By Dave Armstrong (4-15-04)
If I may be permitted to brag and "wax macho" a bit: I'm a natural at sports: always have been. I've been good at every sport I have tried for any length of time: baseball, basketball, tennis, ping pong, volleyball, badminton, football, pool and bowling (well, in short spurts for both of those, cuz I did 'em less), Frisbee throwing (where I can throw forehand behind my back and catch it between my knees), ice skating, body surfing (boogie-boarding) on the Atlantic Ocean . . . I've even done some "daredevil" stuff like hang gliding and white water rafting.
You either have it or you don't. :-) So, anyway, today I was playing basketball with my second oldest son (10), the sports nut of my kids (the one I went to the Pistons game with two weekends ago). I put up a backboard on our garage last year but didn't play much. This year I decided to get back into it, because I loved playing basketball as a kid (I had a great hook shot in those days; I was imitating Kareem Jabbar), and I could sure use more exercise (with all this typing I do day in and day out).
I got away from it for several years, but was able to play on a pick-up team for many weeks around 1990-1991. That was really fun (though people who hog the ball always drive me nuts). I have played relatively little since then, but I don't lose sports skills that I once had (even now at age 45).
I have played one time before this year, about five days ago. My son and I are doing free throws (or "foul shots"). We figured out the "official" distance from the basket. So it is just like NBA free throws. We take turns taking shots in sets of ten to see how many we can make. Last time I made seven at best. That ain't bad for a guy who has hardly played in 13 years, and then not much till back in childhood years, the first time out playing for the year.
But today I was in the "zone." Anyone who plays much basketball knows what I mean: you get to this place where you almost will in the baskets, and you feel you can't and won't miss. It's a sort of supreme confidence and relaxation at the same time. I got my rhythm goin' good, where you get several shots that go right in SO nicely: all net; just the right arc, etc. I felt really good. So I made 7 out of 10 free throws a few times. But then I got on a roll and kept making shots: 3, 5, 7 in a row. 3 more for a perfect 10! Sure enough: 8, 9 . . . many all net.
Now, when you get to nine and know that one more will be a perfect ten, that tends to make you get a bit nervous, because these opportunities don't come around very often. Sports is about such little "victories" and conquering of one's fears and emotions. But in the "zone" such things are irrelevant. "Swish!!" #10!!!!
I had made ten free throws in a row: something I don't think I ever did at any time in my life. What a thrill! I had to run in the house and brag to my wife. :-) It is amazing when you think about it. For those ten shots I was better than anyone in the NBA. The best free throw shooters come in at about a 90% average. I was 100% for this brief glorious period. Same ball, same distance, same rim and net as the NBA (though I imagine the backboard bounces a litle differently) . . .
I haven't done an "exploit" or "escapade" like this since the mid-90s when I went to a YMCA a few times. I played a 22-year-old kid one-on-one (I was 37 or 38; out of practice, out of shape, playing without my glasses); but I won (I think it was 10-6). Stuff like that definitely strokes the old male ego. Us guys love to do well at sports.
The other funny "bragging" story of sports that is fun to recall (for those of you who are still awake and bearing with my foolishness) was around 1987 or 1988 at one of the church campouts we used to go to (back in my Protestant days). We were doing softball batting practice. There was this guy I was a bit tiffed at, who kept making me play right field on the team and batting lower in the line-up than I thought I should have been batting. I wanted to teach him a "lesson."
He was in left field. So I hit left-handed (I can switch hit but I am a natural right-handed batter). My goal was to "burn" this guy by hitting it over his head, to the opposite field. I didn't do it just once, but three times.
:-) He moved back after the first and I hit it over his head again, then a third time. He may not have understood what was going on in my head, but I sure enjoyed it. LOL
This is my competitive nature. :-) Michael Jordan was so fantastic because of his intense competitiveness. That's a psychological thing. I suppose some of that energy and "adrenaline" and determination to do well and better can be utilized in apologetics, too. God uses all of our attributes (even foolish ones). But of course apologetics and theology is not mere sport and "winning." That is neither its goal nor its purpose -- not at all.
Nevertheless, in certain situations where you are challenged, some of the dynamics remind me of sports and competitiveness in other games. I love a challenge in theology or philosophy just as much as one in basketball. But it's not a "personal" thing in either case (many people who don't "get" competitiveness don't understand this). It's simply trying to do your best: being the best you can be. The apologist tries to make the best defense that can be made.
Hopefully the apologist is "hitting a home run" or making ten free throws "for God" (rather than for a girl or their own egos) and for the Catholic Church (in my case). The reward or motivation there is in defending truth and seeing how it holds up against challenges and attacks. There goes my analogical mind again . . .
I note with pride, too, how good my ten-year-old, 4'10" or so son is at basketball. He made 7 of ten last time we did the free throws, tying my best, and made ten of ten from a shorter distance, about half as far as a foul shot (something I couldn't do last time or today: my best records were 9 and 8). That's darn good for someone that young. So he's definitely on his way in that sport. His big challenge to overcome is his temper and tendency to pout and be a poor sport. I went through that around his age (excepting the temper), so I can relate a bit. :-)
Let's hear some more "sports heroics" stories, guys! Here's your chance! It's a fun diversion from all the heavy, serious stuff . . .