I’ve loved basketball for as long as I can remember. My aunt started taking me to Milwaukee Bucks games as soon as I could toddle my way into the arena, and to this day I find the sound of sneakers squeaking across the hardwood oddly comforting and simultaneously stimulating. I was thrilled to be part of the crowd and I dreamed of playing on the court. So when the opportunity to play park and rec ball rolled about in fourth grade, I was ready. And by ready, I mean my parents signed me up. In terms of skill, well…
I stink at basketball. Despite my knowledge of the game and my absolute best effort, despite the many basketball camps and the shooting practice in the driveway, despite my dedication, despite it all, I am terrible. “Turrible,” Charles Barkley would say.
So it really came as no surprise that, once I got to the level that they made cuts, I was promptly cut. I was in seventh grade. And my basketball career was over.
The only relief I found in this was that I would never again have to wear one of the old crusty jerseys they pulled out from the back corner of the phy ed equipment closet. The ones they resorted to so they could outfit every last sixth grader who wanted to be on the team. The jerseys rocked by those of us on the faaar end of the long bench. (Except, we didn’t “rock” them. No one could. It was difficult enough just to wear them. No amount of fabric softener could have saved the extra unis–which, by the way, did not match those of the starters or actual subs.)
Yes, even back then I was the eternal optimist. But I was still crushed.
This event had a profound impact on my life. It’s not just that I never became a basketball star, let alone a real player. And it’s not just that I filled the void left by bball with other activities. Yes, it changed my experience, but it really changed my perspective.
Last week I chaperoned a field trip to see our high school boys Varsity soccer team compete in the state tournament. It was great. It was an exciting game, both teams played well, and our student section did an outstanding job of representing our school and community.
It went into extra periods. It ended in a shootout. Our team lost. But it was fantastic.
The couple hundred students walked back to the fan buses slowly, most with their heads hung. There I was in the midst of the crowd grinning like an idiot. But I couldn’t help it. We were at the state tournament! The team played great! The kids supported their friends! It was awesome!
I know that it was a crushing loss to the players and that fans felt it vicariously. I know that feeling. I felt that feeling way back in seventh grade. But you know what I’ve never felt? The feeling of competing at that level, the feeling of being that good, the feeling of being that smooth, that coordinated, that physically talented. How awesome must that be? I don’t know, but I know that it’s awesome to watch.
At times like these, I know it also helps that I’ve been a life-long Bucks fan. I mean, I know how to take losses in stride.
And I know that my smiling and my ready and eternal optimism makes some people want to punch me in the face. But that’s kind of like wanting to punch someone in the face because they’re smiling as they leave Disney World and you’re upset that it’s closing time. Umm, yeah, you’ve been at Disney World.
I don’t want to get punched in the face, so I try to keep my perspective to myself until people can get there themselves. They will. I did. And then we can all reminisce about the great ride.