I really can’t pinpoint when my love for the game of basketball began. Maybe the love began during one of those Saturday afternoons spent at the school playground with my parents and siblings playing endless games of H-O-R-S-E and knockout. Being the youngest, the family usually agreed to give me a second chance after each shot I missed. I didn’t want that second chance. I wanted to make it on the first try like everyone else was required to do.
I can remember coming home from school and practicing everyday simply so my family wouldn’t think I needed extra chances to make shots. Eventually the family realized they had better stop giving me second tries, or I would end up winning every game.
Perhaps the love began in the driveway of the parsonage where we lived. I remember watching my dad put up our first basketball goal and thinking that my life would never be the same. In that driveway, my brother, Jeremy, took it upon himself to be my first personal coach. There were consequences for me for each missed shot and reprimands when I took too long to learn a new move. I often had bruises on my arms because he refused to take it easy on me even though I was a girl.
On that driveway, Jeremy convinced me that I needed to shoot at least 100 free throws a day so that I could be a superior free throw shooter like Larry Bird. Hours and hours were spent on that driveway with Jeremy teaching me my high school signature ‘James Worthy’ drop step move.
When I went off to college, one of my parent’s neighbors told them that she sure missed listening to the bouncing ball each night. I’m sure there were other neighbors who were very excited to experience quiet evenings on Circle Drive for the first time since the Higle’s moved in twelve years prior.
Maybe my love for basketball began when high school basketball coaches started taking interest in me when I was in elementary school. I would go watch my sister’s high school practices after school and sneak over to one of the side goals to shoot. Eventually I was even invited to help out in practices and it was a dream come true.
I know those coaches were praying that that fifth grader would get the height of her 6’4″ dad, and grow into her size 11 shoes. That little girl was praying the exact same prayer…..for some reason God thought she only needed to reach 5’7½” (which translates to 5’9” on basketball rosters).
No matter where the love began, I was surrounded with people who believed in my abilities and passion and encouraged me to continue to work to be the best player I could be.
Some see sports as something that causes families to be entirely too busy. Indeed that can be true. Some see sports as harmful to the bodies of young people. Heaven knows my knees and shoulders remind me every day of how I overworked them in my childhood.
I don’t know how my parents did it at times. Getting us to practices. Making it to every game. Nursing the countless injuries. I am just beginning my journey of being the parent of athletes and I am already exhausted after only a year.
However, recently I was reminded that the sacrifice is worth all the cost. For a couple of months former high school teammates had been asking me to play in an alumni basketball game. I had some really good excuses for saying no. I have a knee that needs a surgeon’s attention. I hadn’t played a game of basketball since I stepped off the court after my final college game. My son had his own games I didn’t want to miss. I came up with a lot of really good excuses.
However, the night before the alumni game I caved to the pressure and decided to miss my son’s game and make the four-hour trip to my hometown to watch my high school friends play.
The next day, pulling into the parking lot of my high school gym caused childhood memories to flood my mind. In high school I had a ritual that I never told anyone until now. I would pull into the parking lot of the gym and close my eyes visualizing the game ahead as I listened to Michael English sing the song “In Christ Alone.”
As I walked into that gym and heard the crowds cheering, I was overtaken with the lure of the game. I sat and watched my brother Jeremy play and was in awe of how twenty years later he still looked like a gazelle running and leaping across the court. My old teammates must have known that if they could just get me into that gym, that I would not be able to pass up the opportunity to run up and down that court one more time.
Needless to say that afternoon I found myself once again setting screens, diving for loose balls, posting up down low, and taking a few wild shots here and there. Though I think I only made one basket and our team did not win, I do not believe I have ever enjoyed a basketball game quite as much as I did that day.
Driving home the next day, I found myself smiling from ear to ear recounting childhood memories of playing basketball. It was as if for a day I got to step back in time and visit my childhood.
You see, my childhood revolved around pretty much two things: Jesus and basketball.
While other girls filled their minds with thoughts of boys, my mind was consumed with a game. Though it may seem absurd, I felt that boys were simply a huge distraction to my goal of being the best basketball player I could be.
As I drove, I began realizing that basketball was much more than a game to me. God used the game of basketball to teach me to focus my mind on my gifts and talents and using them to bring glory to Him.
Because of my passion for a simple game, I didn’t have the desire to attend parties with friends. It was because of basketball that I didn’t feel lonely when other girls were wearing their boyfriend’s jackets or dreaming about their Friday night date.
When it was time to choose a college, I decided to ‘give up basketball.’ A season ending knee injury during my junior year caused me to realize that God had bigger plans for my life than just being known a star-athlete in a small town. I found myself accepting an academic scholarship to a small private Baptist college five hours from my home where I knew not even one person on campus.
Through a strange course of events, I somehow found myself agreeing to walk on their girl’s basketball team. I thought God had been calling me to give up basketball, but instead He used it once again to direct me to the ministry He had for me on that campus. The next four years were spent with teammates who became some of my dearest friends. I had the privilege of leading them in a Bible study each week in our dorms. Again God used a game to focus my life on using my talents to bring glory to Him.
As I drove home from that alumni basketball game, tears literally began streaming down my face. I began thinking about how God used a silly ball and a net to preserve my life so that He could lead me to the blessed life that I get to now live.
Perhaps I do have to limp around from time to time because of my basketball knees, but I owe a lot to a 28.5 inch in diameter orange ball. It will always be much more than a game to me.