Over the last few months I have been to many basketball games where you begin to notice patterns, plays, and rotations in who plays and who doesn’t.
I have noticed on one team a boy who has only been in once, maybe two times, the entire season.
He is not my child, but as a parent, I sit and pray he will get in.
It also hurts to watch, as I’ve learned what a hard worker he is, and has always dedicated himself to being a great player, who has rarely had a chance in a favorable position to prove himself of game time minutes.
Perhaps it really ails my soul because I, too, was that kid, in 9th grade, watching and wondering if, how, when I’d ever get in the game.
I’ll never forget the moment I finally got my chance!
It was called “garbage time”, since we were up by about 20 points with 2 minutes left, the coach charitably let me in as the crowd was chanting and begging for me to get in.
I did pretty much nothing for the first minute and 40 seconds. I saw my moment and chance slipping away.
Suddenly, a shot was missed and somehow the ball landed in my hands, my first rebound of the season!
Instead of throwing it to the point guard, I turned and dribbled full court with my head down, as fast as I could to our basket.
Since it was “garbage time”, the other team perhaps felt I should have not been playing all out, but I had never been in, so this was my chance.
I went up with my right hand for a flying layup, as suddenly I felt someone shove me in the back so hard I went flying into the brick wall behind the basket, thankfully covered by a floor mat.
Slamming against the wall, I felt my right shoulder pop and come out of socket.
I lay there, a crumpled mess, as my teammate Cyrus Bromley ran over, grabbed me, flung me to my feet, and shouted, “You get free throws, baby!”
I winced in agony as my injury was a dislocated shoulder which still affects me to this day.
As my shooting arm dangled at my side, the ref asked if I was ok to shoot the free throws.
The coach, seeing I was in a semi state of shock and also unable to move my arm, called for someone else to take my place and shoot for me.
I glared over and shouted, “I’m shooting these free throws!”
The coach was upset, the ref was confused, the crowd started sensing what was wrong…as I stuck out my left non-shooting hand, the ref set the ball in my open faced palm.
I balanced it awkwardly, looked at it, and realized this might be my only shot for the season.
I took three dribbles, as I would normally do when shooting with my right hand, wobbled the ball back onto my hand, and then awkwardly shot the ball at the rim.
You may be hoping it was a swish.
You may be praying I don’t say, “And the airball was gloriously pathetic!”
But sometimes Hollywood isn’t the only one with a happy ending.
The ball actually bounced around the rim, off the backboard, and went in!
The crowd lost their minds.
My teammates began to reach for high fives and realized I couldn’t move my arm, so they smacked my left hand in complete shock that I’d made it.
Remember, the game wasn’t on the line, but my only moment of the year was.
I remember the refs smiling as they gave me the ball for my second free throw. One ref even whispered, “That was impressive.”
I could feel my Dad’s stare from the stands, believing my next shot could go in, since I had a little secret that he had forced me to practice for years: left handed free throws.
Why? He said because you never know when you’ll need it.
So I practiced them all the time.
They weren’t pretty, but I was about 85% with the right, and at least 40% with the left.
But we never switched hands in practice with the team, just shooting on my own when no one was watching.
Now the whole school was watching!
To say it doesn’t choke me up to write this would be a lie.
As I dribbled and balanced the ball, my right arm dead and dangling at my side, my left hand steadying the shot, I bent my knees, breathed out, and let it fly.
It was a perfect swish!
Everything went blank after that.
I didn’t pass out, it was just the first time that many people had ever celebrated with me to such an extent that I felt like a rock star by doing something they’d never seen anyone do before.
I remember a group of church adults from my community had come to our game to support me, and they shared that story with friends when introducing me years later. It had an effect on everyone there.
Yet it was something I had practiced – but no one knew that I could do.
It was a “just-in-case” skill.
Candidly, it was a complete fluke. I know that. It was what we call a tender mercy.
I needed that moment.
The coach hardly played me again that season.
I remember going to his Math and Japanese classroom after the season ended and asking him outright why he never played me.
He looked me right in the eyes and said, “Because you’re not good at basketball, Jason, and you never will be.”
I wrote what he said down and stuck it on my mirror.
As a freshman I was the last guy at the end of the bench.
That summer I learned the power of The Promise, making 50,000 baskets, dribbling, passing and rebounding drills for hours on end, and by tryouts as a sophomore I was starting Varsity, making All-State the next year.
That moment at the free throw line, the insults by the coach, and the summer that followed, is the reason I have become a successful performer, entrepreneur, speaker, and now, coach.
It all stems back to that moment and those decisions of belief in myself and to prove a non-Varsity coach wrong, who was not a good coach, and a consistent jerk to me, especially when I took him the newspaper to show him I’d made All-State, as he never congratulated or even liked me.
He had something against me. And I guess I eventually had something to prove to him, but mostly to prove to myself that I was good enough.
And now we circle back to that young man on the bench whom I have been watching closely.
If he ever were to read this, I would hope that my story could inspire him, but more importantly, to know that he inspires me.
He never misses a practice.
He’s never late.
He cheers everyone else on.
He shows up every game ready to go.
He has the skills.
He has the hours put in.
He just needs one moment, one chance, one opportunity.
I pray, as a father and parent and fan in the stands, that he gets in.
And when he does, I am going to lose my mind with excitement and pride for him.
Because every kid deserves a shot, every person who makes a team should get in every game no matter what level you’re at, before the pros.
Coaches that keep kids on the bench are not leaders of men. They are chasing stats, glory, and records to keep their jobs, where if they knew their real role, it’s to develop greatness, allow for mistakes, and embracing The Promise to Fail is the fastest way to success.
Here’s to the kid at the end of the bench.
We’re cheering for you, we’re hoping you get in, but most importantly, we honor your commitment to the team.
Thank you for your example. It takes a real man to show up every day, whether you get in the game or not, and that’s what you are doing: Keeping The Promise.
~ Jason Hewlett
Husband, Father, Writer, Mentor, Hiker
- Speaker Hall of Fame * Award-Winning Entertainer * Coach & Mentor
- World’s Only Keynote Speaker utilizing entertainment, musical impressions, and comedy to Create Legendary Leadership through the Power of Commitment
- Author of “The Promise To The One”