Overtime: A Basketball Parable
On the surface this is a simple story about a high school basketball coach, all about winning and taking his team to the state tournament and setting him on a career path to coaching big-time college ball. But it is truly a parable, as the title says. A simple story that carries deeper and multiple meanings.
Coach is sitting on a bench beside a neighborhood basketball court, off kilter, the baskets crooked, the asphalt cracked. The premise, which you learn on page one: Coach is dead. Unable to move from his bench, in a purgatorial setting, every night at dusk he must watch two of his former players—Sparks, who had a brilliant long shot just before the 3-point rule, and Murphy, talented but totally egotistical — as Murphy feeds Sparks the ball and Sparks misses every shot.
The story begins when young Danny Kelso comes to the court before the high school tryouts where Coach will unfairly cut him, putting his own ambitions before his players’. Kelso can see him and it appears that the coach has the chance to right the old wrong and coach Kelso onto the team. But that would be an obvious plot and this book is not obvious.
As the coach remembers his career, players, games, women, he tries to understand why he must watch Sparks and Murphy, why Kelso is there, and his stories lead him to his own failings and failures, the losses of games and people, and the choices he made driven by ambition and self-righteous assurance.
Overtime is set in a quasi-fictional West Virginia, some places actual – Charleston and Morgantown – and others not – Walhonde High School where he coaches or the teams they play. Pistol Pete Maravich, a legendary player in the 1970s, has a small but starring role.
Reading a parable, one might fear that meanings will be forced or conclusions required. I put off reading the last 20 pages for fear it would end that way. Instead, the last scene is one of true delight and laugh out loud joy.