Saturday, March 3, 2012

Last Dance

My son played his last basketball game tonight.

I can't even wrap my head around that one.

His dad was there, his god parents (an aunt and uncle from five hours away), my brother and his twin sons. Not my sister-in-law though, as baby Asher was acting like he wanted to catch the game, too-- a month early-- maybe her water broke. My parents were listening on WDUX, the game being broadcast on radio.

The band was playing and all seemed precipitous to a Wildcat victory; and then... wasn't.

My son put everything on the court, emptied out all his pockets, and the team came up short.

My one nephew was entranced with the band. Here I figured him for a post player. A post player like my brother, my son. But maybe not.

My other nephew, is agile, sure-footed, not like my lurking, lunky boy. A point guard in a family of post players. What to do? Ah, watch number 5. He does. For like five minutes in a game where the opponent tries to waste a clock that seems to be operating in a different universe moving incredibly fast where most times it never seems to wind down. Were they playing 6-minute quarters tonight?

He watches the point guard.

Then I hear his plaintive cry,

"I need...the...b-a-a-lll..."

Like a tiny whisper from his very soul, crawling up and intertwining with my son's sweat and anguish (and my tears).


My son needs it, too.

After I watch the last few seconds tick away with my son on the bench, his face buried in his jersey because he is weeping the hot tears of defeat, crying, as is the point guard sitting next to him. The point guard, the son of a man who he has spent more time with than his own father this last ten years, and who even now sits on that same bench. He is the varsity assistant coach.

And then the game is over.

I walk down to the Athletic Director, who is standing off court holding the game ball. I ask him if I can have it. He says he has to have it back and that kids can't play with it.


I had recently asked asked my son if the game balls were leather. " Yes," he answers. "What did you think they were made of?"

I didn't know.

I didn't know.

The only basketballs I have ever held have been a hard rubber. My son has one where the traction dots are rubbed smooth. Sometimes when I have watched his games, the ball seems to slip so easily out of their hands, but more likely their opponents' like it is slick, slippery, and wet.

I hold it in my hands. It is dry, soft, warm. It feels good in my hands.

I'm too old to have played high school basketball. Title IX happened for my sisters, not for me. In college, I rowed. It wasn't until a couple years ago, I realized that that fact actually made me a D1 athlete.

If I had held a basketball in my hands, a basketball like this one; I would never have let it go. I realize now how hard it must have been for my son to have been the "big man" all these years. His previous game he made 22 points, had 15 rebounds, two steals; a powerhouse on the court.

This game, a whimper in comparison.

I let my nephews touch the ball. But the touch is like channeling all the pent-up kinetic energy expended this evening on possession of this very ball. They whimper, "touch it, touch it, HAVE IT."


I quickly return it to the Athletic Director.

Fifteen years from now, maybe on this very court, I will actually want the school whose team won this evening, to win yet again. Maybe it will be my nephews sweat and tears that will dampen this ball, but tonight this beautiful, cool leather dry ball is awash in the acrid, sad tears of my son, his team, and me.

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