Thursday, March 6, 2008
Parents: honorary team players
It's the last game of the city basketball season and my son's team is matched up with one of the best in the intermediate league of 10- to 12-year-olds.
The teams go through their paces, warming up in two lines, one shooting and the other returning the ball.
B starts off the game in offense position.
All season, B's played with variable effort, 8 a.m. games see him slightly foggy in the first quarter — he's still waking up. In later games, he shows middling effort — with occasional bursts of glory.
And ... they're off!
Right away, our top ball handler, a stick-legged boy, smallest in the league, who as singlemindedly as any pro player uses his explosive speed to dance around, in between, over and in one magnificent instance — through the legs of a leaping forward twice his size, falls then skids across the floor like it's waxed to a high shine.
But it's not — this is skin to wood and he's smacked his knee for the umpteenth time this season.
We've got to watch this — the audience of aunts, uncles, grandparents, players waiting for their game in the next hour, older siblings goofing off, little brothers and sisters figeting as they devour their Skittles, and parents — who shout, "Shake it off!" and sit rigid, half a court away from their injured son, torn between dashing to his aid and remaining part of the amorphous crowd, bobbing heads of parental concern.
But — he's up! — squeezing the tears from his eyes and limping as the coach arcs his arm across #12's slight shoulders, and a ripple of applause runs through the spectators.
The game resumes. Our team shows a ferocity it's never before displayed, hungry for this last win. But the other guys are taller and faster and work together like one 10-armed, smooth-running machine.
We onlookers may see that dynamic, sizing up the match swiftly from the bleachers. But our kids are in the game, each a pawn with his moves known, but knee-jerk reflexes triumph — we're racking up fouls like brass rings.
But — hey, parents, we're not part of the action. We're not even on the floor.
"Stop him!" I yell, "Cover your guy!" and "Get the ball!"
(My husband smugly says, "It's called 'defense.'")
I don't know basketball, I want to scream at him, I never even paid attention to a game before B began playing three years ago. I'm Mom, B's number one fan and a vital component of his game!
But I'm not, really.
Last year, I asked B if he heard my direction from the stands, my uncontrollable commands and howls of praise.
"No, Mom. Just stop screaming. You're embarrassing me."
A boy tumbles just inches from my seat in the front row. I see him slam down on his right side so hard his sneaker flies off.
It's my son!
It all happens so lightening-fast, the ref's got him up and hobbling back to his spot under the left side of the hoop before my maternal instinct even kicks in.
My kid's never been hurt, the crumpled heaps on court have always been other parents' boys that I've been sick with worry over for the long few minutes our collective injury resolves itself.
B's eyes are red, and wet; he's grimacing, trying to run but markedly last in the pack — if this was a herd of Plateosauruses, my 4-year-old's obsession with all things dinosaurs so ingrained in my head I'm of pack mentality, invisioning my older son's certain doom from a pouncing predator.
But it's only a game, Mom! And B's out of it now — the ref's realized he's too momentarily hurt to continue play.
He's safe! I want to yell, but this isn't the Mesozoic Era, it's a bunch of fifth- to seventh-graders' last hurrah.
Two minutes on the clock and we're matched 25 to 25, then up a point, down two, matched again, 28 to 28.
Two long blasts of the ref's whistle. "Two minutes overtime," he says, barely audible without a mic.
My son's on the sidelines, red-cheeked with his chin in his palm. That's me, I think, vainly inserting myself in the game. I can still cheer on my teammates ...
Shoot after shoot barely misses the hoop. The other team racks up the foul shots because our guys are playing full-court press — it's do or die.
Miraculously, all the other team's shots are uneven — one of two or no foul shots make the hoop, then we meet their score, surpass it by one or two, then they advance ...
I can't take this anymore, I think, like I'm the one out there leaping and desperately trying for half-court baskets.
Double overtime — this one-hour game turns into one and three-quarters.
"Sudden death," the ref explains gravely, like he's on camera. "No foul shots, it's gotta be a two-pointer. First team to makes a basket wins."
32 to 32. I'm ready to throw up. I don't need to be here, I realize. If I stay or walk outside for air, the action will still continue.
But I'm unable to stop watching, drawn like a magnet to the drama.
Our best scorer takes a wild shot as his teammates pound the empty metal folding chairs with their fists — thunder.
It's in! Our team goes nuts — B's jumping sky-high, his good leg leading across the court, plunging his fist in the air.
Wow: what a game. B takes a couple shots on basket with a few of the stragglers as the crowd disburses — "Good game," parents assure each other, alternately triumphant and — in fairness — consoling. "Great season," we tell the other kids and their parents. "See you next year."
I gather my son, his sweatclothes, coat — my faculties — and head for the car.