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The worst basketball player I have ever seen in my life.

January 20, 2018

7I want to start by saying that I have never considered myself a competent athlete.  Oh, I’ve played a number of sports and have enjoyed them, but since my youth I have never given myself the illusion that I was a gifted or talented competitor.  This is especially true in basketball.  While I fancy myself a pretty capable hoopster when I am playing a game of basketball solitaire in my driveway (meaning that I play alone), I find myself recklessly incapable of any ability to do anything basketball-wise.  In high school I was a starter on a church team that played a twelve-game season in which we won only one game, and that was by forfeit.  Some of the games were amazing, in the sense of how bad we got beat.  One of the games we lost was by a score of 74-9.  I am not making this up.  Ask any of my former teammates, although I believe out of embarrassment they have lived their lives under assumed aliases since those days.

First of all, I am one of those people who does not have the body for a basketball uniform.  If I was to give you a description of myself you could safely say that I look like a Lego with feet, so the slender and agile appearance is not there.  Secondly, I am about as limber as a ball of tangled Christmas lights you left in the back corner of your garage.

You get the idea.

As a teacher I have been asked to participate in student/faculty basketball games over the years, and I have – to obviously hilarious results.

On one occasion at a North Carolina school game – this is in front of a packed house, mind you – as we came down the court, I was lobbed the ball and instructed to pass it to a teammate only seven feet away.  While looking directly at him I promptly threw the ball into the stands, nearly knocking out a junior high cheerleader.

On another occasion at yet another faulty/student “all star” game (Seriously? With me playing?) we were in a heated battle and a science teacher threw a three-point attempt in a graceful arc toward the basket.  The ball hit and rolled around the rim momentarily, so I launched myself energetically toward the basket for a possible rebound.  I did not see, however, the school chaplain dart in front of me, readying for the same thing.  The ball slowed and he and I moved two different ways.  He assumed the ball was going in (it did) so he spun to dash down the court.  I assumed the ball was going to slip out (I was wrong) so I dove to get underneath.  We smashed into each other with a force that literally knocked him over.  I remained standing up, but in the collision my face crashed into his shoulder with amazing force – so hard that I actually lost my vision.  I didn’t get a concussion, but I wandered around the court dazed, not knowing where I was going and ended up standing in the paint on the other end while they were attempting a free throw.  The math teacher gently guided me over to our bench and when I went to speak to our coach, the whole section of students yelled in horror; a stream of blood and a flap of skin fell out of my mouth.  The collision caused my teeth to slice razor-like into my lower lip and shred the inside of my mouth.  I was in pain for a week, but, hey, I was the center of admiration of every middle school boy for a week. My inner lip became a regular museum display every recess.

So, please understand, I am not being cruel.

I do, however, want to tell you about the worst basketball player I have ever seen in my life, and the reason why I tell you this.

It was in a recreational league that my son Nicholas had joined.  His team was about to play its inaugural game in the brightly-lit gymnasium of the large church over on Kingston Pike here in Knoxville.  These were kids, middle school age youngsters who were taking to the courts.

(With the exception of my son, the names I use for the others are fictional).

The game started and Nicholas’ team dashed off to a quick six-point lead thanks to some well-practiced plays that had the opposing team flat-footed:  Scotty would take the ball down, stop, whip a pass to his right to Jerry, who would bounce-pass it to Nicholas or Jordan, and they would make a safe lay-up.  Two points. When they got the ball again, they repeated the process:  Scotty would take the ball down, stop, sling  a pass to his right to good ol’Jerry, who would bounce-pass over to either Nicholas or Jordan, and they would again make a safe lay-up.

Again.

Scotty right-hand pass to Jerry to Nick or Jordan.  Our lead increased to eight.

Again.

Scotty right-hand passes it into the group and boom, we score again.  By halftime we have a ten-point lead.  I glance over at the opposing coach and I see him quietly observing something.  He walks over to the huddle of kids and points to the largest boy on their team.  Something’s going on.

The game resumes.

Scotty comes down the court as the teams set up and he skids to a stop.  There, right in the lane where Scotty has made all of his right-hand passes, is the largest boy in the gym, simply standing there.  He doesn’t have his hands up.   Scotty stops and stares at him.  The large kid stares back.  Scotty stares.  The other kid stares.  Then with everything he can,  Scotty bounce-passes a pass right at the kid, who catches it, lobs it to a boy streaking by him and the opposing team scores.  We parents groan.  A mistake, but Scotty will get over it… won’t he?

Scotty takes the ball down the court.  Large Kid is already set and staring.  Scotty skids to a stop.  Looks around.  Bounce passes as hard as he can right at the boy.  Large Kid grabs it, lobs it to a streaking kid who makes another fast layup.  We parents blink at each other.

Scotty brings the ball down again.  Large kid is in his passing lane.  Scotty looks around at all the other kids frantically waving – and passes to the large kid yet again.  The kid grabs the ball, lobs it to streaking kid and another two points.

This goes on for the rest of the game.  Our lead evaporates.

I look at Jack, a fellow parent and I shake my head.  “Scotty can’t process any other play.”

Jack nods.  “He’s got a muscle memory problem.  He’s been trained to pass that way for so long he has no idea what else to do,” Jack points at the coach, “even though his coach is shouting other directions.  Look at how hard he throws it each time.  He thinks that by just being more aggressive at the same thing he’ll get a different result.”

I don’t think I have ever seen anything so odd on a basketball court.  You could see the anguish in Scotty’s face, but he just kept doing the same thing over and over.

We lose by eight points.

That memory has jumped back to me as I consider the deeper walk with Jesus.  Haven’t I been doing the same thing?  If I really, really want to see Jesus in the most honest, powerful way, I need to step away from ritualistic “do it because it’s always been done this way” type of practice.  We Christians have placed such a heavy importance on practices that the action itself becomes the worship, doesn’t it?

Look at the third chapter of Philippians:
“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal,persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”

I mean, look at what Paul says about being a Pharisee.  He notes that he was a spectacular Pharisee as you read this passage, and yet he says that it’s empty.  Why?

Don’t knock the Pharisees as being completely evil; they were pretty good guys at the outset.

During the 400 year intertestamental period between the end of the Old and the beginning of the New Testament, the world had not received any message from God in writing, so the people of Israel got pretty complacent about holy things.  Enter a group of men who wanted to bring back respect for God – these were the most radical, devoted people you could ever find.  These men were literalists that brooked no nonsense when it came to the interpretation the Word of God, nor would they stand for a liberal way of life.  At the time of Christ there were 6,000 of those who were called Pharisees which mean “separatists” – they were a small band of holy men.  They knew the law and they were revered because they lived their lives separately from the world with no deviation from the Scripture,  They were obsessed with reading and interpreting the Scripture, and confronting those who broke allegiance with God.   They got carried away with their own actions.  Oh, it started honorably, but by the time Christ arrived on Earth the practice became the power.  The ritual became the reverence.

I am not talking about religion in my thoughts today.  I am talking about practice within the Christian faith, among us grassroots Christians here and now.  Hasn’t this happened with us?  We’ve been doing the same thing over and over and have a “meditative muscle memory” when it comes to the worship and walk with Jesus?  We actually enjoy the settled routine, and it has become Pharisaical in the way we obsess with rituals.  Think of it even in our vocabulary:  we are in love with words like fellowship, relationship, devotions, and other Christian buzz words.  They’re easy, they’re fun – and they’ve lost their importance.

For example, we freely give to our missionaries;  do we know who they are and what they do?  We are faithful to our Bible classes at our assembly, but we have lost the understanding of the music we sing, losing our focus on the lyrics to the desire to hit the right note.

Let me point this at myself and use a different analogy as I seek the Duc in Altum, “launching into the deep” to see more of Jesus.

I cannot go deep-sea diving if I have all of these helium balloons and foam-filled floats holding me up in shallow waters.  Those balloons are called Routine.  Those floats are called Procedure.

I need to cut them loose, and really, it’s not that hard.

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One Comment
  1. Charlotte permalink

    Entertaining, but more important – thought provoking. I appreciate your blog lessons. Thank you for taking the time to write them.

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