Three days a week I try and visit our local Health Club, doing my best to stave off old age and atone for the long list of goodies I had been banned from eating, but did anyway. Yesterday I was there cooling down after a vigorous workout by stepping around the walking track. Our health clubs walking area is situated so that it overlooks a basketball court below. As I made my way around the oval, lost in my own thoughts as I listened to music from my IPod, I took notice of a small boy playing with a basketball beneath me.
The little guy was maybe seven or eight years old and was so small that it appeared that he was dribbling a giant orange boulder rather than a basketball. From the awkwardness in his movements and the way he handled himself, I could tell he wasn’t destined to be a star athlete. His shorts were baggy, causing him to constantly tug them back into position, and his t-shirt must have been an older brother hand-me-down as it was three sizes too large for him. I watched as he valiantly struggled to lift the ball above his head and thrust it in the direction of the goal. The ball ascended three or four feet, then fell back to the court, well short of the goal or even the backstop. The ball would bounce away as if it were trying to escape the diminutive overlord who sought to imprison it within the oval circle, the small boy scurrying relentlessly after it. Capturing the ball again he would return to his spot underneath the goal, wrestle the ball into shooting position, and launch it on its way. Each time the ball would fall back to the ground, well short of the intended target.
After a half dozen of these attempts I really started to take an interest in this kid. Looking around the rest of the area below I saw a group of teenagers shooting around at the other end of the court, but nobody who seemed to be paying particular attention to this little boy. He wasn’t trying to impress anybody, or curry the prideful support of a loving parent. His motivations were much simpler. If Kobe, or Lebron, or even Jordan could do it . . . then so could he.
When I counted a dozen unsuccessful attempts by the boy, my walk had almost slowed to a standstill. In my mind I wished that science had progressed to the point where it had become possible to extract whatever it was that drove that little man, and bottle it. Failure had no effect on him. Over and over he threw up his ball, ever confident in his mind that each toss was getting that much closer to his goal. Another person might have looked upon his efforts and scoffed at the futility. But I didn’t.
After a while, the number of teenagers at the other end of the court had grown and decided to expand their game to full-court. The little boy conceded his spot without a word, walking over to stand against the wall with his ball, watching as the interlopers chose teams.
I headed off to the showers, unable to get the little guy out of my mind. I decided that if I were one of those teenagers about to play, one lucky enough to be named captain of one team, my first choice might not be the smartest or most popular one. But it would be the right one.
That little boy would be my first round draft choice.