It had been a close game through every quarter. They’d score a basket, we’d score a basket. They’d make two free throws, we’d make two free throws. We were neck and neck throughout the entire game. Neither team was willing to give ground.
I was 14, playing basketball in a summer league. This was a mixed gender league so my sister and I were playing with the big boys. My dad signed us up for the league every summer because he knew if we could play with the boys then it would toughen us up for the Fall when we were playing against only girls.
And so it was that we found ourselves in a heated situation. The other team gave us no quarter; we had no rest. We had to fight and claw for every point. But we had a strong offense and gave as good as we got.
Our star player, Seth, led our team. He was the best shooter we had, a great center, and an amazing defender. His little brother Sandy was short and scrappy and our point guard. My sister and I were in the forward positions, and our other guard was a kid named Joey. Together we were fighting a team of very big guys. They killed us on height and girth, so we kept our game fast and didn’t give them time to set up. They were definitely slower than us.
It was the final quarter. We were tired, but we wanted to win very badly. Coaches were out of their seats shouting orders to our team. People in the stands were cheering and booing with great verve. Parents in the stands were biting their nails and shouting advice.
We were nearing the end of the game. And we were one point behind. With just 2 seconds left on the clock, we called a time out.
We knew we only had one shot. We huddled. Our coach had a plan. We had possession of the ball under our own basket. All we had to do was have Sandy pass the ball to Seth so he could make the final shot at the buzzer. It was a solid plan. Our best shooter, 2 seconds left, let’s get it done!
We took up our positions on the court. I stood on one side of the key under the basket, while my sister stood on the other. Seth positioned himself at the top of the key where he was planning to take his shot. Joey was near the half court line because he wanted to take at least one defender out of the mix. And Sandy stood out of bounds with the ball, ready to get it to Seth.
But wait, what’s this? Where’s my defender? And where is Sandy’s defender? Both on Seth, along with Seth’s own man. Three out of 5 of their players went to guard Seth. Duh. They knew with only two seconds on the clock that we’d try to get the ball to our best shooter, and they meant to keep him away from that ball no matter what.
I stood there hoping Seth could find a way to get free from 3 defenders.
The referee handed Sandy the ball. Seth started running around trying to shake the boys guarding him. Agonizing seconds passed as I watched Sandy try to find a way to get Seth the ball. But it wasn’t going to happen. Seth simply could not get free. He was surrounded on all sides. In fact, the only person open was…me.
And that’s when something horrible happened. Sandy had no choice. I might have done the same thing if I were him. He threw the ball to ME!
Nooooooooo! Nooooooo! Don’t give this ball to ME!! I do NOT want to be holding this ball. Why? Why did you give the ball to me? I’m not supposed to have the ball!
I thought all of this in a nanosecond. As you’ll recall there were only two seconds left on the clock. It was up to me. I had to shoot the ball. There was nothing else to be done. If I missed the shot, we’d lose the game by one point, but if I made it… victory in the final seconds!
I took the shot.
Now everything was in slow motion. The stands held their breath. I could practically hear the ball whooshing through the air. The shot I took carried with it the desperate hope of my team. It was the final shot of the game, and for good or ill, our fate rested on my aim and accuracy.
I realized that if I missed the shot, I would carry not only my own disappointment, but that of my team. Sure, I could make an excuse. “The ball was supposed to go to Seth. I wasn’t ready.” But it wouldn’t assuage my guilt.
I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I didn’t want to be the reason we failed. But I did the best I could. I had shot the ball. It was out of my hands.
The ball banked off the backboard and went right into the basket just as the buzzer sounded.
Oh. My. God! I did it!
My team erupted into cheers. Our coaches flew off the bench and before I knew it I was encircled in a team bear hug that threatened to crush the breath out of my body. But I didn’t care. I did it. I took the shot and I made it. Me!
My teammates were thrilled. People clapped me on the back. People hugged me. People said, “I knew you could do it!”
Suddenly I knew what it felt like to be a hero. When the chips were down, I came through. It was an experience that boosted my self-esteem immensely.
And I learned in that moment that you don’t know what you’re made of until you’re put to the test.
So now I ask you. Where in your own life are you holding the ball? Are you standing there with a clear shot at the basket, but you’re too afraid to take the shot? Are you surrounded by defenders who don’t want you to succeed? Are they holding you back, blocking you from taking your shot? Or is the block in your own mind?
I could have just as easily missed that shot. I would have felt bad, sure. But I would have gotten over it. That was one game in a string of hundreds that I played. In basketball, you take a shot every few seconds. You don’t make them all. You don’t expect to. But you miss all the shots you never take. And every time you miss a shot, you learn, and you get better at taking the next one.
Look at the ball you’re holding. How long have you been holding it? When will you take your shot?