I stood crying in the hallway after receiving some bad news from the coach. Bouncing basketballs could be heard within the gym.
Only a short time ago I was a rising star on my school’s basketball team.
Sports always have helped me make a smoother transition into the various schools I’ve attended. So it was no surprise that I decided to try out for the Fort Riley Junior High basketball team. Although I was not a good basketball player, I was an athlete. I could run and jump with the best of my teammates but I lacked the polished basketball skills. My entire life, my father only focused on football. He considered any other sport a waste of time. What little basketball I knew was self-taught, and apparently I was a pretty poor teacher.
I made the team, but my unpolished skills placed me pretty low on the depth chart. This situation didn’t faze me, because as I stated I never considered myself a good basketball player. The main objective was to help me fit in at my new school, a mission that was nearly aborted when I discovered that all my teammates were getting matching shoes. Money was very tight for my parents following our move back to America. When I asked my mom for the new shoes, she promised to think about it and see what she and my dad could do. That statement didn’t fill me with much hope.
Even after making the team, it appeared that I was still going to be an outcast. I tried my best to explain this to mom without pressing too much. To press too much in those days could cause a person to get into trouble. I didn’t want any trouble. I just wanted some new shoes. I guess she must have felt my pain, because as soon as they were able, my parents purchased the coveted shoes.
I wore them instantly and constantly. I was not ashamed to place the old tennis shoes inside the box and walk out of the store in my new Dr. J’s, which were shoes named after former ABA and NBA star Julius Erving.
Maybe it was all in my mind, as I now know that the mind can be a powerful thing. Or perhaps it was the shoes. Whatever the case, my ability to play basketball improved once I got those new shoes. With each passing game I saw an increase in my playing time. As my playing time increased, however, the playing time of others decreased. One such individual devised a plan of envy and betrayal to rival Shakespeare’s Iago, Claudius and Brutus.
When I was not in the game, I was on the bench along with all the other players. The teammate started by planting seeds of his discontent in my mind. I found myself half nodding and half paying attention without ever really fully understanding him at first. Over time through his constant words, his discontent somehow became my discontent. It was so subtle I never really saw it coming. Before I knew what happened, I had quit the team with some vague plan about our hanging out together.
Instead of going to basketball practice that afternoon, I walked home. When I got home, I found my mom in the kitchen.
“Why are you home so early,” she asked without hesitation.
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind storm clouds lifted and the clear thoughts came forward. I found myself repeating, “Why are you home?” Try as I might I could find no good answer.
“Uhhh…I quit,” I replied sheepishly.
I was ashamed of myself before my words even reached her ears.
My mind was clicking on all cylinders now. “Oh my gosh!” I thought. “This is bad.”
“You mean you asked me to buy shoes we could not afford for you to play a sport, and then you quit? Boy, if you don’t get your behind back…”
Her words faded in sound and fury as I raced out the door. I don’t know what she said after that. I filled in the blanks using context clues, but I was pretty certain that I needed to be somewhere else at that moment making things right. As I previously stated, Dad didn’t care for basketball, but he cared even less about quitters.
I ran the entire distance back to the school. I wished I had the wisdom to just go inside the gym and dress late for practice. I could have said I wasn’t feeling well or had class work to do.
Instead, I confessed to my coach. Rather than understanding, he made my quitting official. He said he felt I needed to learn a lesson about being a follower.
He was right.
As it is in scripture so it is in life, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”