you honey me. You just call Pete, let him know he is coaching on Saturday, and you and Tommy go to the Celtics game together and have a relaxing and good time. Do you understand?”
Doc is so Brockton-tough when she chooses to be. (Don’t tell her I said that.)
“Pete, Saturday Tommy and I will not be at the basketball game. We were gifted tickets to the Celtics. Would you mind taking over head coaching duties that day? I will ensure Coach Norgaard will be available to assist.”
“Of course, no problem, Tom.”
He is such a good man. A good father. A good coach. A good friend.
“We are playing the Bonny Eagle team with the big front court. We will need to be solid on the boards.”
“Tom, don’t worry. We will be fine.”
And then a few days later after practice …
“Pete, we are well-positioned for the playoffs. But a win Saturday will help our seeding. Here is the lineup tool I use. It might assist you with your substitution strategy.”
“All I will say is … Coach the team as YOU would coach them. The kids respect you and as you know will play hard for you.”
The day of the game
So now it is Saturday and Tommy and I are driving down 95 South on our way to Boston.
“Tommy, text Laura.” Pete’s wife. “She will be watching the game for sure. Let’s see how the team is doing.”
I keep thinking to myself that I should be there. It is my responsibility.
“Dad, Laura says we are down 5 with 6 minutes left in the first half.”
“Down five without Tommy (our best scorer) there. That is great,” I think to myself.
“She says David is having a huge game. Rebounding and scoring big.”
I knew these boys wouldn’t shrink without their coach and without their best scorer. These boys have heart. Always did.
“Barry did a hop step and hit a shot after a steal by Bobby!”
“This is great,” I think as Laura continues to give Tommy the play by play as we are entering New Hampshire.
“Best hop-stepper ever!” I say.
“Dad, they tied it up. They tied it up with thirty seconds left in the first half. Bobby hit a three from the corner to tie it up!”
Both Tommy and I were getting so excited. Truly technology is a good thing (when used right). And with Laura texting us updates, Tommy and I both feel like we are there.
“Dad, Mrs. Sampras said we are tied at half time. She says David is being an animal underneath the boards, Dean already has 4 blocked shots, Mickey T. has ripped the ball away from the other team a number of times, and Bobby has already scored ten points.”
I must admit, for a moment I did think, “they don’t need me”. I wish I didn’t. I wish I did not go to the selfish place in my mind. I wish I simply was able to enjoy what I was hearing. And yet … I did go to that place.
“Are you kidding me?” I said to myself as I fought with my own ego. “Get over yourself. This is not about you. Look at Tommy. He is relishing the success of his peers. Be like Tommy.”
And then …
“God. Please help me,” I prayed as I took a deep breath and allowed His spirit to pass over me like a wave, washing away all those unproductive thoughts.
“Dad. Do you think the team can win?”
Now how do I answer that seemingly innocuous question? I don’t want Tommy to think for one second he is not important to the team.
“Coach Sampras and the boys are really playing their hearts out. The team they are facing is tough and to be tied at halftime without your leadership and heart is impressive. Do I think we can win? Yes. But it is going to be very hard.”
“I think we are going to win.” Tommy responds.
He is such a good kid. And it is still amazing to me how much my son, “the Big Kid” who was so bullied, so hurt, so harmed, by so many, has grown and matured and cares so very much about others. He truly loves this team. He truly loves his teammates … his friends. He would do anything for them.
“Dad, Mrs. Sampras says that both Julian and Abel are not playing. Both are out sick.”
Basketball season is a tough time of year for kids and colds.
“Just think about that, Tommy. Coach Sampras and the team are tied at halftime against one of the better teams even though we are missing three very good players, Julian, Abel, and you. Think about that.”
“That’s awesome, Dad.”
“That is why we draft for heart. Heart keeps you in games when your mind says it is impossible. Coach Sampras is doing an amazing job leading the team, and the boys are doing their jobs and not backing down. Heart.”
And we both sat in silence thinking about that as we continued our trek south … each of us missing our team.
“Dad, Mrs. Sampras said David just fouled out. She said he played a huge game and even hit a three pointer. But is now out of the game.”
“Come on, Pete. Come on.” I think as I try to send encouragement to Coach Sampras through the ethers of time and space.
“David is a beast, but sometimes he gets stuck in the fray of the game. This time, however, it sounds like he played a phenomenal game. How much time is left?”
“Six minutes, Dad.”
“We are down four.”
“Amazing, Pete.” I think. “Just amazing.”
“Tommy, you are down four key players. You are playing against a solid team with a big front court. What would you do?”
“I’d stack the Triangle-Defense we use with Mickey T., Dean, and John. I would put Mark at the point and set Bobby up for the three. No one gets inside. And with the limited players I would not press. Need to save legs for the final few minutes.”
“God he is good. Love this kid.” I think to myself.
“Tommy, are you okay not being there?”
“I am not going to lie, Dad. I wish I was there.”
“Me too.” I respond softly. “I wish we were both there.” And then after a brief pause, “And … I am glad we are here together witnessing the greatness of our team in a whole new way, appreciating the team in a whole new way … AND … we are going to have a great time together at the Celtics game.”
More silence as we continue our journey.
“Dad! Bobby just hit another three pointer. He now has 21 points!”
“Bobby dropped 21? Fantastic! What is the score now?”
“We are down three with 30 seconds to go.”
“This is so exciting. Now I would press, go for the steal and if no steal foul quickly. With no shot clock and time running out we need the ball back. And the Bonny Eagle team has not been great from the foul line. Got to risk it.”
“Mrs. Sampras says Bonny Eagle just scored again. She says we look tired. Down five now with 16 seconds left.”
“I bet the kids are exhausted,” I respond to Tommy thinking about the hill they are climbing this day.
And then I think to myself, “Call timeout, Pete. Call timeout. Set a play for Bobby for the three, if not there dump it inside quickly to Dean for the two and possibly a foul.”
“Dad, we lost. Mrs. Sampras said we got the ball past half court, they trapped us, but Mark got it inside to Dean who hit a two as time expired. We lost by three. Dad, we lost.”
We lost? I don’t think so. If any game was a win. That was it. That was most assuredly a win.
To be continued …
* featured image from: Basketball Player Clip Art