On Children’s Day in South Korea, May 5th, 2010, I took a walk in the early afternoon hours to enjoy the beauty of a cloudless sky, the warm sunshine, & just to get out of the house & move my bones. Walking past the city park in our area, I recognized several young-adult Caucasians playing basketball. I moseyed on over to the court and staked out a position beneath a shelter & settled down on a wooden bench close to the action. Three young men & two young ladies, all English teachers living in Korea for adventure & employment, were enjoying time off from their classroom duties & doing what young people do everywhere on national holidays. Another group of their friends were close-by messing around with a soccer ball. It turned out that three of the players were Canadians while the other two were from the Isle of Great Briton. I must admit I never saw such poor shooting in all my life. The best shooter was a young, petite woman from the Toronto area. She had a soft shot, and with a little practice, she could learn to be a fair shooter. The rest looked hopeless as their attempts banged against the backboard and rattled the rim; I followed shot after shot on its errant path toward the hoop, almost every ball lacking both backspin & arch. Several long-shots hit the bottom of the rim, which I thought impossible from that distance. I concluded early on the young men were more interested in being around the gals than improving their basketball skills & visa versa. I smiled as I thought to myself: I wish my children were here today; we’d show these subjects of the king how to play basketball, American style.
After several games of horse, most of the players took a break except for a couple who continued to shoot around. I took the halt in the game as an opportunity to join the twosome by offering to rebound their shots, thus giving them ample opportunity to hone their shooting skills. Once they allowed me to rebound for them, it would be difficult for them to tell me I couldn’t shoot later. After rebounding for them close to ten minutes, I collected for my services rendered & took a few shots close to the basket to warm-up & test their tolerance for an uninvited stranger to join in the fun. No-one protested.
After passing the initial test, I renewed my rebounding duties. As their shots continued to thud off the backboard & clang off the hoop in a display of fruitlessness, I crabbed each rebound without much effort as it came off the rim and/or backboard as predictable as any object colliding with a stationary one. When the timing was right, I crabbed a missed shot by one of the hapless players and dribbled out about 12 feet and sunk a bank-shot from the side. I raised my arms in the air indicating I wanted the ball again for another shot and sunk it. As custom goes in basketball, you shoot until you miss, so I made a couple more shots from 15 feet. I asked for on more shot before leaving, and upon receiving the ball, my jump-shot zipped through the goal. The British player who threw me the ball implied I was lucky, so I felt challenged & asked for one more shot. After playing string music with my last shot, I said immediately without must thought: “When I shoot, I expect the basketball to go in. I’m surprised when it doesn’t.”
Getting the last word in, he replied: “Shooting like that, I’m glad you’re leaving.” I left with a satisfied mind.
Later that night I thought about my remarks and wondered why I said what I said. Even in my old age the voice of my mom pierced the pane of yesterday warning me never to brag. Was I bragging? One thing that occurred to me is that my attitude about shooting had not changed. When I shoot the ball toward the hoop, even in my old age, I expected it to go in. I never shoot hoping it will go in; I shoot and expect it to go in. No matter if I miss several shots in a row, or have an off day, I expect my next shot to go in because my experience is that most of my shots go though the hoop, guarded or unguarded.
As my youthful energy fades more & more, I find myself spending more & more time looking backwards rather than forward. Retired & not working I have plenty of time to reminisce, & some of those memories contain my athletic endeavors during my youth. The Children’s Day experience at the basketball court opened a window to the past. One particular basketball game from my past has haunted me for years.
This particular basketball game took place during my sophomore year in a Southern Illinois town. I played on the freshmen-sophomore starting five that year in 1959 & dressed for the varsity. Playing that night in our home gym, I found myself caught up in a parallel dimension called the zone, where all phases of one’s game comes together in perfect harmony with time, place, & position. That night I felt like a star, ready & able to be discovered by a head scout to be that special player to lead his university to the NCAA title. I remember one shot where I dribbled to the head of the key, stopped, popped and scored as if I were on the floor all by myself, in a dream world where everyone moved in slow motion except me. It seemed so easy, as if I were playing against children on the play ground. I ended up with an easy 30 points without forcing any shots, just playing in the flow of the game.
Later that evening in the varsity game, based on my performance in the freshmen-sophomore game, the coach put me into the game during a critical point of play. With very little time left I received the ball on the right-side corner of the court. I found myself wide open for a shot, a shot I felt confident in taking. Without hesitation I launched the ball toward the goal. I was one of the most surprised persons in the gym when the ball hit the side of the backboard & bounced out of bounds before I could stop it from doing so. The game ended soon after that, & we lost a close one. Later, the coach told me he received criticism for putting me in the ballgame during a critical point in the contest. I felt extremely bad about missing the shot, but missing the whole rim and hitting the side of the backboard only served to increase my embarrassment. I tried my best to forget that night despite my superb game during the preliminary one. For years I wished to God I’d never taken that shot.
After 51-years of regret and embarrassment for at least not hitting the rim, I understand now why I took that ill-fated shot. I discovered it while remembering what I said to the English teacher on Children’s Day here in South Korea. “When I shoot, I expect the basketball to go in; I’m surprised when it doesn’t.”
Reflecting on that statement coming out of my mouth so naturally, I realize today I took the shot that night back in 1959 because I was confident I would make it. I’m completely aware not every shot goes in, but I expect every shot to go in because I shoot it to go in. Some shooters launch the ball toward the hoop hoping to score. The difference between hoping & expecting are subtle but significant. In a game, or in life, where perfection is impossible, confidence is a precursor to success. With confidence you expect to succeed.
If I had it to do over, I’d like to tell my coach: “Coach, I shot & expected to make it; it didn’t go in this time, but I’m confident the next one will. Don’t be afraid to give me the ball for the last shot.” That’s Confidence. garland dale