Welcome to the chapter-by-chapter presentation of my new novel, Overtime: A Basketball Parable.
This is the second day of this experiment, so today you are getting chapter two. If you haven’t read chapter one yet, just go back one post on this blog to last night’s entry.
Happy reading. Comments and “likes” are most welcome.
Overtime: A Basketball Parable
But on this sunny afternoon in early autumn a kid comes charging onto the court from around the far corner of the building. He is tossing a basketball into the air in front of him and running to catch it and then high-dribbling as if leading the Carolina Tarheels onto the court before the game with Duke. Dreaming. I would guess him to be fourteen or fifteen years old. A freshman or sophomore. It is very satisfying to once more look directly at a kid playing and put all the old assessment skills to work. I have him sized up in ten minutes. This kid is nothing to get excited about. He’s five-eleven, maybe, and slight of build. I’d get ten like him every year. Good kids, a lot of them, but with nothing really exceptional in the way of talent, size or strength. In a down year, I’d keep one like him, and every now and then one of those would actually develop to the point where he could contribute in some way or another before he’d graduate. Once in a while one of them would figure out how to play defense and give me a few good minutes of decent play to let me rest a starter. Once in a while one of them would develop a passable jump shot.
But it is a cinch that this kid would not be one of them. He shows me absolutely no discipline or drive as he spends the afternoon before me. He’s just goofing around, involved in his own last-second dramas. You know, the “three, two, one” count and then the buzzer-beating twenty-footer.
Although it’s the first time I’ve seen him, it’s obvious that this kid has played on this court before. He stays at the basket on my end of the court. The rim on this end is too low – maybe six inches too low – and is bent down at the left front so that a shot from that side can practically be thrown straight into the basket. And that’s what this kid does. From the same spot on the court every time, three, two, one, and then the throw and the sound of the net.
Guys like this, with no special skill, no great speed or size, how do they think they’ll ever make a team without working to do something – anything – better than the next guy? There are only fifteen spots on the biggest high-school rosters. In any given year, at least six or seven of those spots are pretty much taken by upperclassmen – kids who played some last year. One or two spots will go to new kids who are six-three or over or who show some exceptional speed or strength. That leaves six or seven spots on the longest of benches for the rest of the fifty or sixty kids who will try out to shoot for. You mark my words, this kid will be out for a team somewhere in a few weeks and when he is cut, he’ll wonder why, think it was unfair and wonder what he possibly could have done differently.
This guy could start by running the court and pushing himself into something like game shape. Even if he can’t score, if he can outrun enough guys during tryout drills and has the stamina to keep up with the pace of the scrimmage games, he’d have a chance. But he doesn’t have the slightest notion of what’s coming. Again, three, two one and another fifteen-foot throw into the skewed basket.
In my day I would not have wasted ten minutes on this kid. I’ve seen too many just like him. He has some physical potential, but he’ll never reach it. He’ll never go all out. If he was going to have a chance to make my team, he would already be more serious about his time on the court. He would already have profited from some coaching, would know more about his own strengths and limitations and what he’d have to overcome and who he’d have to beat out to make the team. He would come to the court with definite ideas about what he wanted to accomplish; what he needed to improve and he’d set about doing it. This guy is definitely not one of mine.
But, as it is, I am a captive audience. From where I sit, he is the only game in town and as close as I have gotten in these long months to seeing anything that would engage me on this end of the court. Of course, I see Mark Sparks every night, but I have grown used to the idea that the far end of the court is off-limits to me and ever shall be. Even though I am still stationary and still invisible, the proximity of this kid to where I sit and his presence here in broad daylight makes me believe or at least hope that I might break through to him somehow. He walks onto and off of the court – there is nothing ghostly, no fade-in or disappearing with him. I don’t have any memory of this guy, either. The rules that apply to him might be different. And so everything about him that would have put me off before is nothing to me now. And my mind reels with all that I would say to him and all that I would have him do if he could hear and see me.
Before the sun starts to set on this clear afternoon, he dribbles away from the court and around the corner of the schoolhouse. He disappears, but for a few more moments I hear his slow dribble fading down the long street.
I could help this kid. And the possibility of some real interaction with a human being; someone who is not a part of my sad history; the possibility of actually doing some good; awakens so much in me that I have to work to suppress or I cannot rest.