Basketball May Not Fund My Retirement

Recently, I had a notion of a comfortable retirement courtesy of my son’s basketball prowess. I’d be the inspirational dad teaching him the fundamentals of a game I played myself, but never fulfilling my own potential. I’d push him just hard enough that we’d have an intense relationship, but one that he would eventually appreciate because I helped make him the success he would inevitably become. Kind of a cross between “He Got Game” and “Hoosiers,” with a little afterschool special thrown in.

That was all until I saw him play. We’re pretty much back to the drawing board in terms of get-rich-quick schemes.

It was a six- and seven-year-old league, so it’s probably unfair to expect too much of the boys. They dispense with some of the more restrictive rules, like the prohibitions against double-dribbling and traveling. There is a referee, but his job is mostly to whistle possession after the ball goes out of bounds and to keep the kids from employing professional wrestling moves on each other (to my eternal entertainment, that isn’t entirely possible). They don’t officially keep score, although any parent who thinks that particular brainstorm keeps the competition from getting too fierce has never stopped to listen to the boys keeping score themselves.

I’m not sure whether it’s the lack of rules or the basic nature of little kids, but the game ends up resembling the deleted scene from The Lion King. The ball flies around the court like the head of a comet, trailing six-year-old arms and legs everywhere it goes. When the ball comes to a stop somewhere, you’d almost expect the dust to settle and reveal the Tasmanian Devil, panting and growling. You see the same thing at Aidan’s soccer games, although at least in soccer he’s aggressive on ball and is developing some skills.

Basketball? My boy was on the court; that’s about the most positive thing I can say. He was the one perpetually on the wrong end of the floor. The ball would fly over his head without him ever even seeing it. He skipped up on offense and down on defense, rather than the gritty sprint I pictured Brendan Fraser trying to imitate just right for the movie about our father-son-coaching journey. Except for once batting the ball away before it smashed him in the face (admittedly, that was good defense), I’m not actually sure he ever got a palm on it.

I feel a little guilty for my reaction. I could sense the other dads nudging each other to look at the little lost kid, and every time they did, I’d yell at him to play defense. I took him aside during the half and tried to explain wanting the ball, marking a man, moving without the ball. None of that really made an impression. He honestly seemed happiest when the other half of his team was playing, and he was endlessly jumping up and down on the sideline.

“Was I like that?” I kept thinking. I tried to tell myself not, but that’s probably nonsense. The other boys on the sideline were jumping around and playing grabass, too, so it isn’t like he’s behind the manly curve. I guess we just have some things to work on: hand-eye coordination, aggression, awareness. At the end of the day, he reported that he had a good time, and I praised him and enjoyed how proud he was that I’d been at the game. That’s really the important thing.

Well, that, and teaching him to run. He doesn’t have to be Wilt Chamberlain, but he does have to knock off that skipping.

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