The Rockwood Files: The Making of a Basket

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

When 7-year-old Adam said he wanted to be on a basketball team, I was happy. There’s a sport I can not only understand but also enjoy from the relative comfort of nearby indoor bleachers. And whoever invented basketball had the good sense to end the game after four periods instead of nine innings. In basketball, helmeted linebackers don’t run full-speed at my kid with the sole intention of squashing him into the dirt. We mamas like that.

Adam joined the church-based Upwards Basketball league and could hardly wait to wear his jersey. The team practiced for a few weeks before the games began, and Tom served as assistant coach. He said Adam was doing pretty well with shooting, so I guess all those games of “horse” under the driveway basketball goal were paying off.

Then it was game time. With my video camera at the ready, the buzzer sounded and the game began. I’d already promised myself I wasn’t going to be one of those crazy parents who can’t shut up on the sidelines. But five minutes into the game, I realized how tough it is for us parents to watch quietly. From my vantage point, it was easy to see that he just needed to guard his man a little more, rebound the basketball and get in position to shoot. I wanted to yell all these things to him to help him out. But after a few minutes of fruitless sideline instruction, I knew I wasn’t really helping anything except my own need to point him in the right direction. The boys had all they could handle just trying to remember which goal was theirs and to hear directions from the coach over the noise of an echo-chamber gym filled with parents all “trying to help.”

Then something happened that got me on my feet. My boy had the ball in heavy traffic. Trying desperately to get a shot in the air, he was mauled by a taller boy trying to steal the ball. Adam fell to the floor where a shoe or two accidentally stepped down on him amidst the scramble for the ball. I could see the pain and frustration on his face. The mama bear in me wanted to rush the court, break up the gaggle of boys and scoop mine up in my arms. I wanted to march that defensive player right over to a naughty corner and give him a lengthy time-out and a piece of my mind.

But the rational part of me knew I should stay put – that rescuing my boy as if he was a baby was not going to earn him any “cool points.” So I let the referee do his job, and Adam brushed himself off and recovered in time to shoot two free-throws, one of which went in the net. After the game, he was happy about making that free-throw, but his heart yearned for a real basket – one shot in the heat of battle that swishes through the net, as it does on those Sportscenter highlights he watches each morning before school.

About midway through the game schedule, Adam still hadn’t made that shot, and, one day after practice, he crumbled under the weight of his own expectations. As we drove home, I heard him mumbling in the backseat. “I’m never gonna make a basket. Never, ever, ever, ever. Never make a basket.” I assured him that if he kept on practicing and trying his best, it would happen one day. I gave him the speech about believing in yourself and never giving up, but the words fell flat. He just wanted that basket, and it wasn’t happening.

Fast forward four days to the next big game on Saturday afternoon. It was late in the third quarter, and a teammate had just passed the ball to my boy at mid-court. I could see the determination in his eyes, and there was no way he was letting go of that ball until he’d taken his shot. He dribbled down the court into traffic, pushing his way closer to the goal. He picked up the dribble and bent his knees, preparing to shoot. Suddenly time slowed down, and I was able to say several prayers in a row as the ball went into the air: “Please let it go in. Please, please, please go in.”

But the ball hit the rim hard and bounced off. My heart fell and I glanced down to check on my 4 and 2-year-old beside me. When I looked up, there he was with the ball again! Adam had somehow captured his own rebound and dribbled to the other side of the court where he shot the ball a second time. More praying, more holding my breath, more anxiety – then swish! It dropped through the net gracefully. Two points!

I immediately stood up and screamed a shrill, piercing scream of joy that I’m pretty sure damaged the hearing of the poor man sitting in front of me. But I couldn’t help myself. My boy had made his first real basket! I looked over at his dad who was cheering from the bench with the other players.

When Adam finally glanced my way to see if I saw his shot, I waved my arm wildly like some kind of dorky sideline lunatic. I gave him an equally cheesy thumbs-up sign, and he flashed the same sign back at me.

After the game, we drove home reliving that play over and over again – doing color commentary the way the ESPN guys do. Adam couldn’t stop smiling and neither could I. I’d just watched him learn that, with the right amount of effort, nearly anything is possible – even two points.

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