My son, Kendall, played his first basketball tournament last Saturday. It was thrilling, crushing, exciting and exhausting. And he’s only in 6th grade. And I’m talking about me. It’s my first year of school events where they actually keep score. And it was a tiny sweat-filled drama that stretched out the length of a Saturday.
I was a fine, calm, courteous spectator at the start of each game. However, when we got down by 2 points and someone on the other team double dribbled, I was gripping the seat of the metal folding chair, wedged into the small gym at West Middle School, and shouting out the call. In my head, very loudly, without saying a word, leaning forward, looking at Tim, “Did you see that?”
Only when the ref called it, did I lean back in relief. God forbid a 12-year-old boy get away with a double dribble in a 24-minute basketball game, playing for nothing, in a borrowed jersey.
However, I was just as sure to call our team’s double dribbles. I was a fair critic, coach and ref, for all. I was able to sink the ball a dozen or more times in a single game in a dozen different scenarios, all with the will of my mind and my grip on a metal chair. Again and again, I saw what should be done, envisioned it, willed it, telepathy-ed it, played it, but in the end, usually cursed it.
At no point did anyone ask me actually to touch a ball. Which was good. I would have been outed as a dumb-luck player, one with nothing more than my own sixth-grade experience, molded nearly three decades ago, a basketball career that ended almost before it began due to considerable ineptitude and lack of trying.
Not the free throw. Anything but the free throw. It’s a gimmie that almost never takes at this age. What’s worse than an entire gym hanging on your every move as you toe the line, launch the ball, bounce it slightly to the left of the basket and back into the hands of your opponent? When your team is down by the same number of free throws you’re allotted, that’s what.
These boys turned into men before our very eyes. One angst-ridden free throw at a time, forced into the limelight, their inadequacies and their successes on display for parents and grandparents alike to see.
But I marveled at how they took their misses and their points in stride, every inch a man on the court. And each time I held my breath, reliving my Interlochen Lakers days in a similar gym of similar outcome.
In our first game, one of our players made an unbelievable full-court shot in the final seconds of the first quarter.
Full-court, swish, nothing but net. The crowd was on its feet, our team, their team, the refs, the lady selling tickets two hallways down, everyone, and I mean everyone, was shouting. I cheered, part 12-year-old girl again, part proud imaginary coach.
In our second game, we faced battle in a sudden-death shoot-out. There I sat on my metal chair, hoping the dudes wouldn’t blow it when, out of nowhere, one of our littlest guys sank it, swish, nothing but net, once more.
I was shouting again, my wildest (sixth-grade) dreams coming true. I’d never been on a winning team before (technically still not; benched forever in my metal chair) and the victory was sweet.
In the end, we took second in the basketball tournament. While the loss of the championship was a (hefty) blow, we figured second place was a decent (amazing, butt-kicking) showing.
I’d survived the sweat and the tears and the drama. (Oh, and the boys did too.)