Last week, my son’s basketball team lost in the last second of the game. Let me rephrase that, his team lost the game, but had the opportunity to win in the last second. They did not lose in the last second. They had played a full 32 minutes and had the opportunity to win by their collective efforts during the entire game.
I watched the reaction of the kid when he missed the last-second shot. Anguished. Hands over his face, then through his hair. I looked at his mom. I don’t know her very well so I don’t know what thoughts she had at that moment, but her look was both of disappointment and concern. Her son is a very smart, competitive player. The team had lost, and he was blaming himself at that moment.
The last second doesn’t define the game.
Just like a person’s dying moment doesn’t define their life. I was with my grandfather when he died several years ago. He died in very unfamiliar surroundings to the beautiful rural Virginia mountains where he had lived most of his life… in a hospital, after bypass surgery had not worked to improve his health but rather had begun a cascade of health issues, snowballing into the need for leg amputations and then the shutdown of his organs. He had grown up on a farm and had been a lumber man, spending his days outside more than inside, walking and farming and living. We remember him for his rich life full, not for how it ended.
We remember the last second because it is full of emotion, but a game well played, just like a life well lived trumps the last second anytime.
If the last second shot is a winner, we can celebrate, but also remember that there were other shots that enabled that one to seal the deal. If the last second shot bricks, we can remember those missed buckets and free throws from all the previous minutes.
My son happened not to be in the game at the last second. A fan that we didn’t know came up to him afterwards and said loudly as we were walking out, “You should have been in the game. You would have made that basket.” Unfortunately, this fan said it as we were walking near the kid who missed the shot. Ouch. My son had been in the game previously, and he had played a good, but not perfect, game. He made shots, but he missed some shots too. He played good defense and grabbed rebounds, but there were missed opportunities from him and every other player. Basketball is a team game, and it comes down to how well the team played together, not the individual player who makes or misses the last second shot.
I wanted to reach out to the kid who missed the shot to say something encouraging. But there are moments in which words are lacking. Sometimes silence good, and sometimes, it’s awkward. But then words can come out awkwardly as well and then hang in the dark night air.
So I chose silence with him and words with my son in the car about how the last second shot feels good when you make it, terrible when you miss it, but it doesn’t define the game.