Okay, just about everybody knows I’m a Tar Heel fan. And after this shot last night, I really believed the Heels were going to send the National Championship game versus Villanova to overtime and it was ours for the taking.
Apr 4, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) shoots and scores a three point basket against the Villanova Wildcats in the second half in the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The shot was a double-clutch, circus shot from about 28 feet from the goal! Bull’s Eye! We got it! Overtime is coming!!!
Until this shot…4.6 second later…by Kris Jenkins of Nova with a hand in his face.
Apr 4, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Villanova Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins (2) hits the game winning shot with .6 seconds over North Carolina Tar Heels forward Isaiah Hicks (4) in the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Swish!!! No time left! Confetti on the floor!
Now, you must know that I’ve been pulling for Heels since I was a little boy. I went to their basketball camp three times and won the free-throw shooting contest two of those three years for my age division as 9-year-old and 10-year-old. I even got to sit with Coach Dean Smith at mealtime twice as a the prize for that feat and I will always be a Tar Heel. I guess having followed this team for so many years, it just gets in your blood. Of course the same is true for you. You might like the Wolfpack or the Blue Devils or maybe Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or ballet or hunting or _______ you fill in the blank. And when you do and your team loses, it hurts. Really bad! I mean real bad as in not being able to fall asleep until 1:30 am. Crazy?? Silly?? Sure it is. But, it’s the truth and I might as well admit it.
Now hear me and hear me well. It’s just a basketball game and in the scheme of things it’s nothing. It has no eternal significance really. However, it is a microcosm of life. Sports or extra-curricular activities of any kind that has winners and losers teach us about life. A life that has many ups and downs and “wins” and “loses.” And they hurt. Lost jobs. Lost lives. Lost relationships. Loss hurts and cripples. And the sports world bears only a small snippet of the pain of the ultimate loss: death. Ball games come and go and are at best trivial compared to the stuff of life that crushes the soul such as the loss of a loved one.
So, I try to put these things into perspective in mind and yet, I toss and tumble thinking about “what if” about college basketball game. And do you want to know why? Because I’ve become invested in the lives of the kids on that team. A team that stretches all the way back to my childhood. A team that when I hear the fight song brings chills to me still to this day. A team that when I see that baby blue on a person’s t-shirt automatically makes me say, “Hey! Are you a Tar Heel fan?” Yep…me too! Automatic connection. You know what I’m talking about. It’s a family of sorts.
Yet, better than that (by far) is the family of God. The brothers and sisters in Christ whom we’ll spend eternity with in Heaven. The joy of knowing that you have an eternal connection with someone who loves Jesus like you do! That’s priceless!
Yep, I love these guys…
I guess I’ll always love and enjoy the thrill of basketball. I’ve had some special times throughout my life. Connections with the Lord shooting basketball on a clear blue fall day. Watching the flight of the ball swish through the net, shot after shot. Working, working, right hand shot, left hand shot. Fade away. Jump hook. Between the legs dribble, step-back…swish! Silly! Yep, I know if you aren’t a basketball fan, it seems that way. But, for me, basketball is a connection to the beauty of all that God has made.
Olympic runner, Eric Liddell (made more famous by the movie: “Chariots of Fire”) said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
I know how he feels. I really do. Last night before the game, I shot basketball with my children. I showed Andrew and Clara how to shoot a proper shot. Right elbow in…left hand just on the left side of he ball. Finger-tip control with right hand. Just a bit of daylight as the ball is on the finger-tips…not flat on the palm. Push up…follow through and imagine that your wrist is breaking over the top of the rim (this gives rotation on the ball). SWISH! Smiles…high fives and fist bumps. Connections with my kids and their old, bald-headed daddy.
Clara and Andrew wanted me to leave them a note on their nightstand last night about the outcome of the game. They had to go to bed of course. It crushed me to write that note and say, “We lost on a last second shot.” This morning they sat on my lap and we watched the highlights on GoHeels.com. We watched the post game interview with Marcus Paige, Joel Berry II and Coach Roy Williams. Clara said, “This makes me sad. I really like this team.”
You see, I’ve indoctrinated her and Andrew and Kandace. Ha! Remember I took them to see the Heels play their first game of the tournament in Raleigh when the Heels beat Florida Gulf Coast about three weeks ago, (which seems like six months ago now :)). We arrived at the PNC Arena (where the Wolfpack plays) in Raleigh and Clara said, “Dad, this so cool…it reminds me of Disney.” There was the smell of funnel cakes, music was playing from the loud speakers and an announcer said, “Welcome to Raleigh, NC and the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament!!” The crowd wore mostly light blue and we walked into the PNC Arena. We had nose-bleed seats…
Yet, there we were…
Kandace, Clara, me, Andrew and Josh. Second row from the top. And we were excited! Clara squealed, “I love this Daddy!” Andrew said, “This is awesome!” Josh was a good sport, (because he’s a Duke fan…and he grew up pulling for them….remember, Duke was awful when I was a kid…people my age pulled for State or Carolina). He even said, “You know what… I know as much about the Heels as most Heels fans.” I laughed and I said, “I love you for putting up with me!” We had a blast!
The Heels won! We sang the fight song! We laughed and cheered and ate WAY TOO EXPENSIVE concession stand food. But, it was worth every dime. Why? Because we were making memories. And now when my kids hear the Heels fight song, they know it. They sing it and they think of us together. Rooting on our team. So, that’s why I had to leave a sticky note for my kids on their night stands last night. And I didn’t think I was going to have to do that! Paige hit that miraculous, bicycle wheel, three-pointer and I knew we had it! Kandace and I shouted (not too loud…because the kids were in bed). And even Josh stood up and pumped his fist (isn’t he a jewel!) and Pam (still laid up with her ACL repaired knee) was squealing with delight too! We had made a ten-point comeback in three 1/2 minutes and we had it! But, then we didn’t! And it hurt! And that’s what defeat does to you. It punches you in the gut and you have to learn from it.
I’ve learned so much from the game of basketball. I’ve learned how to win and I’ve learned how to lose. I’ve learned how to not be an obnoxious winner and I hope I’ve learned how NOT to be a sore-loser. It’s taken many years to get to this point. But, there I was…1 am this morning. Thinking about Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson (a homeschooler), Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt, Joel James, Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks, Theo Pinson and ole Coach Williams and I replayed that last play over and over in my mind. I dreamed about that play. My FitBit on my arm (my family got for me for my birthday) said I was restless 15 times and got 5 hours and 3 minutes of sleep. Yep, and I woke up this morning and watched the sun rise and realized…yes, indeed the sun did come up and all is well because the tomb is empty. And that’s perspective!
Silly me. It was just a game. But, something that makes me smile and brings me pleasure. From my childhood to now, my children’s childhood. Thank you Lord for athletics and sports taken in the right perspective. For they do teach us many things about life and for that I’m grateful and as Marcus Paige said last night:
“The whole four years means the world to me. I wouldn’t trade any of the losses, any of the games. It’s hard to say, but even including this one, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Nor would I Marcus, nor would I! Thank you for the wonderful journey this year with my children. And thank you Lord for teaching us about life: winning and, yes… losing, through something as silly as shooting a leather ball through an iron hoop even when it doesn’t go in for your team when there’s no time left on the clock. Lessons learned through defeat!