Monday, June 11, 2012

Of Basketball Camps, Rick Barry, An Old Baseball And A Well Worn Wallet

Fox and I spent this weekend attending the University Of Tennessee Basketball Camp with his team the Knoxville Ambassadors (I coach the JV team). We played five games in two days and had a lot of time for the team to hang out. I think it's such a great experience to have teammates to compete with, learn from and grow in friendship. The challenges and triumphs of sports really is a great thing for young men to experience. Obviously, when fallen man gets involved there are so many ugly parts that can come out, but there's so much to gain that with the leadership of men of integrity great growth is accomplished. Since we now live in a culture that greatly separates dads from their sons, sports is one of those activities that can help reconnect us to our sons. For me, the challenges of bridging the gap between me and Fox can be difficult. Both of our pasts and hurts are continued challenges for me to find ways to grow together and bond.

This weekend the team got to shoot around and play Gotcha on the Thompson Boling Arena floor. I'm sure it was a great thrill to play hoops on the very same spot that the players they look up to carve out their legacy. They also got to meet Coach Cuonzo Martin and players Yemi Nakanjuola, Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and local product Skylar McBee. Even if you don't recognize the names, just understand they are the sports stars of this area. These are the men that boys around East Tennessee look up to. It was so refreshing to see them be so available and gracious to the team.
The team did very well as the continue to develop as basketball players and as a group. What they also found out is that basketball as in life, you can go a long way in growth and yet still have a long way to go. Fox continues to grow into the role of point guard. Going from scorer to play maker takes a lot of maturity. I'm so impressed with how far he has grown in this area.
 Although this was my time for Fox it was cool that during the camp, I was able to keep up with Ariel and her job interviews, Samantha and her time on jury duty, Ron in his transition in life and just missed Amanda a few times (she called me during one game. I was really tempted to take the call, but knew it wouldn't look good having a coach on his cell phone during a game). Amanda and I did catch up Sunday evening. Somehow, God has given me a pretty full quiver over the years. He has blessed me with so much that I don't really deserve. Even more amazing, He somehow trusts me with all of these lives when in fact I mess it up time after time.
This weekend I couldn't help remember some of my past. Basketball has been a sport I've loved for a long time. The hoop in the front yard of my youth still stands today and is where I spent hours trying to perfect my shot and imagine moments of hardwood glory. Where I connect to this is thinking about a time when I was ten and got to play in an all star game at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum (now known as Oracle Arena). I still can feel what it was like. We played three quarters before the game and the fourth during halftime. The Warriors beat the Buffalo Braves (remember them?) that night. I remember being in a large dressing room and then we walked down an endless maze of corridors up to a black curtain. I remember my heart pumping about 1000 BPM as I walked out of the runway into the bright lights and sitting down on the bench that Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond sat. The floor looked about 100 miles long. I remember my throat being completely dry after running up and down the court just a few times. I can remember making a short shot in the paint during the game and feeling like the greatest basketball player in the world. A funny thing was when we spilled ice on the ground around the bench, it melted immediately. I guess there's a lot of heat generated from those attending the game and the bright lights shining on the court. Somewhere along the way we got autographs of Rick Barry.
I think of that time and wonder just how memories stick with us while others so easily fade away. How many times do we hope for our kids to see something as significant and they seem to miss it while other seemingly small things become life long memories. My hope for this weekend is that each of the players had a life long memory but who knows if that will happen or not?

Joshua 4:4-7
 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

God spends a fair amount of the Old Testament having the Children Of Israel constructing remembrances. He obviously knew that somehow we needed reminders of the great things that are in our lives. We have Salvation. We have available to us the intimate relationship with an all loving Creator who went to all lengths to save us. We have our families, and friends. We live in a world that has majestic mountain, waterfalls, laughter, motorcycles, sushi and goofy large breed dogs. How much of this do we take for granted? I'm sure God was trying to get us to practice remembering.
Personally, I realize that I actually put remembrances into my life naturally. There are two that I came up with and both are quite common objects, but mean a lot to me.

The first, is a dirty brown baseball. The significance is that my dad set it aside to teach me how to pitch. Now obviously I never became that great at pitching but it means so much to me that my dad took the time to teach me the mechanics of pitching. When you ask a man what he remembers about his father, he will almost always say "He taught me to..." or "We did...together". Shared experiences and the learning process that comes through it is the powerful way in which men impart things to their sons. The sight of a father and son side by side fishing, wrenching a car or doing algebra sums it up well. I know that my dad cared enough to impart something special to me. The end of "Field Of Dreams" when Kevin Costner plays catch with his dad really hits me hard. Playing catch is one of those activities that connects dads with sons. I'm not sure I can explain why, but it truly does. I found the ball many years after I moved out of the house on the same shelf that we stored it. I still toss it around to myself when I sit in the loft at my house and remember those days in the backyard pitching to him after dinner.
Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you
Jim Croce

The second is my wallet. It's a plain black wallet that is well worn (it's over 16 years old). Loved ones have offered me gifts of wallets over the years, but I have resolved that this is the last wallet I will ever own. The reason is that it's the last gift my mom got for me. About a year after that she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I sometimes wonder why God would not allow her to be around for so many things in my life. She has never met five of her grandchildren. She didn't get to see Ariel get married. She wasn't around for either of Ariel or Amanda's graduations or how they have grown to be amazing and beautiful young women. She never knew the delight of meeting Fox. I know that God has a merciful answer for why He took her from us so early and that I will someday understand His reason. Until then, I know that I have a part of her that was there for all of these events. This wallet has also been to Guatemala, Toronto, Japan, and amongst the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. It also has been to all of the family vacations, the day the girls legally changed their name to Nakamura and even every trip to the grocery store. One of the coolest things is that the wallet is a prop in the movie Beretta. It's Amanda's award winning student film. She needed a wallet for a close up so once again, my mom is there! (If you ever want to see the film, let me know. Proud dad's are always ready to brag about their talented kids!). When I take the time to reflect on the wallet, it's reminder that I can savor the times I did have with my mom: her feisty temperament; her silly "Lucille Ball" sense of humor and her holiday creme puff desserts.
So perhaps an autograph, a funny moment, or a memorable sequence on the court from this weekend will trigger something powerful within each of these boys. It is my hope that this experience will bring them to a point of praise to their Father or an expression of thankfulness to a lifelong friend.
Remembrances can be anything. Significant and exciting events or something hidden in the mundane of life. My hope is that we all can remember what makes each of our lives special, full of color and beauty and that God desires for us to remember and savor the amazing life that we all are living out. We are truly the crown achievement of His creation and He is the one who loves us deeper than we can ever imagine!

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