Tuesday, February 19, 2008

So there we were, down by twenty-four points in the fourth period of a playoff game nobody picked us to win anyway.

“There’s still time!” people shouted, while a chant of, “We believe!” went up all around me.

I looked at my daughter, sitting on the bench, her warm up jersey still on. At that moment she glanced over her shoulder at me and I gave her a slight nod of encouragement that was meant to say, keep your head up, support your team.

Suddenly, our star player, who hadn’t made a single free throw up to that point, got HOT. She hit a three point shot, followed by several consecutive free throws. A teammate also hit a three. Two more made quick baskets. Unbelievably, the score was cut to nine in a matter of minutes. With just under two to play, our players started fouling to stop the clock. Failed free throw attempts led to us getting the rebounds and scoring four quick points.

I glanced at the clock. A minute eleven. By now, the opposing crowd had forgotten their cocky chant and began to grumble restlessly. Our fans, energized by the quick turn of events, began screaming. Others simply held their hands over their mouths, afraid to cheer, afraid to watch.

Another basket, another foul. The other team scores, but we come quickly back. Now, with less than five seconds left to play, we are down by two. Our star inbounds the ball, they pass it back to her. She gets as close as she can to our goal before time runs out, barely over the half court line, and launches a shot. A collective gasp sucks all of the air from the gym. The ball bounces, hits the rim, teeters on the edge…and falls out. The opposing side screams. Their fans, cheerleaders, players and coaches stream onto the court while we watch helplessly.

And then…

We see the star on the floor, a player from the opposing team on top of her. A referee is frantically blowing his whistle and trying to signal something. I stare. Could it be? It is. A foul he gestures, and holds up three fingers. My gaze flies to the clock. One second left.

It takes a moment for the officials and coaches to clear the floor. Everyone must move back into the stands. Our star steps to the free throw line. She’s nervous. I can see her chest heaving from where I stand. Across the gym, fans from the opposing team begin jeering, trying to distract her.

She makes the first shot. We cheer, they jeer.

She makes the second shot. Ecstatic now, we grasp the hand of the person next to us and hold them over our heads. The star steps to the line for her third shot, but then has to back away. She’s not ready. She wipes her hands down her sweat dampened shorts, draws a deep breath, and resumes her stance at the line. The referee passes her the ball. She concentrates, bends her knees and shoots.

For a split-second, three thousand pairs of eyes watch as the ball seems to hover in the air. I feel the stands shudder under me as the noise reaches deafening proportions. No net. No rim. Just…swoosh.

Our team erupts. They jump to their feet, screaming, crying, slapping each other on the back. Across the way, the opposing fans are stunned. They watch, mouths agape, eyes rounded and disbelieving.

And then I see it. I can’t believe what is happening. “Don’t,” I whisper, but it’s too late. One official is talking to our coach, and then he raises one hand and tops it with the other to form a T.

Technical foul, on a call rarely made in high school basketball, or even college ball. The referee is giving the bench a technical foul for standing up.

My anger explodes. “You had the game won,” I scream at the coach. “Why didn’t you warn your players?” People around pause in their celebration to see what I am yelling about. Suddenly, they, like me, understand.

A player from the opposing team steps to the line. She misses the first shot. There is hope! She makes the second shot. We go into overtime.

I wish I could say this story has a happy ending. At the final buzzer, we were down 71-65. It is a game I’m sure few will forget for many months to come. But years? In the frame of a lifetime, it is a very small thing to lose a basketball game, no matter how important it was on the day it was played. Still, there is something to be said for life and basketball. Both are seldom fair. Both seldom have the outcome you expect. And yet, they are both startlingly similar. It’s hard work. There are wins and there are losses. Always, there is a next time.

As my daughter left the locker room, she had a smile on her face. I was surprised by that. She’s competitive, like me, and she never likes to lose. I wrap her in a hug. “Are you okay?” I whisper in her ear.

“Yeah,” she whispers back. “I wish I could ride home with you. I’ve got so much homework to do.”

How wise, this daughter of mine. She is not concerned with the failure of today, only with the outcome of tomorrow.

I was so proud.


Janelle said...

Wow, Lisa. Terrific post. You had me right there at the game. But your ending was the best. Incredible.

Susan Downs said...

As if I didn't have enough stress in my life to make me nervous! Your blog post brought back every buzzer-beater moment I endured as a basketballer's mom.
Isn't it heartwarming, though, to see our children developing into mature adults and taking to heart the lessons they learn through sports. Your daughter is "getting it!" And I can feel your pride.
Thanks for sharing this slice of your life with us, Lisa.

CHickey said...

I played basketball in high school and now my son plays. There's nothing like the excitement. The squeal of rubber shoes on wood, the thud of a bouncing ball, the roar of a crowd. Your post had me totally hooked.

Marcia Gruver said...

Wow, Lisa. I was THERE. Thanks for the riveting blow-by-blow. I’ve been to games like that— only football instead of basketball.

I've often thought if the parents would learn to take their cues from their wonderful kids we'd all be better off.

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

I know, Marcia! After hollering till I'm hoarse, I have to admit, I was a little humbled by Abby's calm matter-of-fact words.

Eileen said...

Well, my my. I was gasping in the grip of the story! Good going. And what a wise daughter you're raising. Give her a high-five!

Ane Mulligan said...

Whew! That's why I don't watch basketball - WAY too much stress! LOL You had me right there with you, though.

And you're right, it is much like life. Great kid you've raised, Lisa. Great post!

And I love the cover of Where the Truth Lies.

Sandra Robbins said...

Good post, Lisa. You should be very proud of your daughter for her attitude. But we know she wouldn't have such wisdom if it weren't for the fact she has a mother who is teaching her the principles that will best serve her in life.


Janet Rubin said...

Hey Lisa!Losing one game. Maybe that's like getting a story rejected. Best to shrug it off and get back to home work!

Kelly Klepfer said...

Great story, Lisa!

Thanks for sharing.

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