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December 19, 2013

winning the last game

It was good to see the familiar cast of characters when I recently returned to Monday night hoops at West Shore E-Free Church. I missed much of 2013 due to unrelated injuries and being an old man with various domestications.

There are no superstars but together we create 90 minutes of intense sweat and enjoyable competition. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses, and temperaments involved absolutely changes the game. You double down on Dan when he gets the ball on the low post. You don't give Mike the open "3" with the game on the line. Bruce appears to be a cautions perimeter player but he'll gladly take you to the hole if granted an inch or a quarter second.

There was also a handful of new faces, looking to be in their early twenties. Two were friends, maybe brothers, raising the level of play with their athleticism. A tall guy wearing bright pink shoes didn't seem to do much. Another young man was running all over the place. I admired the hustle but his was a lot of wasted energy.

The Hustler, did he always shoot so poorly? One of the Unwritten Rules of Pick-up Basketball states that after forcing a few shots or missing consecutive wide open looks you pass to your teammates and contribute in other ways. But not the Hustler.

I watched the Hustler pile blunder upon blunder, much to the chagrin of his teammates. Again, not that the rest of us played to perfection. Did he know any of The Rules? You know your role and play it. If you bounce the ball off a foot or have it stolen consecutively, you don't allow it to happen a third and fourth time. You let someone else bring the ball up the court.

It did not seem like any of the other guys knew the Hustler personally. During his turn to sit out, we had the best matched game of the night. It was a fun battle. The game went into over-time and completed at about 9:45, just in time for a re-match!

The Hustler silently stood court-side with head down as we organized to begin the last game. One Unwritten Rule clearly states that he had the right to pick up four guys for the final game. Everyone on the court knew that one of us should sit. But we all needed a rematch. 

One of the new guys, an Athletic Brother, stood with the ball at the top of the key while the other nine of us fell into offensive and defensive alignment. He paused, turned and faced the Hustler.

"Were you waiting for the next game?"

The Hustler nodded.

"Here. Go ahead and take my spot." 

I'm sure the Athletic Brother didn't mean much by it, but this may have been one of the best sermons on leadership that I have heard. His action made me feel hope and encouragement and shame. I was not a passive witness. Up until then it had not dawned on me that the rest of us were following The Rules no better than the Hustler.

I've said it before, that recreational sports (and the athletics of their offspring, but that's another story) seem to make men bleed their true colors. Do you think we could guess at the qualities of the Athletic Brother, and most of them would be true? I imagine that he could be trusted with big things.

And the Hustler? He didn't hit the winning shot to claim his teams victory and we all hoisted him on our shoulders. But I noticed that he didn't play nearly as terrible in that last game. 
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He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.      -Luke 16:10