The “swish” made by a basketball ripping through the cords of the net has to be one of the best sounds in all of sports. As a boy growing up, I worked for hours trying to perfect my skills so I could hear that wonderful sound over and over again.
I must confess God used basketball in my life to help me grow up to be the man I am today. My limited but memorable basketball career helped to shape my character by forcing me to come to grips with my own limitations by teaching me to deal with criticism and to experience the power of encouragement.
In the driveway of my suburban childhood home, I spent hours shooting my rubber basketball. Though I appeared to be playing by myself, in reality in my mind, I imagined myself playing in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks or in Rupp Arena against the mighty Kentucky Wildcats. I counted down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 before I would leap and take the last second shot to win the game. If I made it I celebrated, if I missed I was obviously fouled and would get two free throws to win the game anyway. To be frank, I don’t remember my won-loss record, but I am sure I won many more than I lost—remember this was the ultimate “fantasy basketball.”
I idolized Los Angeles Laker Jerry West, and without doubt my favorite coach was the legendary John Wooden of U.C.L.A. I just knew I, too, would grow up to be a basketball star if I worked hard enough. How-ever, I did have one slight problem. When I went out for the 7th grade basketball team at North Oaks Junior High, I did not exactly have the statue of your typical basketball star. I stood 5 feet 1 inches tall, and a muscular 150 lbs. Instead of “deep and wide,” I
was more “shallow and wide.” In fact, one of my first coaches quizzed me about whether I was going to play basketball or “be the basketball.”
Let’s just say I did not get off to the best of starts. However, God knew even in my disappointment of not making the team there were important lessons to be learned.
Two years later, while playing a pick-up game in gym class as a freshman, Coach Stephenson, the freshman coach, pulled me off to the side and suggested that I try out for the team. I must admit I was shocked and surprised. I followed his advice and amazingly made the team! That invitation and his confidence in me was one of the turning points of my life.
You never know how one word of encouragement or one simple act of kindness can be the catalyst for amazing change in the future of a child.
To my knowledge Paul never coached basketball but he gave great advice when he wrote: Do not let any un-wholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)