Old Man Hoops: Game Two

Dec 7, 2012 by

(Click here if you missed Game One)

And now a few words from Jesus…

When someone explains they are playing in a church basketball league, your immediate thought is location.  Meaning, the church gymnasium will be host to all league games.  Though that is true, another aspect of church league basketball was foreign to me until I played in leagues in North Carolina.

The differences between church and the recreational basketball leagues I’ve have played in are minimal – same mix of players, most teams play zone and both have the same sloppy play.  Since 1997, I have played in basketball leagues in Indiana, Wisconsin and North Carolina.  Some of the leagues were run through the YMCA, others happened through the city Parks and Recreation department.  When you play in a league down South for instance, whether church or YMCA, there is no skimping on the Christianity.  Basically, if you play basketball in a Southern church league; you indeed get some church.  Let me explain.

We gathered around mid-court, both teams quickly shook hands followed by the referee saying something I will never forget.  He glanced over to our team and said, “As denoted in the schedule, your team is the home team, therefore, please conduct the prayer.”  I instantly had an unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I began to panic.

Thoughts about possibly being chosen to lead prayer raced through mind.  These thoughts were mostly negative in nature.  They are as follows:

“Oh shit, I have nothing to offer here.”

“Please Lord; don’t have the ref call on me to conduct a prayer.  You know this is not my forte.”

“What should I say…?  Think Goddammit Think!”

“I got it!  How about a real quick, St. Joseph pray for us!”  That’s what we always belted out before each high school game and it feels somewhat appropriate at this juncture.”

“Yeah, I am sure that will go over real well, especially with these Baptists.”

“Maybe a Hail Mary would suffice.”

“I am feeling persecuted due to my Catholic upbringing.” 

“Just walk off the court…do it now and don’t look back.”

After what felt like an hour had passed, but was in reality a mere two seconds, I stepped away from the circle.  I conjured a moment of not wanted to be called in class, especially when unprepared to speak on the homework assignment.  I no longer made eye contact with anyone.  Just then, our center Fred stepped up and led us in prayer.   Fred whipped together a beautiful prayer, giving thanks to God for a series of things we could more or less relate to.  Then ended on a thoughtful note, praying for sportsmanship amongst the two teams, and that everyone will be safe from injury.  Then in unison we all said, “Amen.”  The ref through the ball in the air and we were off playing.

That was my first encounter with Bible Belt basketball leagues.

The men’s 35 and over league I play in added a new component of religion. (New to me, that is.)  We start the game with a prayer.  (Nothing new here)  Then at halftime, someone from the designated home team gives a devotional.  (Very much new to me)

I was still catching my breath during the first league game when the buzzer sounded marking the end of the first half.  I plopped down on the bench too tired to walk fifty feet to the water fountain.  I felt my head floating high above my shoulders like it was a balloon filled with helium.  If it were not for the string attached to my body, my head would be in stuck in the rafters.  I was really hurting.   Then some older gentleman appears before us and asks us to gather around to listen to Tim.  Tim is the shooting guard on the team we are currently playing.  His appearance is unassuming and he looks to be in his mid-forties.  He is also a decent shooter from about 15 feet and in.  Tim pulls out his phone and begins to read.

Tim is a Methodist.  He begins telling us this, in a way that is neither preacher-like nor formal.  He speaks with a calm ease, like he’s hosting all of us over to his house for dinner.  Tim must teach a Bible study class somewhere I thought, still trying to stop from breathing so damn hard.  Tim starts reading from his phone a Bible verse.  I believe from the Old Testament, but I was not really paying much attention.  I was just grateful that halftime would be longer than I first anticipated, giving me additional time to rejuvenate before the second half.

Tim looks up to us after the reading, and asks the group a question.  “Do you struggle finding time to pray each day?”  No one answers Tim.  He was not looking for one anyway.  Tim then goes on to explain to us that his church has recently hired a new Pastor.  The tone of Tim’s voice perks up some when he speaks of his new Pastor.  The pastor at whatever Methodist church Tim attends prays for one full hour non-interrupted each and every day.  Tim pauses for a moment letting what he had said sink in to the minds of the players seated before him.  I am not sure what Tim wanted in terms of a reaction since no one really looked up.  This did not damper Tim’s profound excitement and joy when speaking of his pastor and his ability to pray for one hour straight.

Tim is clearly amazed by his pastor’s divine praying ability.   His overly enthusiastic description of this pastor’s powers begins to take on a godlike persona.  I am now imagining Tim as one of the three children who witnessed the apparition of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal excitedly explaining to the locals what they had just seen.

Then Tim asks one final question again rhetorical in nature.  “Does anyone here know of anyone who prays for an hour each day?”

I kept quiet as did everyone else.  I am sure some could have answered his question with a possible yes or began to discuss other religions that practice long periods of meditation and prayer but this was neither the time nor place.  Plus Tim had some more reading on the agenda for us.

Tim reached for his phone once more and began to read aloud a list of ways to best schedule time to pray each day.  I took away that scheduling through Outlook was the most effective way. (He actually read that!)  Tim then led us in prayer and we began the second half of play.



Four guys shot around on the opposite end of the court.  Each was dressed in black t-shirts.  One of the players was not participating in warm ups, he was instead talking away on his cell phone.  The scoreboard clock read 33 seconds.

Forfeit was my initial thought closely followed by a sense of disappointment in not playing tonight.  Our team manager was now talking to the guy who had been on the phone.  I continued to shoot around while the four players dressed in black t-shirts along with our team manager continued to actively engage in some discussion.  The clock was reset for 20 minutes as our manager called out to gather our team at mid-court.  I overhead the guys on the cell phone say to his team no one else is coming tonight.

There was no mention of the word forfeit.  Our manager just pointed to a handful of guys on our team to say that they will play on the black team tonight.  One of those players was our best post player another was a decent athlete who could handle the ball.  Along with those two our tallest guy was sent over as well.  Like what Kobe Bryant often complains about with the owner and GM of the Lakers; I was not privy to any of those personnel moves beforehand.

We were out-rebounded by a wide margin.  No one on our team could dribble, catch, or make a basic bounce pass without turning it over.  Our team was truly awful.  Even after all that, we were somehow up by three points with a minute to play.  Another errant pass was made by our team resulting in a steal and an uncontested layup cutting the lead to just one.  I dribbled the ball up the court, which I took upon myself because no one else was really up for the challenge, and made some type of hand gesture to my teammates signaling to work the clock down.  I passed it to the top of the key to our guard who launched a three.  It bricked off the rim in the hands of our opponents guard who raced down the court and nailed a quick 15 foot jumper.   Dean Smith would be disappointed in the execution of our four corners offense.

I don’t think we ever launched a final shot before the buzzer sounded.  We lost by one to a team made up of our better players that we graciously handed over.  I would assume we officially received the “W” due to the other teams’ roster lacking in commitment to their team.  But then again, who knows at this point.  So we are either 1-1 or 0-2, either way we are not very good.  Things need to turn around fast….










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