This was a great moment. I knew I was experiencing something I would remember for a long time. My Sunday afternoon basketball buddies and I had just finished another two-hour session of full court, action-packed (at least in our eyes) serious, full-court basketball. Most of the time (we’ve been playing in the same junior high gym in Clovis, California, on Sunday afternoons, for over 17 years) we stagger out after some cooling down and conversation. This particular Sunday however, it seemed1ike everyone was in a hurry to leave, and the 14 or 15 participants emptied out pretty ·quickly, leaving ·just me sitting there on a bleacher bench, staring at an empty gym. As the voices from the departing players faded into the small-town evening, I sat there by myself, blissfully soaked ·in sweat, and zeroing in on the moment.
I was thinking about some of the great, and not so great basketball plays that took place in the previous couple ·of hours. I smiled as I remembered some of the fun, creative, and sometimes hilarious things that were said during the course of the session, and then I started to reflect on some of the great times shared in this gym by our little basketball family over all these years.I felt so grateful to have been able to be a part this once a week get together. It is so much more than just playing basketball. Don’t get me wrong; the basketball part is very important and we play hard, but this really, is a family, a family from which I believe the world could take some lessons.
Over all these years, here in this gym, something wonderful has taken place. Our Sunday afternoon family has seen it all. Triumphs against the odds, awesome teamwork, selfishness, tragedy, devastating losses, great, comeback wins, and heartbreaking losses that would be enough to piss a Pope off.
But it is so much more than just a game and a workout. What we have is a great bunch of friends. A lot of us don’t hang out together per se, or see much of each other during the week, or work together etc., but on Sunday afternoons, we are a close-knit family, with deep concern for one another. There are about 18 to 20 of us on a fairly regular basis. We come from all walks of life. I always thought it was kind of cool the way the cars and trucks look, parked out in front of the gym when we’re inside. There are older pickup trucks and vans, a newer one here and there, a Mercedes, a rebuilt classic Corvette, family station wagons, or motorcycles, or even bicycles.
Our group is an even mix of white, black, brown, and one of the best ball-handlers in the place is of Chinese descent. We come from all economic backgrounds as well. The fellowship is terrific.
The time usually starts with us all warming up. It’s one of the best parts of the day. There are greetings and talk about what’s going on in our world, both on a personal and universal level. We have liberals and conservatives and people are not afraid to speak up about what we think this struggling world needs. There’s a really great interaction and learning. If there is any kind of political talk, it’s mostly just opinion. We like each other here. We vary in age from the oldest (that would be me at 48, I’m afraid)’ down to the early 20s range. The average age is about 30. We have our arguments, and even occasional fight, but that would be about a rare occurrence over a disagreement (on the court). Basketball can be a very argumentative sport at times, but after playing the games we’re all friends again. There are’ times when one friend or another is hurting in his personal life, and most of the guys are quick to respond. You really get the feeling that people care about each other here. We have experienced injuries (big and small), loss of jobs, marriages, births, divorces, success in the work place, firings, deaths in families, and we are quick to comfort whoever is down (off the court).
We even experienced a death in our own family a couple of years ago, when a young athlete of 31 years of age, collapsed and died during a game, near the foul line at the north end of the gym. I remember how we all were so very saddened. It put a scare in all of us too, and I think we all wondered if perhaps we might think about going half-court; however, we decided that life goes on and we continued.
So there I was sitting, thinking, dog-tired, with a feeling of gratitude all through me of how lucky we are to have this. In a world where fear and conflict seem to be growing, and people from different points of view seem to be drawing more threatening lines to determine what side to support, we exercise what democracy and fellowship are suppose to be.
I thanked God. I packed up my gym bag, put a· towel ·over my head, dragged -my tired butt out the door, and walked over to one of those older looking vans out front, climbed in, and drove off. Ready for the week ahead.
Next week? Wouldn’t miss it.