It was the game that mattered

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 8, 2002

The boy’s hands were just big enough.

Friday, March 08, 2002

The boy’s hands were just big enough.

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Some may call it curiosity, others instinct.

But he felt confident enough to graduate from his teddy bear and clutch on to something that felt more comfortable.

The sphere had a faint leathery fragrance, further enhancing its allure. His new friend felt like home, like it belonged.

Soon, the boy began bouncing his friend all over the place. Mom began rolling her eyes, while Dad just sat back with a proud grin.

The consistent thump … thump … thumping of the ball just felt right.

And then, there was just enough practice to hone those skills in the YMCA league. Sure, everyone else was physically on the same playing field. But at the ripe age of seven, it was all about having fun and getting to run around – without getting yelled at.

Competition wasn’t in the boy’s dictionary.

Then came the elementary school games.

They started to mean something for the boy, along with the perplexing sight of seeing girls dressed up in skirts in the school’s colors, waving pom-poms.

The boy suddenly had a vision. "Gee, maybe they’re not so bad after all."

Junior high came next. The boy was frustrated in how some of his teammates (and cheerleaders) were taller than him.

But the constant thump of the ball in the driveway with friends, neighbors and Dad quickly erased those distractions.

Plus, going with Dad to watch the high school varsity boys game was a treat in itself. A bag of popcorn, a Coke and the electricity of the gymnasium were enough memories to keep the boy motivated throughout the summer, long after the season was over.

The boy soon made the junior varsity. Patience and discipline started setting in, along with acne. But it didn’t matter. The game is what was important.

He started to learn about conference play and what home court advantage truly meant. It was exciting, but there wasn’t a sense of finality, of urgency.

Until his senior year.

It was a cold night in March. The boy sat in the lockerroom, only 15 minutes before gametime.

The coach gave his obligatory message about playing hard and working as a team. The sermon once again rang through the boy’s head.

He knew a chance existed that this could be his last game. Staring at the concrete floor, hands folded, it didn’t cross the boy’s mind that he was on the verge of becoming a man.

The game is what mattered.

All the time in the gym, the Y, the driveway, playing outside until his hands were numb, cold and raw.

It was the moment he worked his entire youth for.

The game had been such a blur, the boy didn’t realize his team was down by one with 13 seconds left.

The whistle sounded. Twelve. Eleven. He soon received the in-bounds pass.


While thinking how to best execute the play, the boy held the ball up to his nose and inhaled that sweet, familiar aroma.

Nine. Eight. Seven.

The gym was packed. Everyone was on their feet, stomping, clapping, cheering.

Six. Five. Four.

The boy took two dribbles to the right and slid past a defender.

Three. Two.

He pulled up and aimed, releasing a 17-footer.


Suspended in air, the boy realized this was his moment in time, his chance.

It was so hard to let that friend go.

Dan Fields can be reached at 434-2230 or by e-mail at