How a Game Can Save a Life

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It was the 5th grade I remember it like it was yesterday, times were hard I had just moved to a new area again and didn’t know anyone. I was sitting on the front steps just looking out watching some of the other kids playing. It was there I saw the simplest thing that would surely change my life forever. A kid a couple years older than me had this basketball and dribbled it between his legs. Sounds so simple but to me it was a light switch. I knew instantly that was something I needed to try; I walked over to the kid and asked if he would show me how to do it. I remember him kind of laughing at me not knowing I was serious. He did more than try to show me he lent me his basketball for the night (which turned into weeks) and I slowly learned to do it. I was hooked so quickly, every time I held that basketball I was happy, I wasn’t the shy undersized picked on white boy. The best way to put it would be to say I was focused 100 percent only on the task of dribbling the basketball nothing on the outside mattered. Not only did it not matter it was almost irrelevant.

The next year outside of school was one of the hardest in my life. I had been bullied badly by a kid named Willy. Don’t let people fool you being bullied even when it’s not physical can be a lonely painful experience. I was still a tiny white boy in a poor neighborhood in an even poorer excuse for a school. Things escalated to a point where I was being half hung a second floor window just for sheer kicks. Nothing I could do he was massive compared to me. I would go home cry, fight with my mom not to go to school. At this point getting my hands on a basketball was hard we didn’t have the money and we had moved away from my old friend. I was still way too shy to go to outdoor courts and play instead I would look on from where I hoped people couldn’t see me. I would watch tendencies try to pick up on what the best players liked to do. Halfway thru the school year I finally told my mom about what had been going on. Willy had really roughed up a kid that stuck up for me and I couldn’t stand the guilt of knowing his pain was caused by me. My mom would immediately transfer me to another school.

This school had a basketball team and no tryouts everyone that wanted on would make the team. Shy as I was I was going to play on this team. It ended up being a funny kind of season looking back; we forfeited games due to not enough players or the coach not showing up. We didn’t even win a single game but it was so much fun. I had never pushed myself so hard for anything in my life and I was determined to get better using every second of practice time they would give me. I’d like to say I used the anger over the bullying to play better but that wasn’t the case I. It was more like every second I wasn’t on the court I was feeling the pain of the world around me, I needed to be on that court to forget to get away to get back my sanity I felt was slipping away.

Not much change between there and high school, I kept working hard I was feeling better. I played on a couple more teams. I was becoming the kid who always smiles and laughs things were becoming harder and harder to affect me. High school became a different challenge. My mom was drinking heavily her and my sister fought a lot the bullying was back, only almost all verbal now. I was poor wore old clothes and got made fun of a lot. I thought I could make it all go away by playing for another team only I was too old for the 14 and under league and failed to make the high school team. That team was already handpicked with players I saw regularly in my gym class. This was the year however I found my competitive streak. I could dribble the ball but was still short so I spent every day trying to jump higher first trying to reach the net then the backboard even trying to reach the rim. I was only 5 feet tall so that was no easy task.

I spent the better part of high school coming out of my shell basketball had led me to a lot of close friends it was giving me the confidence to stand up to the bullies and dish a little verbal warfare back at them. I was playing in three on three tournaments with a couple of close friends we weren’t winning but the experiences were priceless. By the end of high school despite having to work full time while going to school i was getting good. I became almost oblivious to the torments of the outside world with few exceptions. My mother walking out and her drinking were the only ones I had trouble with. Even those would slowly waste away while I was on the court. In my junior year I would go to school go straight to the park play for hour go to work go home then play again till about 3 am at a church. I think I got myself to a point I was so tried I couldn’t pay attention to my problems if I wanted to.

By senior year of high school I had grown to be about 5’9 most bullying was done was still not the most handsome guy but kids didn’t bother saying stuff to me I think they knew it didn’t bother me at this point. Life was good I could beat almost everyone I knew so people I would even let hang around so they would keep playing me. I could dunk although just barely and I would practice dribbling constantly while not on the court. But the greatest thing to me was defense. Stopping someone blocking a shot gave me this feeling of power knowing I had control, maybe it had something to do with the bullying growing up but I didn’t care why I was just happy and felt in so much control esp. with defense.

In 2001 my dedication took a serious hit I was working for a toy company and got in a forklift accident. My foot had got caught between dock doors and the forklift itself. I knew it was hurt real bad but was just thinking broken bones. It wasn’t till I was being wheeled off ambulance into hospital that it hit me. I asked the nurse so how long do you think I’m out for how bad is it. She looked at me in amazement I’ll never forget that look. Like she knew her answer would be crushing. She said “there’s a chance you’ll be able to keep a toe or two” the pain overcame me at that point and I broke down I couldn’t help but think the only things ever to give me solace had been taken away by a machine.

I was in that hospital for a week had 3 surgeries was told possible all my toes would heal I was sent home for a month to see if toes were healing and had a nurse coming daily to change the bandages. It was a very hard month I couldn’t do anything moving hurt standing was utterly painful I couldn’t rehab nothing but waiting. After a month a saw doctor for him to tell me we might be able to save a toe baby toe but no guaranties you wouldn’t need another surgery after to remove that. I asked the same question I asked the nurse when can I play again he wasn’t nearly as nice he simply said you will never play competitive basketball again. Almost immediately I said take all 5 toes one surgery I want one surgery. I knew then not only would I play again I would play competitive I would be as good as I was before. There was a 3 on 3 tournament I was not going to miss is was 5 months away and this would become my goal. Once again I would use basketball to make the pain of life easier.

5 months of pain more pain than I thought was possible. I rarely took pain medication it made me tired and I couldn’t focus when tired. I rehabbed when I could watched as much basketball as possible trying to figure out how nba players esp. older ones made up for being a step slower I learned how to take better angles how to read what people were doing and how they would guard people. In that 5th month I played I remember getting torched in the last game of the weekend my stubbornness had not let me switch off of a much faster player I just couldn’t cut with him. I had played my heart out but we only managed to go 2-4. But the wins and losses didn’t matter the pain I felt after didn’t matter, only two things mattered one my friends accepted losing because they cared more for me than the game. Two  I had got that feeling back I had played in a competitive game defying the odds at that moment I knew I would be okay I knew regardless of what was in front of me I would be ok.

My life has carried many things in it I have broken my nose fractured fingers been bullied had 12 hour ear surgery (cyst behind eardrum) lost half a foot. But through all this I was able to keep a smile on my face all due to this great “game” called basketball

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