Below the Rim

It’s game time, big fella!

It was the last day of 7th-grade basketball tryouts and Coach Feldman told us that he would post who made the team the next day. Of course, we were excited about the opportunity to play organized basketball for our school. This was a really big deal. For a middle schooler, it didn’t get much grander. Hanging in the balance of the decision was residence in prime position on the middle school pecking order, the opportunity to leave school early for away games and the chance to be on a pretty good basketball team. I went to sleep that night envisioning myself dribbling, shooting and passing my way to championship glory. It was great and I was a lock for a spot on the team.

Ha, I’m lying I was terrible and will always be terrible at sports. In all actuality, I was praying and hoping that the coach might show some mercy and let a kid who tries hard sit on the end of the bench. How could he not? Mr. Feldman, what I called him before I knew him in a sporting capacity, was my 6th-grade teacher and I would be willing to bet that I was one of his favorite students. 6th-grade was a shining moment in my academic career and the momentum carried me into 7th-grade with confidence. To be completely honest, I think the only reason I tried out for the 7th-grade basketball team was because my friends were doing it. Isn’t that why we did everything in junior high? If Chaz jumped off a bridge would I have done it, too? Why yes, yes I would. Fortunately for me, I had/have great friends and Chaz was not jumping off any bridges.

Stop kidding yourself, big fella!

The next day came and all I could think about was the list and if my name was on it. That day felt like suspended animation, 2:20 felt like it was never going to come, and then the clock struck… I made my way to the sheet of paper that was hanging by the boy’s locker room, and read through the list of names slowly. Sadly, my name wasn’t there. I knew this could be a possibility. I almost assumed it to be so before I read it. Did I mention I was terrible at sports?

I saved my tears for my walk of shame home, but as I was exiting the building Coach Feldman stopped me and said your name wasn’t on the list. I said, I know. He replied, you tried hard Sheldon and gave a lot effort, probably as much as anyone out there. I shook my head in agreement, but I was old enough to know that trying hard wasn’t enough. We were a couple of years before the “everybody gets a ribbon” generation. I was turning to walk away when Coach Feldman said; I still want you to be on the team. I looked at him and said how? He said equipment manager. EQUIPMENT MANAGER! You mean water boy? He replied, no, I mean equipment manager, but you still have to practice with the team, and if you get better you’ll get a jersey a few weeks into the season. I reluctantly accepted the deal knowing that this one would be hard to explain to family and friends.

You’re not a hooper, big fella!

I showed up to practice the next day and everybody asked me what I was doing there. I couldn’t find the words to explain, so I waited for Coach to tell them. After a few laughs and jokes at my expense practice started, and so did my basketball and EQUIPMENT MANAGER career. I did the dirty work: I got towels. I carried jerseys. I cleaned things. I practiced. I got laughed at. I hated it, but I took it in stride. I was of service. Coach held to his work, and as promised, a few weeks into the season I was bestowed with a jersey that didn’t have sweat in it, number 45.

I was like Jordan coming back from obscurity, and I had a brand new pair of Scotty Pippen sneakers. It was finally my time to shine; but, oh yeah, I still couldn’t play basketball. I was still terrible and I remained a benchwarmer, but I had a jersey and I didn’t have to clean things anymore. It was great!

Sit down, you’re about to fall!

My 7th-grade basketball career came to an end with a 0 in every stat-line imaginable, except playing time, which was reserved for blowouts in either direction. Honestly, when the season was over it was kind of a relief. I knew that it was not only the end of my season, but the end of my career, and you know what? That was fine with me because I realized that basketball wasn’t my calling. The motivation to be on the team in the first place wasn’t even basketball related. I cared more about relationships with my friends and my classmates’ perceptions of me. We can talk about the latter later, but I did have some key takeaways from the experience:

  • Hard work opens doors
  • Quitting isn’t an option
  • Adversity hurts – really hurts
  • Never pick up a basketball ever again
    • It’s not what you know
    • It’s not who you know
      • It’s who knows you and what they know you for (Thanks for the opportunity Coach)
    • Operating within your gifts brings true fulfillment
    • Everything else is a waste of time
      • Not your job
      • Let it go

Why? – Purpose

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. It is my opinion that it is my purpose to help others be the best that they can be. I believe that I am a conduit for the growth and development of others.

How did I figure that out? Honestly, through trial, error and sweaty jerseys. There is no sure-fire method to find your purpose, but there are some questions you can ask to start the journey:

  • What don’t you like about the world?
  • What gets on your nerves, but doesn’t seem to bother anyone else?
  • What makes you angry when you see it, but incredibly fulfilled when you can fix it or see it changed?
  • God, what’s your purpose for my life?

Simple questions, but it is my opinion that our hearts are geared towards fulfilling our purpose. We just have to listen when it beats for its calling.

How? – Gifts / Abilities

Your gifts will make room for you and bring you in the presence of great men. For a select few men and women, sports has opened doors and opportunities. I’m not one of those people. Mine were hidden treasures, more intrinsic that external.

  • One of my gifts is the ability to maintain a positive disposition. It’s not easy to smile in the face of confusion or to think logically through a completely irrational scenario. Let’s call that faith.
  • Others have also said I’m wise (I don’t like to say it), but I do pray for wisdom often, as God instructs.
  • Also, I have discovered that I am a pretty good teacher (Never would have imagined that growing up).
  • Let’s round this list out with service, or should I say loving to be of service.

God gave each and every one of us something uniquely special. We have spiritual gifts, which are freely given and for the most part, non-negotiable. God also gifts some of us physically, i.e. athleticism, intellect, musicianship, etc. It just depends, and others get them all. We all know that person. Whatever God gives you; he wants you to use it for his glory and to expand his kingdom. Then finally, what do you do with your gifts once you figure out what they are? Use them.

What? – Calling

The purpose for your life may encompass a specific course of action, or it may not. You may be a talented singer, but that might not be your purpose. It may just be one of many platforms to accomplish your purpose. For example, as previously stated, my purpose in life is to positively influence others. That can be done different ways through different modalities. I’m not going to limit myself. You shouldn’t either. The Bible says to sing a new song unto the Lord, so if you figure out a new way to accomplish your purpose; do that, too! However, I will qualify my statement; a jack-of-all-trades is often a master of none. Often times we can’t direct our attention and energy to more than one thing. So my advice, get really good at one thing and check back with God periodically. If it’s time to change, change it up. If not, stay the course.

Hang it up, big fella!

God didn’t create me to be an athletic superstar. He created me to relate, speak, write and influence others. He created me special with a specific purpose in mind, and he did the same for you. Your gifts may be very apparent or they may be buried like a pirate’s treasure, but either way, when you find them – use them. Fulfill the purpose that God has for your life, so that when you make it to the finish line you can look back with no doubt, no regrets and no confusion that you did what you were supposed to do. You’ll be able to recall purpose-filled days imbued with memories fond and say, that was fun.


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