He Shoots, He Scores! Oh-oh.

I cringed hard when I read Josh Wilker‘s account of scoring his first basket for his seventh-grade team in his excellent memoir, Cardboard Gods. It was an away game and his joy was uncontainable . . . for a brief shining moment before it all turned to dust. I cringed all the harder because unfortunately, I could relate. My own story follows this excerpt from Josh’s book.

The ref handed my teammate Chris the ball and Chris slapped it with his right hand, a signal to the rest of us to start milling around, pretending we had set plays. In a rare burst of on-court assertiveness, I cut hard to my left, breaking free of the listless scrum of bodies near the center jump circle. I caught the inbounds pass in stride and started dribbling toward the wide-open hoop. I had not yet scored the first basket of my career in organized ball, so as I dribbled a kind of joy bubbled up through my rib cage and into my throat.

Previous to that moment there had only been an aimless Saturday morning murmur of voices in the gym. Suddenly the murmur spiked, went weird. I’d never heard the sound before and hope to never hear it again: A generalized, ingrown gasp, like a note from a choir on a record played backward. I pressed onward, dribbling, still preposterously open, ignoring.

I stopped just inside the foul line and hoisted the side-holstered push shot that all kids use before they get the hang of a real jump shot. Improbably, the basketball grazed the inside of the rim and nestled through the net. The strange sound that had risen up all around me ceased. I turned, smiling, expecting to see my teammates smiling back. Jesus, the look on their faces. The look on (Coach) Duncan’s face. My own smile congealed. The players on the other team stared one more beat, still stunned, then started spasming with laughter. Eventually the scoreboard operator, also laughing, added the tally to the swelling number beneath the word HOME.

My own joy-giving-way-to-horror moment occurred in ninth grade during an outside phy-ed class football game at St. John’s Prep. I wasn’t paying much attention to the action on the field but wait!—a pass was hurtling through the air in the general vicinity of a handful of us who were standing around waiting for the game to end. The football glanced off someone’s hands and into mine. Naturally, I took off for the goal line. As you may have guessed, it was the wrong goal line. Just as former Minnesota Vikings great “Wrong Way” Jim Marshall had done in a 1964 game against the San Francisco Forty-Niners, I scored a touchdown for the wrong team!


All the rest of the day, I endured catcalls from my amused classmates. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t a league game and there were no spectators so I wasn’t in the spotlight on center stage like Josh was. Still, I was so deeply embarrassed that I couldn’t make myself get on the bus for more cruel teasing during the half-hour ride home. Instead, in tears, I called my mom, who was kind enough to drop what she was doing and come rescue me.

Also fortunately, I realized that the best defense for the following day was a sense of humor. So the next morning when I got on the bus and Harry Burns, an older student who loved picking on me, immediately began to taunt me about scoring a touchdown for the wrong team, I smiled jovially and said, “Yep, me and Jim Marshall, we’ve gotta stick together!” That was the last I heard about my gaffe because the other kids knew they couldn’t get a rise out of me. Thankfully, what could have been a painful, defining moment in my ninth-grade year turned out to be an amusing blip. Here’s to a sense of humor!

Click here to see all my posts featuring my life stories.


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For an inscribed copy, click here to e-mail Phil for information.

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Here is a two-minute video introduction to Through God’s Eyes.

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sixty-seconds-coverPhil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent authors and thought leaders he interviewed. The roster of storytellers includes Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, Caroline Myss, Larry Dossey, Rachel Naomi Remen, Bernie Siegel, Dean Ornish, and Christiane Northrup. Sixty Seconds has been translated into four languages: Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories.

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