I believe the game of basketball helps heal broken hearts. Basketball runs in my family. My dad’s high school team from a small country school played in the state championship game in 1942 and in 1943, only to lose in close games to bigger urban schools. My mother played when it was not only a half-court game, but the girls could only dribble once before passing or shooting. I have fond memories of traveling on a big yellow school bus with the high school team my dad coached. My brother, a solid athlete, with good hands and a nice touch, once embarrassed us all by uncharacteristically arguing a call and stomping impetuously down the court. My sister once made 12 free throws in a row in a hotly contested game. Her twin made a last minute steal in the same game to seal the win.
I helped coach our oldest son’s fifth grade team. When he was just a little guy he saw Wayman Tisdale, Stacey King, Mookie Blaylock, and Harvey Grant play the game. Yet, it was our younger son who was our basketball hope. As school resumed in August, 2004, our handsome 16 year old had grown from 5’11” to 6’2″ over the summer. He was focused and intense. He spent each spare minute in the gym. Oh, he, who made by 42nd birthday unforgettable when, as we played on an outside court on a beautiful May day, he nudged his 7 year old buddy in the side, and said: “See, I told you she was good”.
So when on that late summer evening his father and my husband of 25 years walked to our shed and took his own life, our world closed in on us. Friends and family gathered around us in a protective, loving way, but it was the game of basketball that kept us moving forward.
Five days after Steve died, our son dunked the basketball for the first time. We started that junior season with hopeful possibilities. We read preseason reports. We talked about what to expect from the next team on the schedule. My best and dearest friend, who doesn’t have a sports bone in her body, was with me at every game, video camera in hand. We replayed the tapes, critiquing the play and laughing at high speed and reverse hyjinks. We went up and down the road for two seasons in dangerous fog and treacherous snowy ruts. We took kids with us, making them listen to classical music on the way. We ate bad hot dogs, good barbeque sandwiches, and green apple straws.
At most games I was flanked in those bleachers by family and friends in various combinations. But there was always that empty seat. Yet somehow, as each ball was tipped, each pass was caught or stolen, each shot rolled out or swished, I gradually put away my anger at that empty seat. I felt only sadness that he wasn’t seeing his son weave the lane, drain the three, and play grittily with a broken shooting hand.
We were not ready for his senior season to end when they lost a game that would have sent them to the state playoffs. We cried for our loss – on the court and in life. But if it had hot been for the pull of that game during that dark time, I don’t know what would have happened to us. I believe the game of basketball helped heal our broken hearts.
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