Spent the weekend doing a thing we’ve spent lots of weekends doing in the past few months: watching basketball.
Much to the frustration of at least one high school coach I didn’t grow up a ‘basketball guy.’ I’m tallish and athleticish but I never could figure out the sport. It seemed no matter what all I could do was foul. I crash into someone, foul on Jon. Someone crashed into me, foul on Jon. Never could figure it out.
But my kids, it seems, are bound to follow their own paths and my Ben has fallen in love with basketball. Our relationship has become one of Ben starting sentences with a name I have never heard of before and then a pause to clarify “he plays for the (insert the team he plays for)” and me having to make the jump that we’re talking basketball because there are lots of teams and while I’m learning I’m pretty sure I don’t know them all yet. These conversations wander around and my little gerbil brain has to step up its pace on the gerbil wheel to make sense of them and I sort of do… sometimes. Ben credits me for all sorts of wisdom I don’t have when it comes to basketball and asks me questions I have no business answering like “Dad, do you think Wilt Chamberlain would have won more than four MVP awards if he played in today’s NBA?” and I’m all like ‘Well son, Chamberlain did average (madly googling) 30.1 points per game over a (madly googling) 14 year career but then again (something about a three point line being introduced at some point… I googled it). I don’t think he’s onto me yet
So Ben loves basketball and he practices every day since I built a hoop for him in the Jackpine and he’s lifting weights mostly so he is harder to move around in the key and he recently topped 6’3” and all of this is the long way of saying I love Ben and so I am learning to love basketball.
This weekend saw us at another tournament in another small town gym in another small town school watching sweaty teenage boys bump each other around and trying to get a large brown ball to fall through a hoop.
I love Ben’s High School team. He’s a grade 10 on a Varsity team so he doesn’t start, but he plays some and the boys are good to him and to each other and his coaches are great… knowledgeable and challenging. They’re also pretty good and that makes it fun to watch.
The last game of the tournament was against a small town just down the road that we have had some pretty competitive and passionate games against in recent years. The wins have gone both ways, making today’s game kind of a tie breaker. I happen to have coached some of the boys on the other team in soccer and Nik happens to have taught some of them when they were in elementary and we both know some parents on the other side of the bleachers. It so happens that I end up in the middle. Other teams’ fans to my left, Ben’s teams’ fans to my right.
It is uncomfortable and fascinating.
It strikes me that basketball is a game in which the refs have a lot of influence over the tenor and course of play. The game happens very fast and has a lot of rules and refs call it as best they can and for the most part I think they get it right. It gets uncomfortable and fascinating when they don’t, or at least when we perceive that they don’t. I am struck by how many times the hundred or so sets of eyes watch the same play develop and end up with two radically different narratives of what just happened. Suddenly a hundred people who know and mostly like each other are rent into two factions. Both factions know, in their very souls, that they are on the right side of history and that they have just born witness to a great injustice by bumbling officials or a that they were present to a great moment where a great wrong was righted by gallant and noble refs… depending which team your child happens to play for. And we yell and we groan and it’s all sort of embarrassing when you observe it from that awkward spot in the middle.
Don’t get me wrong, I yell and groan with the best of them and have felt the indignation of great unfairness and the pure joy of wrongs righted. I deserve no credit for good behavior. I just happened to catch a glimpse of the absurdity of it all from my seat in the middle.
And this, I think, is a fitting analogy for a lot of what is leading our news outlets to make endless news loops over polls about whether or not Canada is broken and if so who broke it. I have yelled and groaned with the best of them here too, bellyaching about perceived injustices or celebrating wrongs righted. I’ve been the keyboard warrior slicing through misinformation with sharp and clear keystrokes. All any of this has gotten me is strained relationships and people stacking proverbial sandbags in preparation for my arrival.
So I’ve slowly been shifting. It’s hard to shift, what with all the sandbags I’ve stacked and the trenches I’ve dug, but one degree at a time I think I might be managing it. Beyond the sandbags is no man’s land and it’s scary and exposed puts a person in a spot to be taking shots from both sides but the perspective is uncomfortable and fascinating.
From the middle, both sides look a bit ridiculous.
If you think Canada is broken, you underrate this great country. If you think you know who broke it, you overrate the power of your perceived opponents.
We are passionate about our players… our sons and daughters on the basketball courts and the MLAs and MPs that wear our favourite logo. Our allegiances get in the way of seeing the good work done by the other side. When the other team makes a good play, I sit quiet, looking to the refs for a call or rationalizing away that they ‘got lucky’ or how this is anything other than a win for the other guys. If I can shift it just a bit, it gets easier. If I can know and humanize the other, it gets easier. I know that the player who just hit that three hasn’t played much this season and those points will be so good for him. I know that the temper on the other point guard comes with a kind heart and a great sense of humour. It also lets me see that my team, yes even my own boy, have things to work on. Basketball is zero sum. My team gets a point and your team trails… my up is your down, but the rest of the world isn’t. It’s non-zero. If a policy that I thought was a bad one works, the other guys win but so do I. If a policy I believe in fails, I lose but so does everyone else. What if we can support our team and seek the positive in the other team AT THE SAME TIME. If your goal is to make a better province/country/world then that might just be the only way to do it. At least that’s what it looks like from the middle.
The likely last tournament of the year is next weekend with our boys going to the zone championships. I say likely as the top two teams advance to provincials but the competition is stiff and our boys have a big hill to climb to get there. No matter what though, I’ll be there cheering and groaning. I’ll try to do it with perspective. I might not be clapping when the other boys drop three or drive right through our defense, but maybe I can nod a bit of appreciation and mutter something nice. I’ll do my best… hope you do to.