Overtime: A Basketball Parable (chapter 32)

Here is the concluding chapter to my book.  I hope you have enjoyed reading this.  I’d appreciate any feedback.  You can buy the book by clicking here.


BUT THE NEXT MORNING, the crew is back and with an asphalt paving machine and a roller.   The new surface is still steaming, but complete and leveled before the men break for lunch. They drive the greasy heavy equipment away and I look over this beautiful surface, level and even, and wish someone had done this while it was still a basketball court.

Before the week is out the lines are repainted.   The baselines, the lanes, the foul circles, the mid-court circle, the three-point parabolas. Then come the new goals. Glass backboards, set on state-of-the-art standards that slant away from the court, squared to the baselines, rims level and precisely ten feet high. And then light standards, like something you’d see in Yankee Stadium.

The first evening after the new court is completed my mood is lighter. I have no expectation of further engagement with anyone. I sense, and want to believe, that the matters that I have been set here for are all resolved. But this new facility is perfect and it will draw players, surely, and I will at least have something to watch. I wonder how the new light standards will be monitored. Will they come on automatically, every evening, like the school’s lights?

As the evening sky darkens, it wakes in me the memory of Sparks and Murphy here and the unending stream of missed shots. I entertain the first notion that I would like to have that drama back, just for the company. But that sentiment does not last long. It is good that it is finished. I want no more ghosts.

And then Murphy appears.   He is alone by the far basket and dressed in new basketball gear, in keeping, I guess, with the new facility. He squares up in the corner and fires a three and it rips the net, the first shot through the new goal. Murphy never took a shot while he was rebounding for Sparks all those nights and I am now surprised at the perfection of his form. I don’t remember him being a particularly good shooter, even in his day. He was not the kind of kid who would take the time to develop something that had not been pure gift. He takes the ball again and again lines up at twenty feet and shoots and hits so perfectly that the net barely shakes. In five minutes, he makes fifteen in a row.

Then I know that I am not at peace. My heart is full of hatred.   I resent this kid or man or whatever he is. As he makes shot after shot, bitterness rises in me. I resent that he is free as he is, that he has such gifts, that he has suffered nothing for the havoc he has worked in the lives of others – Sparks, Sherry Johnson, Lanny Stephen’s church, the missions that might have been the beneficiaries of the money he stole from the offering plate, me.   And I know that this shooting will go on, evening by evening, as long as I let it – as long as I sit and do not act. I must somehow resolve this. But how? With Kelso, I knew, at bottom, that I was at fault and that my dealings with him involved an injustice that affected him for years and me for nearly a decade.

My problems with Sparks, even if not all of my own making, were nonetheless obvious to me. They had haunted me, less graphically, maybe, all of my later life. Even if I was not primarily at fault; even if my face-to-face dealings with Sparks could be justified; I knew I had wronged him. But I never wronged Murphy. He was too smart and too clever to have ever given me the chance.

But he goes on shooting and hitting baskets and he is more fluid, more controlled and far more accurate than I remember him. It occurs to me now that I may never have assessed him fairly. Maybe that is what’s left. Maybe I hated him so much from the first that I never gave Murphy the chance he should have gotten. Even though my case against him for everything that came later is, I remain convinced, fully justified, maybe my error came first. Maybe at the very first I hated him for the wrong reasons. I could have been jealous of his effortlessness, his immediate comprehension and digestion of every complex scheme I could dream up, his good looks.

But, even so, what can I possibly owe him? He had everything that I could have given him – a spot on the team, playing time – and he had it all when he wanted it and when it mattered. He was Kelso’s opposite. He never wanted – or, in his own very words – “needed,” basketball or me.

But I am done with my own judgment and my own understanding. I have learned and accepted that what is before me is there for a reason. I am supposed to engage with life and to do justice and to reconcile.

And so I stand up from this bench that has held me these many evenings. I hate what I am doing, but I know that I can no longer be ruled by hate. Hate can no longer limit or influence me. My steps are heavy, laborious, but sure. I have no idea what I will say or what I might do, but I walk toward the far end of the court – toward Murphy.

Or, to that man whom I believed was Murphy. In two or three steps, my vision is cleared and I see that the shooter is not Murphy at all. The tall, mustachioed player looks at me and smiles and takes the ball and spins it and catches it on the tip of his finger and it rotates there like the Earth on its axis.

Hey, Carl. Pistol Pete yells to me. Remember this?

I can’t take another step. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I say. I remember.

Hey, Pistol. I’ve enjoyed watching you these nights. I would have enjoyed it more if I had known it was you.

Yeah. Great thing, these lights. Frees me up to run the whole court.


I don’t ask why anymore.

Where am I, Pistol? What brought this about?

We’re in West Virginia and this new court was paid for by some doctor.


Yeah. That’s the name I heard. Kinda weird. Guy spent fifty thousand dollars on the place. Its not done yet. There’s going to be a scoreboard and a clock. Don’t know why. The guy doesn’t even live around here any more. And he never played basketball.

Danny Kelso? Oh, yes he did. Played a little while for me. Went on to other things. Other priorities. Had some good possibilities as a player, though. Some real possibilities.

copyright 2015

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