Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Heart Basketball!

I Love Basketball!

“You have believed before, and every time you allowed yourself to be vulnerable, that faith has normally been rewarded with a giant drop into a stinking pile…”; this is a quote from sports writer Mac Engel in his opinion printed in the Star Telegram sports section of today’s newspaper. He's writing about the Dallas Cowboys but he’s expressing my emotions about the Dallas Mavericks that were experienced for many, many years – until this year! I love basketball and I love the Mavs! I love Mark Cuban and Dirk and Tyson and Jet and Kidd and JJ! I love Jeffrey (#1 platinum level server) and Sandy (our most recent server) and Ernest (my ticket rep) and our usher (we can’t come up with her name at the moment) and John & Anita Everheart (mates on our four seat row) and T.J. Griffin, Jerud Miller, Mark and Melinda Forgue, Kevin Aslin and his mom, Steve Nathman, Landry Locker… (MFFL – Mav Fans for Life - soul mates in Maverick fandom throughout the years of pain). Ah, what joy to spread the love! Savoring the moments, enjoying the memories, pondering in my heart – these thoughts have been simmering and stewing over a slow flame for hours, days, weeks, months and they are deliciously tender!

My mom and dad both played basketball for their high school teams. When the streak of 100 degree days breaks I will venture to their attic and find pictures from their yearbooks to share. After school hours as a kid were spent playing with my sister and neighborhood friends: kickball in the playfields we designed in the few empty lots and basketball in the Douphrate’s driveway or on our own small patio “court”. My dad had erected a hoop attached to a wooden backboard on a wooden pole at the right angle corner of our tiny concrete backyard patio. The best shots came from “outside” on the sidewalk and from the “top of the key” – up the steps of the back porch standing next to the back door. Actually, the best shots came from the star player who rarely made an appearance on the court – my mom had a game that would put all us young ‘uns to shame!

Girls growing up in the 60’s did not have a lot of choices for sports activities. This pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction now so that a federal investigation required our school district to implement more equitable opportunities for females in athletics – that’s why we now have to fund water polo! So in the absence of getting to try out for basketball in middle school or high school, I enjoyed the days that our P.E. teacher, Mrs. Strickland, organized intermurals. We played the old school rules (like Don Carter described of his wife’s playing days for Duncanville) where you were either an assigned defender or offensive player and not allowed to cross the half court line. I loved those games and remember the pleasure of hanging in to win some against the older, taller girls who were considered the favorites. The high school gym was opened in the summer for loosely organized activities for those whose parents signed them up for the summer recreation program (and I think a lot of high school football players were expected to show up here and work out). What we did (the younger kids) was play basketball, softball, ping pong and run track. Throughout those years some of our standard family activities were Friday night football and high school basketball season – we went to games for Royse City High School (my parents’ alma mater), Carrollton High School and then R. L. Turner High School. Highlights were the State playoff teams – football vs. San Angelo and basketball vs. Houston Wheatley; we didn’t win but it was memorable to go that far!

Freshman year of college was spent at Oklahoma Baptist University, a basketball school – I went to every game! In the early 80’s, following Darrell’s career with IBM brought us to live in Greencastle IN – the heartland of all things basketball! Here we were season ticket patrons to DePauw University basketball and the middle school students I taught had current heroes of Steve Alford and his coach Bobby Knight from IU. When we attended the premier showing of Hoosiers at our local movie theater, they held the start of the show because our friends were running late - ah such happy memories of small town America in the great Midwest!

For some reason our first son, Jonathan, developed into a sports fanatic! He spent hours sorting through his Topps cards, watching games, reading stats and creating spreadsheets on the computer to organize fantasy leagues before it was such a common concept. From his essay about basketball and submitted application, he was chosen to be a Dallas Mavericks ball boy. This was during his middle school and early high school years when the Mavericks were still in Reunion Arena and Mark Cuban was watching from the nose bleed section. Ball boys were scheduled to work every third home game and free tickets were given to their families for those games. When his ball boy days were over, my days of attending games continued as we bought season ticket packages each year in American Airlines Center, starting in the upper zone and then moving down to the platinum level.

2006 was a memorable season when losing to Miami Heat brought such pain to the team and the fans. I noticed then throughout the playoffs that many of the regular ticket holders that we had sat with to watch so many games were not there. They had “wisely” sold their tickets to make a nice profit while I was a “sucker” who gave up the chance for cash to support my team. I am not known to be friendly to opposing team fans and being at that final game at the AAC watching the Heat win their championship was an experience of the worst karma ever! So the years moved on and I steadfastly continued to decorate my classroom with Mavs posters and suffer through the abusive comments from students, staff and friends who were fans of other teams (mostly Spurs, Lakers, Heat). Not bullying abuse, just good natured trash talk. Meantime, I’m also getting my basketball joy from watching all the 8th grade home games for my school while I earn extra pennies by running the clock for their games.

A few years ago an anonymous person from our church gave every member a book as a Christmas gift. It was called A Hole in the Gospel and written by the chairman of the organization, World Vision.

 The main message of the book is how Jesus calls us to pay attention to poverty and to do our part to take care of people in need. Matthew 25:35-36, 40 For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me in. I was naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me…And the King will answer and say to them, “Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” The theme of the book reminded me of how I should focus my life; the church has also focused our collective activities (outside of worship) to serve in our local community and in our global community. So this also leads me to think about how we spend our money. How much goes to needs & how much goes to “frills”? My inner voice told me Maverick games were frills; hence came the conversation with Darrell that I thought this should be our last year to do season tickets – although I love the games, our money could be better used on other things. He agreed easily, as I am the major Mav fan & his love is the Cowboys. With this impending adjustment in my mind, I experienced each game with appreciation while Anita and I shared our amazement at the progress of the team. Often we whispered, “This might be the year!” to each other, afraid to be too bold. We enjoyed dinners, cheers and happy dances throughout the season and the playoffs and met up later in Colorado at their cabin in the Rockies to reminisce about the remarkable season and the championship finish.

They took this picture of us at the Stone Chapel on a mountain top in the YMCA camp.

Backing up a little to a special Sunday in May, I attended church that day at Heritage & sat with a dear friend. We chatted about Mother’s Day plans and I mentioned that we were going to the Maverick game that afternoon against the Lakers. Through this conversation I told her a little bit about this being our last year for the season ticket plan and she commented, “You will be blessed for this.” That day I witnessed the performance of a lifetime with the Mavs decisively shutting down Kobe and his entourage where Jet Terry was lights out on threes! Do any of you recall that miracle game? I thought that was when the team had given it their all and maybe would not have any game left in them.

School came to an end and I left town on a planned girl trip to Key West while Darrell travelled with his buddies for a week of golf in the Texas hill country. When we made these vacation plans we had not dreamed that the Mavericks would make their way to the finals in the NBA! Unlike 2006, our section mates at AAC were showing up for the games – no one was selling their seats – all good karma! In my heart of hearts, I could not be playing in Key West while my team was battling it out with the Miami team. I changed my flight to return 2 days early to use my Finals ticket and be there in person for game 4. Whoa – what a game – we kept wondering about Dirk’s lack of performance and lack of time on the court. Then word spread through the stands about his sickness and his fever – then his teammates came through and pulled out another great win! I was so glad to witness Nowitzkiness!

Soon after followed the infamous video clip of Wade and LeBron doing the mocking cough – and then came the wonderful, amazing, final game to win the championship, forever blazed in sports history. I was standing in my living room in front of the TV screen doing the shaking shoulders, sobbing cries – while texting back & forth with family and friends! How can a sports game make you feel so happy?

Don’t know; can’t explain it; but it did and it does!

My pastor, Ken, who passed away a few months ago used to do a Super bowl sermon each year – choosing various Super bowl commercials to talk about and use as his illustrations for God’s message. Whenever a player thanked God for blessing his performance, Ken always mentioned that he thought God loved both sides and did not spend his time favoring one team over another in a sporting event. I don’t know. I sure felt blessed as a fan. Jet Terry gave glory to God on Mother’s Day and on championship day for getting the chance to do what he did. Dirk and the rest were blessed for their hard work, humility, respect. They won as a team relying on each other rather than performing as showboating superstars; they won playing old school basketball. I loved it; I love it still. What a treasured ending to the Mavericks’ first 31 years as a team and to my years as a season ticket holder – I could not have hoped or dreamed for a more beautiful result! Thank you, God, for life’s pleasures! This one was a BIG one!

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