I remember like it was yesterday the very first three-pointer I ever made in a competitive basketball game.
It was my sophomore year. It also happened to be the first year that the three-point shot was introduced into the high school game. It was our team’s first game of the season and we were on the road in Clifton, AZ decked out in our bright red road jerseys. Mid first quarter, I found myself all alone at the three-point line, my defender five feet away in a defensive crouch waiting for me to make my move toward the basket. And why wouldn’t he? That’s what high school basketball had been all about up until that moment-keeping people from driving to the hoop. No one ever shot that far outside. There had never been a reason to.
Anyway, I looked around, realized no one else was all that open and so I decided to let it fly. It swished through the net with a pop you only hear on the basketball court, and just that quickly my life changed. I felt invigorated because I had just scored three points instead of two. I don’t know why that mattered, but boy in that moment, it was all that mattered. From that moment on, much to the chagrin of my high school coaches, I never wanted to shoot any other shot ever again. Two games into my junior season, my coach nicknamed me The Mad Bomber, which got shortened to Bomber as the season went along. And it was a name I wore with pride.
It’s crazy how those moments stick with you. I don’t know what role that shot played in some aspects of my later life decisions, but I do know that a belief of, “let’s let it fly and see what happens” is something I have internalized. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always go that route. My wife will tell you I am one of the most non-spontaneous people she knows. But I don’t mind taking on a challenge, or something new that I have never done before, if for no other reason than to see if I can do it. And I think the positive reinforcement I received from that shot at that point in my life is at least a small part of the reason why.
However, despite all the glowing memories I have associated with that moment, I have since soured somewhat on youth athletics over the years. I don’t like the aggrandizement of the individual that has seeped down from above into high school level sports. I don’t like the financial strain imposed upon parents if they want their child to be involved in certain sports (See: Club sports). And (bias alert) as a parent of some children who have no interest in sports, it is frustrating to me the level of support athletics receives in some of our schools in relation to academics.
Nevertheless, all my frustrations momentarily flew out the window this last Saturday morning.
My daughter, Kate, is a fourth-grader, and she LOVES basketball. Not kinda loves, I mean REALLY loves basketball. I suppose that’s how I ended up coaching her basketball team this year. Our town runs a league for 5th and 6th graders, but they will allow 4th graders to play if a parent coaches.
Let’s be very clear here. I do not aspire to be a basketball coach. I do not aspire to get up twice a week at 5:30 in the morning in order to be at practice with nine little girls who after six weeks are still struggling with the concept of a lay-up. I don’t aspire to any of it. But she’s cute and I love her so…whatcha gonna do.
For almost two months we’ve been practicing. As you can probably imagine, Kate is not the best player on a team with girls where she is the youngest player by far. But she works hard and I’m proud of her. However, as a dad, I’ve really wanted her to at least have a moment of success and get the chance to score.
Well, Saturday, that chance came. All the planets aligned and the ball fell into her hands on the right side of the basket and her defender was about…five feet away. She dribbled it twice toward the basket, as I recall, and then…let it fly. It went through the hoop and it gave our team the lead. For as long as I live, the memory of what happened next will hold a special place in my heart. She looked stunned, but she still managed to throw her fist into the air in triumph. And smile? I’ve never seen her smile bigger. She was so excited I had to remind her to run back down the court to get set on defense.
It was awesome!!!
It was worth every ridiculous pre-dawn practice. It was worth every lost Saturday morning for two months. It was worth everything. For the next two days, if anyone mentioned her shot, that same beaming smile would appear on her face just as broad as it had been when it happened. It was a good moment for her. Hopefully one that will give her the confidence to work harder and do more.
And I’m so glad I got to be there to see it. Because in that moment, it made me fall in love with youth sports all over again. I haven’t forgotten all the things I don’t care for, but suddenly they didn’t bother me quite so bad. For a fleeting second, all the emotions I experienced as a kid came flooding back and I was reminded again why it is we do this sort of thing. It was good.
So thank you, Kate. Thank you for letting me relive the memory of one of my life’s great moments. Thank you for letting me be a part of one of yours. More than anything, thank you for being a fabulous daughter. And God, thank You for letting me be her dad. It’s been a pleasure that even manages to surpass the joy of scoring a first basket. Which trust me, is pretty hard to top.