Baseball may have been my favorite sport growing up, but basketball was a close second. Matter of fact, I probably played and practiced more basketball from first grade through eleventh grade than baseball.
Early on, I was fairly tall. This meant in basketball I mostly played the position of forward. A couple of seasons, I was tallest on the team and played center. Also, back in my basketball days, the court was missing one thing today’s court has – the three point shot line. These facts meant I didn’t practice long shots much, therefore, never developing much of a jump shot.
In 1985, my undeveloped outside shot presented a problem when I made the varsity basketball team. I was no longer among the taller players and had to play guard. Shots, if I took them, were now farther back, and the risk of an air ball – a shot that misses the rim and backboard completely – was much higher. Usually, if this happens, the opposing fans respond with a chant of “Airrrr Baaallll”. As a confident, perhaps even cocky, high school kid, this really didn’t bother me. One mark of good players is they put the negative stuff out of their minds.
“I’ve always believed not matter how many shots I miss, I’m going to make the next one.”
~ Isiah Thomas
A recent conversation with an old high school friend reminded me I had other problems in 1985 besides my jump shot. Things with the young ladies weren’t going great. The list of girlfriends for that year is not necessarily long, but it is a reminder about just how terribly I dealt with the opposite sex. It was also a reminder there was one name missing from that list…
It was February 1985, right in the middle of basketball season. It was also Valentine’s season, and young lady caught my attention. Let’s call her Kim.
If you’ll recall from a previous post, I drove a school bus in high school. Turns out one of my favorites on the elementary route had an older sister, just a year behind me. Yep. Kim.
Back in those days, we had fund raisers where students could pay a few bucks to have a flower, a balloon or something delivered to a classmate during the school day. The Valentine’s Day flower sale gave me the perfect opportunity to spring the question on Kim. I purchased a flower, addressed the card, and wrote out the message to her.
I don’t remember the exact words, but it was probably something really creative like “Would you go out with me?” Anyway, I had done it, thrown up the outside jumper. From way outside. I hardly knew her, but I was taking the long shot anyway. Now to wait.
The delivery day arrived. I didn’t have any classes with Kim, so I wasn’t sure how or when I’d get my reply. It was lunchtime and most of the basketball team was together. Our team was one of the best in the state, defending state champs. My self-importance was probably a tad higher than it should have been.
We sat in the hallway floor near the cafeteria, our backs to the wall, yukking it up and probably being a tad obnoxious. Since we were goofing off, and it was a busy time in the hallway with the lunch crowd, I did not see Kim approach. Suddenly, though, there she was, standing over me and the team. She smiled and my heart skipped a beat.
“Hi, Greg,” she said. The hallway became as quiet as a funeral parlor. My teammates leaned in, as if she was about to quote E.F. Hutton.
“Thanks so much for the flower. That was sweet. But I can’t go out with you. I have a boyfriend.”
Doah! I had not scoped that out. Told you I didn’t know her very well.
I stammered something like “Oh, OK.”
Just as quickly as she appeared, Kim disappeared into the crowd.
There it was. A big air ball. Not exactly the way I expected it, but a big fat brick, nonetheless.
Oh, crap, I thought to myself, remembering who was sitting around me. This is going to be bad. I didn’t have to wait long. I turned to face the music. My buddies had big grins on their faces.
”WAAHHHHHHHH”, they cried out in unison and howled with laughter. They gave me grief the rest of lunch break and into that afternoon’s practice. That’s OK, though. That’s what teammates do.
So, Kim didn’t make the list. Turns out that’s a good thing. We’re friends today, and I’ve got a funny story. Elementary school bus route mutiny was probably avoided, too. Just think. If she had said ‘Yes’, I would have likely messed that up. The mess up would have led to little sis hating me and leading her friends in a revolt on the bus. Whew.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
“I’ve never been afraid to fail.”
Our basketball team went on to play in the South Carolina AAA state championship that year. Trailing by one with time running out, one of our guards, Bryant Dodd, took a long outside shot to win. The shot bounced off the rim and back toward the foul line. Our other guard in the game, Trenny Dawkins, managed to grab the rebound and throw a desperation shot back towards the goal. He hit nothing but…air. He missed everything!
As the other team started to celebrate the miss, our center, Lamar Christie, plucked the ball out of the air and dropped it into the basket. The buzzer sounded. Victory was ours. Best air ball ever.
Don’t be afraid to risk an air ball. Sometimes you’ll get laughed at, but other times, someone will have your back.