The floor is shiny blonde hardwood, with the high school’s mascot painted in royal blue and daffodil yellow — my son calls it gold but it’s daffodil yellow to me — the bleachers are also blue, but not quite the same hue. They’re more of a little-kid-swimming-pool blue. The basketball players’ shoes squeak loudly, not as piercing as the refs’ whistles but on the same high-pitched wavelength.
I’ve arrived late to this first home game, having left my writing group early to speed across our small community on a chilly night, my headlights sparking light from the reflective dividers on the four-lane bypass. The lady selling tickets at the folding table nods me in. “There’s only two minutes left,” she says, counting the ones into a neat stack, orienting all the bills so that George Washington’s head faces to her left.
The gym is warm compared to the hallway; the court’s boundary line is painted only six feet from the doorway and I take the first seat I can, courtside, near a handful of fellow Bruin parents. The young men are pounding down the floor to the basket, sweat-slicked and panting. The opposing team fouls one of our guys and they both crash to the floor.
I twist my neck to sneak a peek at the score. Our team has lost every game this season save a final consolation game at a tournament. Usually the losses are by 20+ points. I’ll learn after the game that tonight’s opponent won the state championship last year, but I don’t yet know this. All I know is that they have a young man on their team who looks to be at least twelve inches taller than our tallest player. Holy cow! He’s HUGE! We must be lagging.
But the board’s chunky digits read HOME 43, VISITOR 40. Wow. We get a couple more points with the free throws; the other team lollops down the court and scores a three. I’m no sportswriter so long story short: at the final buzzer, the game is tied, 47-47. Overtime.
The tall youth from the other team gets the tipoff, passes it to a teammate. And then the teammate … dribbles. And dribbles. And dribbles.
Dribble is a good word for this team’s strategy of running down the clock. The second definition of dribble in my “very large dictionary” is “to slaver, as a child or an idiot; to drivel.” Definition #3: “To pass one’s time in a trivial fashion.”
Here we have a court full of passion, young men running themselves to their limits, learning how to be an effective team. We have coaches trying strategies, imagining plays, encouraging and demanding in turn. Parents driving kids to practice, bolstering morale, challenging their kids’ assumptions, supporting them. Everyone is putting in overtime in one sense or another.
And the other team stands there. Dribbling. Per the coach’s direction, I’m sure.
Remember, I don’t actually care about sports that much (as in: at all). But my hands started to shake, and my belly went into squirrelly knots. Play the game! You’re on the court! You’re able to run and jump and pass the ball and leap and think and yell and high five and turn on a dime and juke the other guy out: you are playing an exciting game at a level the vast majority of us NEVER did or will do. PLAY!
As the dribbling edged into its third minute, I pulled my little notebook out of my purse and commenced scribbling. From what I can read of those scrawls today, the gist is: here before us we have, essentially, everything one could wish for. Healthy kids, a great facility, an exciting, well-matched game in a safe community — no matter who wins or loses, we’ll most of us go to bed with full bellies in heated homes with hot water for showers. We have every advantage ever known to humanity.
This approach to the game, I jotted in my shaking hand, is the Root of All Evil! Coaches, mentors, adults training our youth to use the loopholes to make nooses for the other guy. Stretching the technicality into a misshapen manifestation of the spirit of the rules. Think the mortgages/securities/financial industries schemes. Take the exception and use it for all it’s worth, screw the context, screw the other guy. Play it as safe as possible. Be comfortable. Don’t risk. Don’t engage in the game.
Sort of like my “safe” writing. Don’t say that, s/he’s still alive. Don’t imagine that, it’d cost too much money. You can’t write about that, you’re too old to count.
This particular basketball game ended with (poetic) justice. In the second overtime (my shaky hands began to sweat profusely), our team scrambled and gained control of the ball after the tipoff. We didn’t stand there dribbling. We took it down the court. We pressed. We jumped. We passed. We rebounded.