It used to be that I had a whole big bunch of very good excuses for me. Excellent reasons for why I couldn’t be better than I was.
For instance, basketball.
I loved basketball as far back as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of listening to the University of Kentucky Wildcats’ games on the radio set up on a shelf in the milk barn. That was back in the years of Adolph Rupp and Cotton Nash.
During the season, most of the games would start while we were doing the evening milking. The beauty of radio was that you could listen while you dumped feed into the trough, called cows into the shed, cleaned udders, hooked up milkers and cleaned up everything later. During a particularly tense part of the game, Dad would pause just before he bent over to put the milkers onto the cow, his brow furrowed deeply. When the free throws went in giving the ‘Cats the lead, he’d grin and go on about the milking. We’d finish up the games back in the house.
Our interest in basketball also transferred to the old goal set up in the backyard, too. Long wooden posts and an old oak backboard splayed a rusty rim somewhere in the neighborhood of ten feet above the ground. In the summer, I’d shoot baskets. Every now and then, Dad would stop by and shoot a few free throws, “granny style.”
Rick Barry is the last professional player I remember using that underhand shot at the free throw line. It was already archaic in the Sixties but his accuracy was pretty darn impressive. It’s hard to make fun of someone who’s shooting with around ninety percent accuracy. Especially if it’s with a firearm and you’re at the dirt bank end of a shooting range.
Paul and I never played tag with .22’s but sometimes we did play one-on-one on the grass court of that old ball goal. That’s where the excuses started.
When I was a freshman in high school, I stretched to five-feet five-inches tall and weighed a hundred and thirty-five pounds. When Paul was a freshman, he was about six feet tall and weighed a hundred and seventy-five or so. At least, that’s my memory. One-on-one rarely worked out well in my favor. I may have been a touch quicker than him but not quick enough to make up for a seven-inch deficit in height. “Horse” yielded slightly better odds but even in that I was usually a couple of letters ahead.
“Too short for basketball, too small for football” became my mantra, even though I did play basketball through high school. I’d grunted my way up to five-nine by the time I graduated and then grew another couple of inches in the next two years. What can I say, I’m a late bloomer. If I bloom at all.
What never occurred to me in those years was to figure out how Bob Cousy (and later Mugsy Bogues and Spud Webb) had an NBA career. All of those guys—and several other professional athletes—were smaller than me. Eventually, I realized that if I’d spent two or three hours a day working on my skills, I could have at least played college ball. Maybe not at UK but somewhere, if I’d been willing to trade my excuses for effort.
Come to think of it, though, I guess the truth is that the reason for most of the things I never accomplished really was from being too small. Not taking greater risks, not pushing through the hard parts, not accepting that I was the primary reason for not achieving greater goals. Things like not forgiving sooner, not loving more, choosing pride instead of humility, taking the easier road instead of the one that would have been more rewarding.
Well, at least it’s not too late. Lord willing, I’ve got a few years left. With enough practice I just might become an expert in being nice to people. Although I suspect a few folks would be pleased and impressed if I just moved up past novice status…