Tragically, BYU lost Thursday.
It’s a heartbreaking development for all alumni, but I think it especially strikes home for me because I recently had an experience that felt pretty much exactly like what the team, and especially Jimmer Fredette, the team’s star, must’ve felt like in that moment when it was all over.
See, I was at the park with my daughters a few days ago. I walked them there while Wife was cooking dinner. You know. To give her a break.
We got there and did the normal park thing. The girls slid down slides and swung on swings and got chased by a cujo satan kitty (another story for another day–seriously, I’m writing a post about it). And then, as we were leaving the park after some fun-filled rounds of hide-and-go-seek (which was actually more of a game where one girl took her turn counting to some indeterminate number while the other one and I frantically tried to hide behind monkey bar poles only to be found immediately), something really uncomfortable happened: the girls noticed that there was a basketball left by strangers by the basketball hoop.
“Daddy, let’s play with the basketball!” they said. And I started hyperventilating and trying to ward off a minor panic attack.
See, I’m not sure if I have mentioned this enough, but I’m about as good at throwing a ball into a hoop as Chris Brown is at not beating his girlfriends to a bloody pulp or as snow is at being 200 degrees Fahrenheit, or as Elizabeth Taylor is at not being dead (RIP, ET, no disrespect intended, it’s just an analogy, calm down please).
I’m not kidding. It’s bad. Sure, I can blame it on having a blind eye and no depth perception, but we’re talking about level of suck here that requires further explanation. And that explanation is pure, inborn, bovine-like lack of coordination mixed with virtually no actual experience. Mixed with a blind eye and no depth perception.
I suck bad.
Like, imagine how you would feel if you were a person that just naturally couldn’t carry a tune and you had virtually no experience with music, but you suddenly found yourself in a concert hall and somebody handed you a baton and said “go conduct that orchestra in Shostakovitch’s 5th symphony or you will be shamed for life.” Think of how terrified you would feel as you walked towards the podium knowing you had no idea what to do, and knowing that people were watching. Then, when you get there, you start to panic when you look down and notice you don’t have hands. And you aren’t wearing pants. And if you don’t conduct the song perfectly, you’ll be murdered. And, at that precise moment, imagine somebody throws a trumpet at you and hits you in the face. That feeling of the trumpet ricocheting off of your cheek and sending you stumbling backward in awkward embarrassment while everyone laughs at you and calls you a sissy right before they rip your body apart limb from limb? That’s like what I feel when holding any kind of ball, mitt or bat. Except for me, I’m a relatively in shape man, so there is an inherent expectation that I can at least do something in order not to be murdered by an angry mob of onlookers.
But I can’t. Really. Really, truly.
Sucking at sports is the source of, oh, 73% of my adolescent shame, if you don’t throw being chubby, having a lazy eye, having a white man afro, being a poet, and playing the violin into the mix. (I was probably the most awkward adolescent you could ever imagine. Times infinity.)
I still don’t think I’ve explained myself well enough. But this will have to do.
I hope I have at least approximated the level of terror I felt when both of my sweet daughters innocently cried out “Daddy, let’s play basketball!”
It was breathtaking. I had always known this day would come, but I didn’t realize it would come so soon…
My first response: RUN!!!!
My second response after a few moments when adult/therapist/father self tried to intervene: “Nobody’s around, they just want to play, it will do no harm, who cares if you suck, nobody’s watchi…”
My third response, which abruptly short-circuited the second response and left me panting? RUN!!!!!!!! RIGHT NOW!!! OR YOU WILL PROBABLY DIE!!!!!!!!
After hyperventilating for a few long seconds, I decided to get the heck out of dodge.
“Oh, sorry girls,” I said trying to muster my best Daddy-knows-best voice which may or may not have been slightly quivering with anxiety. “That ball isn’t ours. We can’t play with it, or that would be like stealing because we didn’t ask for permission. Come to think of it, it’s time to go home…” And with that I had paved my escape route. I started corralling them and we began to walk towards home when a nice little neighborhood girl called out to us. “Mister,” she said. “It’s okay, that basketball is there for anyone to use. Go ahead and play with it!”
Thanks a lot random neighbor girl. Thanks for advocating for my daughters’ wishes at the expense of my dignity.
It was at this point that I realized the inevitable. I was going to have to pick up the basketball. And I was going to have to throw it in the general direction of the hoop. And I was going to have to do it without scarring my daughters for life.
The two of them were looking at me expectantly as I picked up the ball. “Throw it in the hoop, Daddy..” Anna said encouragingly.
“Sure, sweetie…” I said through gritted teeth. I looked at her and smiled. And just as I was about to contort myself into the most girly, cringe-worthy shooting-position known to man one last semi-self-preserving thought occurred to me in a flash: GRANNY SHOT
“Watch, Anna,” I said. “This is how I want you to shoot the ball, so you can get it in if you try.” I wussily dipped the ball between my knees and then launched it into the air. The three of us were breathless as the ball careened towards the backboard and bounced off it in a trajectory so awkwardly nature-bending that it appeared to break laws of physics. It was as if the hoop had magnetically repelled the ball. Anna looked embarrassed for me as we watched the ball bounce away. I’m pretty sure she, too, was wondering if that had just happened.
“It’s okay, Daddy, just get it in the hoop,” Anna encouraged again, but with a confused look on her face, like she was on the verge of being ashamed to know me. Viva, the two-year-old, stood behind her in horrified silence. Even the cujo satan kitty couldn’t look me in the eye.
And that’s when I knew what I had to do.
I had to triumph. I had to go out to the street, retrieve the ball, and somehow wrangle it into that hoop. My honor was on the line. My manhood and fatherhood were in question. Everything I had ever known myself to be as a person was now dependent on my getting an orange ball into a non-NBA height hoop from about five feet away.
I got the ball. I stood in front of the hoop, staring it down, thinking things like “I can do this” and “I OWN you, hoop” and “if only Wife were here to see me now!” I could hear Rocky music playing in the back of my mind, and I felt a verve of excitement as I awkwardly dipped the ball between my legs again to prepare for another granny shot. I knew I had this. This moment was mine. And then, with all the aerodynamic love I could possibly muster, I catapulted the ball into the air like an 80 year old grandma tossing a water balloon.
It is nearly impossible to describe the way that ball looked as it hurled through the sky. Kites in a sharp wind have more line and arc. Paper bags in a tornado have been known to demonstrate more steadiness in flight. It was as if I had thrown a wadded piece of paper haphazardly toward a trash can, and then it passed a rotating fan. Even the ball itself seemed to cry out in shame at what it was being subjected to as it wobbled through the air.
But, but, somehow it got close to the hoop! It hiccuped over to the basket in slow motion, and the girls and I watched with bated breath as it inched forward. To our utter disbelief, it was positioned to go directly into the basket!
We all felt our hearts break a little as, instead of swooshing through the basket, the ball bounced off the space between the backboard and the hoop and came careening back towards me at about one mile an hour.
I tried to be really smooth as I flinched at the ball bouncing back towards me, but there’s really no way to dodge a slowly bouncing basketball as if it were covered in flames, AIDS and swine flu and maintain any dignity.
Thankfully, the ball didn’t actually hit me. It just limply rolled away as my daughters looked at me in bemused wonderment and stifled horror.
It was in that moment that I realized what Jimmer must have felt like when BYU lost. So much riding on one performance. So much on the line. Yet, try as he might, he wasn’t afforded that one chance to triumph. He was faced with failure. And I, too, was faced with failure. And he and I, and our respective failures, were tied together inexorably by one amazing orange ball, and whether or not it made it into a hoop.
I felt a connection with Jimmer in that moment that was pretty deep. It was so powerful that I wouldn’t be surprised if he felt something in that moment too.
You guys, what happened to both of us last week is something that feels really rough. It’s something that can’t really be put into words. And something that I, for one, will never forget.
As I walked away from that shameful incident in the park, I had my head held high. For the first time, I knew I wasn’t alone in my failure. Sure, I had failed at basketball. But Jimmer Fredette, a basketball hero–somebody on the cover of Sports Illustrated, nominated as National Player of the Year–had failed at basketball too. We weren’t so different, he and I. Yet, we both just moved on, living our lives, being the best men we could be.
I can’t think of anything more empowering than that.
Jimmer Fredette, if you’re out there, I feel ya, bro. (Pounds chest) I really do.