The Big Kid and Basketball Part XX … the Fleeting Moments

[Continued from The Big Kid and Basketball … Here comes his Dad]

Sometimes the memory of a win lasts.

“We have them on the run. Now it is time to finish the job. Go back out there and take this game. No one gets inside! This is our game. Now take it!”

We were in the midst of a tough losing streak and this morning we were going against the other Gorham basketball team on a brand new hard court in a brand new elementary school built across town.

The other Gorham team was very talented and very vocal. We at this point had not found our footing.

The game began with the other team scoring a quick four buckets and thus we were down eight when Tommy called over to me.

“Dad, I think this is a girl’s ball.”

“What?”

These games were very well attended still and the acoustics were not very good in the gym.

“Dad! I think the basketball is too small. I think it is a girl’s ball!”

It finally registered to me what Tommy was saying.

“Ref. Ref.” I called over to the referee.

I did not want to waste a timeout but would if necessary.

“Ref!”

“Coach?”

“I believe the game ball is too small. Please check it.”

“Too small?”

The ref who I knew very well from our many years in this league together proceeded to blow his whistle and ask for the ball from Tommy, who was about to shoot two free throws after being fouled.

He then handed it to me, “Coach? What do you think?”

The ball certainly felt small but it wasn’t until I rolled it in my hands and spied the inflation size that I was able to confirm that yes, Tommy was right. This was the wrong size ball for our league.

“Too small, Ref. Wrong ball.”

“What’s going on?!?!” The coach of the other Gorham team yelled as I asked Coach Sampras to retrieve an appropriately sized game ball from our bag of basketballs.

“Wrong ball, Coach.” Came the response from the ref.

“What do you mean ‘wrong ball’? My team is doing just fine with it.”

“Ball is too small, Coach. We are replacing it,” I said.

I thought for a split second to request a restart to the game due to the fact that a wrong ball was being used and my teams’ first few shots were way off the mark, even from Tommy who has become quite the sniper.

But ended up thinking the better of it. In fact, I decided to use this as a motivator. And thus decided to call a timeout anyway at this point.

“Time out! Bring it in! And everyone up off the bench.”

And then after all the boys and Coach Sampras were huddled, “We are only a minute and a half into the game and we are down eight. Our shots have been way off.”

I paused as I looked into the eyes of each of our players.

And then continued, “To this point we have been using the wrong ball.”

And then looking at Tommy, “Nice catch picking up on it, T.”

“Clearly they prefer the wrong ball. We do not.”

I made sure I again looked into the eyes of each of my players.

“The rest of the game we are using the proper ball. The rest of the game our shots will be dropping. The rest of the game is ours.”

And then again looking at Tommy, “Tommy …”

“Gorham on 3, one, two, three …”, Tommy screamed over the sound of the crowd.

“GORHAM!!!!” The team yelled.

For the next thirty-seven minutes or so the teams went back and forth until …

“We have them on the run. Now it is time to finish the job. Go back out there and take this game. No one gets inside! This is our game. Now take it!”

And we did. With Jimmy King finishing the game off with a steal and breakaway layup to put us up by five and seal the victory as the game clock struck zero.

“We win! We win!” I heard chanted from the bench.

“Gorham wins! Gorham wins!” I heard chanted from the crowd.

And as I looked across the way I saw my bride looking at me and smiling as I walked slowly to the other end of the bench to take a seat and a breather as I exhaustedly said to myself, “The losing streak is over. It is finally over. Thank, God. Thank you, God.”

Again, some times the memory of a win remains.

Unfortunately not on this particular evening.

Yes, Ricky had made a terrific pass to T who subsequently found Dean who ended up winning the game in regulation with a terrific v-cut and layup.

And yet, at this time I was seeking Darian as his father approached me.

“Coach, I would like to talk with you.”

It was Darian’s father.

“Sure. Let’s talk over here.”

I led Darian’s father to the far side of our bench and beside the stands where we could have a little bit of privacy.

“Coach, you screwed up and now my son is crying in the car.”

“I am so sorry to hear that, Mr. Lovell.”

Mr. Lovell proceeded to tell me what a lousy coach I was. How I harmed his son’s psyche. How I owe him and his son an apology. And much more.

Still processing what had occurred I stood quietly and let Mr. Lovell speak his peace and then simply replied, “I will talk to Darian. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.”

Mr. Lovell then walked away, clearly not satisfied, as I stood reliving the Brian Bowswain E-mail from so long ago.

“Tom, you screwed up and you hurt a kid. You screwed up,” was all I could think as I slowly walked back to the bench to deliver a final message to the team and then find my bride and girls.

Compartmentalizing the Lovell conversation with now speaking to the team was not easy and the echoes of the past were now pounding loudly in my head as well.

“Solid win team. And I mean that … team. Every one of you contributed. Every one of you. I am so very proud of the effort, focus, intensity, and support of one another. Win or lose I am proud of what you did on the court this evening.”

I was losing my focus so decided to turn to the pragmatic.

“Our next practice is an optional one on Friday evening. 7pm at the Narragansett School. The next regular practice is Monday evening. Also at 7pm at the Narragansett School. Any questions?”

“No Coach.” Came the reply from all.

“Tommy…”

“Gorham on 3, one, two, three …”, Tommy screamed.

“GORHAM!!!!” The team yelled.

“Good game, Coach.”

“Thank you, Pete. You too.”

“You okay?”

“Yes, Pete. I am fine.”

I lied.

 

Later that evening …

“Tom, are you okay?” Doc asked as we sat together in front of the fireplace.

“I screwed up and I hurt, Darian. Mr. Lovell was very clear. I screwed up.”

“No Tom. No. You did your best. You needed to focus on the entire team. And that is what you did. And you did so within a split second.”

“But Doc. It wasn’t good enough. I hurt a kid. It is my job to focus on the individuals AND the team. I screwed up.”

And as I said this the tears began to flow as I repeated over and over in my mind, “I hurt a kid. I hurt a kid. The one thing above all others I swore I would not do. I hurt a kid.”

“Oh God,” I prayed. “I hurt a kid. Help me make amends. Help me…”

A few days later …

Darian was not at the optional practice on Friday evening.

“Okay, boys. Bring it in. Great game Tuesday night. So tonight … we … are … going … to … … SCRIMMAGE!!”

The team erupts into a cadence of ‘scrimmage, scrimmage, scrimmage’ and for the next ninety minutes or so we did just that. We played the game as a team with great joy and passion … while also remaining cognizant of improvement opportunities.

And for ninety minutes the thought of Darian almost left my mind.

 

Fast forward five years …

“Tom, it is time to go. Kenny Kaplan’s graduation party is starting and we are going to walk over.”

“Okay, Doc.”

Being such an extreme introvert it is very challenging to get motivated to attend an event where there is a crowd of people. Even when I care for these people.

When we arrived …

“Welcome. Tommy is already here and Kenny will be so happy that you both came to his party,” said Kenny’s dad Donald, who is a great person … and wicked smart.

Doc and I spoke to Donald for a bit, then to Kenny’s mom Charlotte, who like Donald was also very busy with the party, and then finally to Kenny before we grabbed a beverage and headed over to the bonfire.

“What a great party. And there is Tommy with his friends playing whiffle ball,” Doc said as she pointed across the way where Tommy was about to unleash his curveball.

“I am just glad you are with me my love.”

“Now Tom,” came Doc’s reply as we both watched some of the neighborhood men carrying logs to expand the fire.

As Doc and I were making some small talk with some of the other party goers all of a sudden her finger nails dug into my arm and I felt her lean in close to my ear and say, “Tom, the Lovell’s are here. Mr. Lovell is walking this way.”

Even five years later I never got over the evening that I made one of my player’s cry nor the fact that I ‘lost a kid’ as I would say to Doc each time I reprocessed that evening and that season.

Yes, I did speak to Darian at the next regular practice after that fateful game … but I always knew that I had screwed up and as I said to Doc ‘lost a kid’.

“Coach!” I heard Mr. Lovell say as he was approaching from behind us.

I slowly turned expecting to again hear what a lousy coach I was when I saw … a smile?

“Coach! So great to see you,” Mr. Lovell said as he outstretched his arm toward me.

And taking his hand in mine I hesitantly responded, “Very nice to see you too.”

Yes, I lied again. For five years I have processed and reprocessed that evening so long ago.

“I wanted to tell you …”

“Here it comes,” I thought.

“How much Darian enjoyed playing for you …”

“What?!?!” I thought.

“… how much you impacted his life.”

“Excuse me?!?! I lost Darian. I screwed up. I hurt him,” my mind reeled.

“And how much Brenda and I appreciate all you did for him.”

I truly had no idea what was happening. Nor clearly what happened five years ago.

Mr. Lovell continued, “Darian never played basketball again after that year because he said if you were not his coach then he simply would not play.”

“Well, that is not good,” I thought.

“And he focused on other interests and is now going off to college.”

“How wonderful. Does he have a major selected?”

I was unsure how to respond so thought inquiry would be helpful or at least buy me some time.

“Darian is very interested in politics and law and has decided to attend Brown University in their pre-law program.”

We spoke for perhaps another ten minutes or so but honestly I don’t recall much of what more was said as my mind kept going back to five years ago.

And after Mr. Lovell departed I turned to Doc, “What just happened?”

“You see. You see. You stress yourself out all the time and you have no idea the impact you have on these young men.”

I still was not ready to hear it. I know what happened five years ago. I know I screwed up.

“Mr. Lovell was just being nice.”

“Tom, sometimes you just have to accept.”

Again, I wasn’t ready.

About an hour later Doc and I had thanked Charlotte and Donald for the invitation and were now making our way around their house to the street when I heard once again, “Coach!”

But this time it was not Mr. Lovell … it was Darian.

“Darian, I did not see you here. How are you?”

“I am great, Coach.”

Not knowing where this was going I braced myself.

“Coach, I wanted to thank you. I loved playing for you …”

I honestly did not hear much more of what Darian shared at this time. And am so thankful that Doc was with me to ensure conversation flowed.

All I know was that five years of regrets for my mistake began to melt off of my heart as this young man said, “I loved playing for you …”

“Thank you, God.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED …

Next “The Big Kid and Basketball Part XXI … the Discussion

 

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. Oh,Tom ,I loved it. It is very emotional. You truly have a gift. You write from the heart and hit my heart. Love you, Mom

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Tom, this story. This story got to my heart and I felt it all. Thank you so much for sharing this. This is what we do – we hold on to this stuff, beat ourselves up, for years – sometimes decades. We do it without knowing, really knowing what impact it had. Some of the events we label as “worst” end up impacting us or others in a way we could never know at the time for the better. The lesson you’ve shared in this story is something I try so fiercely to remember every time I’m going through something I think will be the end of me…. it’s that we just don’t know if that good thing we did, or that “bad” thing we did will end up being the best thing ever. In the moment we torture ourselves instead of leaning on a faith that it’s all meant to happen just as it happens. I loved this piece. A lot. Also, reading the comment from Mom is making me smile so big. I have a mom like that too. Thank God for Moms.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so very much Laura for reading this piece and sharing such poignant feedback. The “leaning on a faith that it’s all meant to happen just as it happens” has been such an ongoing challenge (as my bride so kindly reminds me of) and continues to be so. Logically it makes sense and yet … still a growing edge for sure. I am so grateful for all of your works and support of a community of writers. Again, truly means so very much (as you do) to so many. And yes … having my mom as one of my biggest supports is so incredibly special. Again so very grateful. Thank you again for sharing how this piece touched you along with such a reminder of “it’s all meant to happen just as it happens”. Tom

      Like

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