FRONT PORCH GOSPEL: The shot
This week I want to give you a breather and just tell you a story. I will tell you from the start that I may get in trouble for it. Go ahead and bank on it. Or, as I told my ballplayers through the years: Put it in your notebook.
The trouble won’t come from just one side. No, arrows are liable to come flying around like they did at the Battle of Little Big Horn. A man who is an atheist is going to say, “Do you really believe all of that?” I had a similar response from an atheist this past week.
On the other side, though, a man who espouses faith will say, “Do you really believe God cares about whether a ball goes through the hoop or not?” I’ve heard that type of thing, too.
But, listen: This shot to which we are referring was not just a run-of-the mill shot. It is a classic moment in a certain writer’s biography – or autobiography, I guess – and the story has to be told – arrows flying all around, or not.
The occasion is my last home game before I closed out a three-decade career of coaching basketball. After over a thousand games, it came down to this: One last game on that Red-Oak-Hawks home floor against our nemesis from five miles north of us – Lancaster.
Despite the Tigers’ talent, my young men stood toe-to-toe with them all night. We trailed for most of the evening but took the lead late; and – with 20 seconds left – we clung precariously to a 3-point lead.
The Tigers, though – on an inbound play under their basket – got a man loose in the corner; and, naturally, his shot was nothing but net. By the time the net swished, the clock had ticked down nearly to ten seconds, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Through the years I always tried to hang onto one time-out for such a time as this – but on this night I had to use them early.
The kids, though, seemed unfazed at the big moment. They inbounded the ball quickly but found themselves in the face of the tough Lancaster full-court press, preventing them from getting up the floor quickly.
The inbound came in to one of my guards, and he reversed it back to the in-bounder, a junior named Jalen, as we looked for an open pass down the floor. One of those two back-court players should have been my little freshman point guard Mark Boson; but, instead – and I still do not know why – young Mark took off down the right side-line and filled the shooting guard’s lane. After the ball reversal, Jalen spotted Mark open down the sideline and sent a two-handed chest pass diagonally to young Mark thirty-feet from the basket with only a couple of seconds left.
I remember thinking that Mark had time to take a dribble or two to get within shooting range. But, instead, the young freshman, who was not a particularly good shooter, caught the ball and slung it up in one quick motion. I knew there was no chance of that ball going in because – after coaching more than a thousand games – I had never won a game with a “Hail Mary.”
I stood on the sideline with a grimace, watching that ball sail and thinking about overtime. The ball, it seemed, floated in slow motion, just as it did in that last shot in the great movie “Hoosiers.” After an hour or so, it seemed, the shot started descending toward the basket, and I thought, “Hm, maybe Mark is a better shooter than I thought." It seemed to have a chance. Then, everything resumed to full speed; and, in the very next life-frame, that ball kissed off of the glass soft as a whisper.
The kids thronged young Mark, but I could only smile and glance up. It was over – not just the game but a thirty-year career. For it all to end that way, you can only smile.
In all of those years, I never felt that the Lord gave me any particular advantage, even though – I admit – in my time I prayed a lot during some high-pressure free-throws from my small sideline prayer-box. But, for the most part, the biggest advantage the Lord gave seemed to be in providing the strength and determination needed to fight unto the final buzzer – at least, as far as I could tell.
But this night was different. I cannot help but feel the Lord had to be kind of guiding that ball toward the goal. I've wondered if He didn't whisper "Glass!" as it glanced off the backboard. In His plan, He seemed to want to put His special stamp on a long, exciting career. His stamp, a kiss off the glass.
But for all the growling skeptics, maybe it is true that the Lord didn't smile down on that rainbow shot that night at all. Maybe it was just our time. But this I know: He didn’t reach down and swat it away, either.
Steven was a long-time Red Oak teacher and coach and now is a full-time writer and preacher of the gospel. In addition to his travels, he works and writes for the Church of Christ of Red Oak at Uhl Road and Ovilla. Their worship times are 10 a.m. Sundays and 7:30 pm. Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text 972-824-5197.