Basketball was my sport of choice in high school. Well after a fashion. At 5 feet 8, I had the height for it, at least at my high school. Much to my disappointment, I was just an average player, and my little sister was better than I was, but I did love the game. My friend’s mom was one of our coaches. Our coaches had these little maroon red (our school colors were maroon and gold) stickers you would find on your locker after a game, depending on what your strengths were during a particular game. I don’t recall what the rest of them were, because the sticker I was mot familiar with was the little red hatchet. Because, as with many taller players, or with anyone who was hungry for going after the ball, I was good a getting fouls. I didn’t mind. I usually capped my hatchets at 4–not enough to get thrown out of the game. If I got less than 3 or 4 I didn’t think I had played hard enough. To this day I still don’t think going after the ball hard is necessarily a bad thing.
It’s all about attitude.
Speaking of attitude, I remember one time pregame at a school where we shared a common locker room space with the opposing team. We were doing our own version of trash-talking the other team before the game. We trash-talked with our eyes. Sizing up our opponents. Glaring. Being teenagers, we were all particularly good at glaring. There may have been low-throated growling. (Our school mascot was the tigers.)
At the mirror we shared, I found myself next to a tall blond from the other team. I was certain we would find ourselves jumping against each other out on the floor. (I loved jumping for the ball–this was in the old days, before they changed the rules, and when we had a whole lot more jumping for the ball.)
We sized each other up slowly. I stared her down something fierce. She stared me down right back. And then all of a sudden a spark of recognition hit my brain. “Kelly?” (See–I still remember her first name!) “Dalene?” We had gone to elementary school together in another city not too far away and had been good friends. We enthusiastically hugged and quickly picked up our long-standing friendship right where it left off.
Emnity was quickly replaced with affection, just like that.
I don’t recall who won the game that night, just that Kelly and I played and parted as friends, even while playing with all our hearts for opposite teams.
How would our world feel–if when we were about to trash talk a stranger (or even a friend or acquaintance)–someone we have made a judgment about based on one tiny piece we have of their whole, something they’ve said or whatever we’ve heard or read about them on the Internet or simply based on the fact that we see them as “other” than us on some issue–we could recognize the familiar in them. Maybe some sort of common ground. Another issue upon which we might not find ourselves so polarized. A common experience–joy or sorrow or simply being part of the human family–that we possibly share.
I wonder if then we might be a kinder, gentler, people? Still playing the game, but with better sportsmanship.