At 56, I had an “Aha” moment: When you don’t try to take the shot, you don’t win — you lose.
“I’ve got your basketball stats right here,” said Zak Keesee, as he pointed to his head.
The Athletic Director of the YMCA in Tavares, Florida sounded as though he was a basketball scout who was talking to a talented prospect.
I was no talented basketball prospect.
At that time I was 56, 5’10” and 2 hundred something pounds.
Zak quickly rattled off the numbers to me.
“78 pickup basketball games over 2 years. 751 screens. 1,258 passes. 4 shots… 2 points. Why?”
He noticed my absence of shooting the basketball.
“Why what?” I said back to the smiling man who knows sports and what motivates the people who play the games.
“You don’t shoot the ball. OK… 4 shots in 2 years. I’ve seen you pass the ball when you we’re 5 feet from the rim. Why don’t you shoot?”
“I play defense, Zak. I like playing defense. I enjoy feeding the ball to the scorer. I also enjoy stopping somebody from scoring. It’s what I know how to do best.”
Zak paused. He shook his head from left to right.
He spoke with a smile. Non aggressive.
“I’m not buying that answer. There is something deeper here that is keeping you from shooting the ball. Something that you’re not telling me. Shooting the ball is part of the game that you are missing. Scoring is fun. What is it… why don’t you shoot… tell me”.
He noticed me because I didn’t shoot. Everybody who plays shoots the ball.
Zak leaned into me to “protect” my secret.
40 years of pickup basketball.
40 years of shooting about 10 shots a year.
40 years of hiding the reason why I seldom, make that almost never, shot the basketball, was about to be revealed.
Zak is disarming, friendly and engaging. Smart. A deep thinking kind of smart.
Again he said: “Tell me.”
I felt nauseous, but somehow relieved that I was going to speak the truth that was going to set me free.
Zak had figured out the last number of my secret code. He just asked me.
“My brother was a star basketball player in high school and walked on to play freshman basketball at Michigan State University”.
I paused about 8 seconds.
The moment of truth had arrived.
I took a breath and spoke.
“I never wanted to be compared to my brother.”
“When did your brother play for Michigan State?”, said Zak.
“1968”, I said
“I get it, said Zak. “I’ve seen you in the weight room. You focus your efforts on the free weights, because you don’t want to be compared to your brother and his basketball expertise. You feel that you would always be 2nd or not so good compared to your older brother.”
I shook my head up and down.
“Yeah”, I said so quietly that a FBI listening devise couldn’t have heard me if it was tuned on “high”.
“If you’re going to continue to play basketball – in a league – you’re missing on a big part of the fun if you don’t shoot the ball”, said Zak, amatterofafactly.
“1968 was a long time ago. John, that was…” He wrote the numbers with his finger in the air.
“47 years ago. Perhaps, you could let that thought… that part of your life go away. It’s time. What do you think?”
He gave me a choice, focus on the past, the very distant past, or focus on the future.
“I will shoot the ball on Tuesday. I promise”.
Tuesday is the day for playing Legends Basketball, which is the YMCA’s polite way of saying Old Guy 40+ Basketball.
Zak spoke to me as I left the “Y” – “No demons. Shoot the ball. If you score… you score. If you miss… you miss.”
The “Y” Legends league has uniforms, referees and a game clock.
Just like my brother had at MSU when he played.
A real game.
It was now Tuesday
Zak was one of the refs.
I saw him and tilted my head in acknowledgement.
He tilted his head and made an imaginary shot without a basketball.
Zbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. The buzzer sounded.
“I’m shooting. I don’t care what happens“, I thought.
I was the 7th man on our 7 man team.
Just before 1/2 time I went in the game.
A real game.
The ball came to me and I shot: Miss.
I missed the backboard and the rim – a shot that basketball fans call an “air ball”.
“I’m shooting again. I don’t care what happens”.
You just thought that you are shooting again and don’t care what happens.
At 56, I had an “aha” moment.
When you don’t try… you don’t win – you lose.
Want to know how many shots I’ve taken and made in 4 seasons of Old Guys Basketball at the “Y”?
Call the Tavares, Florida YMCA and ask for Zak.
He knows the score.