I had been waiting for this basketball season since March 2003.
And no, I'm not talking about the Lakers having the best record in the NBA or my ward basketball team trying to repeat as stake champions
This basketball season was all about my seven-year-old Normal Mormon Boy. One of my all-time favorite pictures was taken in March 2003 while the Normal Mormon Wife and I lived in a cheap apartment complex in Tucson, Arizona while I attended grad school. We never felt completely comfortable in our apartment complex because we were the only people who lived there who were not...ummm...drug dealers. But on the plus side it did have a small basketball court where I could teach the Normal Mormon Boy important life skills like shooting a basketball and how to seek cover when you are caught in the middle of a gang war. One day while we were at the basketball court we took the following picture of a determined, undaunted, never-give-up 20-month-old NMB trying to make baskets on a 10-foot hoop.
The basket may as well have been 100 feet high when compared to this little knucklehead who still relied on his parents to change his diapers. But to his credit, he just kept shooting and shooting and shooting, convinced that he would make the next shot even though he needed to get about seven more feet of arch to hit the rim.
The NMB has always loved basketball. The fact that his sports crazed parents bought him a Lakers uniform as one of his first outfits and put plush basketballs in his crib may have had a little bit to do with this, but we can tell that he genuinely likes the sport on his own accord. At the age of five he wanted to play in the local county rec league for kids ages 5 through 7 so we signed him up and turned him loose. He did well as a five year old and scored a few baskets, but it was hard for him to get the women's sized basketball up to the eight foot rim against kids who were a head taller than he was. When he was six years old he held his own on offense and defense and even led his team in scoring a few times.
This year he was one of the oldest, most experienced kids in the league. And I'm not afraid or ashamed to make the following confession:
I was giddy with the prospect of watching my son dominate!
And in several games he did just that. It was a very cool experience as a father watching my son succeed.
Now please don't get me wrong here. The NMW and I are not the self-promoting, in-your-face, my-kid's-better-than-your-kid type of parents. Our parental cheering style is more like Bill Walton watching his son, Luke, play for the Lakers (analytical, supportive, involved) than Allen Iverson's over-the-top mama (hey everybody, look at me!) rooting for her son. But there were games where the NMB was all over the court - scoring, rebounding, defending, holding out for a better contract - and I was just beaming on the inside.
Again, I was not proud that my son was better than some of the other kids. I was happy that he was able to learn a valuable lesson that success can be attained through practice, sacrifice, hard work and listening to his coaches. And by taking steroids (whoops, I've said too much. No more trips to the Dominican Republic to visit our "cousins", right, A-Rod?)
What a great lesson for a seven year old to learn.
And, to his credit, the NMB does practice a lot. We have a basketball hoop at our house and he is always challenging me to play games of one-on-one or HORSE with him. I take those opportunities to make sure he learns correct fundamentals like getting his butt down and sliding his feet on defense, using his left hand, jumping forward when he shoots, and how to trip your opponent and make it look like an accident. Our most recent backyard challenge we invented has been hilarious. Instead of HORSE we came up with a game called, "If I Make This, You Have To..." and then fill in the blank. Here are a few of the crazy items we have come up with as we shot around this week.
"If I make this, you have to..."
-NMB: "Pay me $100 trillion dollars every second for the rest of my life."
-Me: "Go on your first date with a skunk when you turn sixteen, let the skunk repeatedly spray you, and then cook the skunk and eat it for dinner."
-NMB: "Buy me 50,000 houses and an airplane to take me to Disney World whenever I want to go."
-Me: "Shave your head and change your name to Crazy Face McGee."
But the award for best fill-in-the blank goes to the NMB with this gem:
-NMB: "Get a tattoo on your rear end that says 'exit'."
We both burst into laughter with that one. I know that as a responsible parent that I am supposed to discourage both tattoos and jokes about private body parts, but I just couldn't keep a straight face when the word "exit" came out of his mouth. Can you blame me?
One of the other reasons I enjoyed watching the NMB do so well this year is because next season the rims get raised from eight feet to ten. The ball will go from a smaller women's ball to a larger, harder-to-handle men's ball. Just as he did when he was five years old, the NMB will probably struggle to get his shot off on a higher hoop against older kids who are a head taller than he is. Next year he is going to have to learn once again that despite how hard he works or how much he practices, he is not always going to be the best. There will be kids who are bigger, stronger and faster than he is. He will have to practice more and work harder than he ever has before if he is going to succeed.
That's a pretty valuable lesson for a little boy to learn as well.
But rest assured, while I watch the NMB struggle next year against older, better kids there will be one thought coursing through back of my mind:
Just wait until 2011.