The gym is packed. The game has gone into overtime. The fans are apoplectic at the referee’s latest call. You could be forgiven for thinking this was a Final Four contest, or an NBA Finals tilt. It’s not. Far from it.
Welcome to Nova Scotia Provincial U12 boys basketball final. Division 2.
I’d like to tell you that I watch this game from the stands: the picture of comportment, a basketball grey-beard who shakes his head at the behaviour of the parents as they howl and the coach of one of teams at play barks out a useless command at a moment coincident to the foul-shooting motion of an opposing player. (Sportsmanship be damned.) Nope. Look down the Hurricanes’ bench (the kids’ one, not the pro one) and there I am, rising and falling with every whistle as though the ref’s exhalations are inflating me.
I am the assistant coach to as sweet a bunch of boys as I have coached in my 30 years of doing this.
Over the past three decades, you’d think I'd have developed some perspective along the lines of ‘it’s only a game’ or ‘it’s just a match between kids’. Oh no. I’m more intense today than a middle-aged chain-smoker about to undergo open heart surgery; more Roy Williams than Mark Few; more ranter than rover.
What’s worse: I am one of the more sane people in the gym today.
Allow me to draw your attention to three players who've got me amp-ed up today. They are #5, #12, and #24.
The first two players wear the red jerseys of the Community Y Panthers (always a formidable opponent, in my experience) while the latter lad plays for the Hurricanes. Number #5 is a lean kid with cornrows and a sweet and speedy eurostep that paralyzes my players. And number 12 is a silky smooth ball-handler with a nice stroke from 17 feet. As for #24, he's on our team; a tiny, deft dribbler who stands out as much for his size and skill.
No one wears a surname on their jersey, but I can tell you that #5 has Carvery in his handle, # 12 is part of the Downey clan, and #24 is a Napier. Yep, he`s my youngest son.
The names wouldn’t matter and neither would the outcome of the game if it wasn’t for Steve Nash and Andrew Wiggins. Or Chris Johnson, Kia Nurse, and Lindell Wigginton. Those folks are doing for Canadian hoops what Sid, Nathan and Brad (and Al MacInnis and others) did for Nova Scotia hockey: namely, make the prospect of a fame-filled, money-soaked career in “The Show” a tantalizingly ‘real dream’ for thousands of young athletes.
Don't get me wrong, I love that kids dream. What makes me furrow my brow (then holler at the ref) is the Air Canada Centre’s worth of parents who believe their son or daughter is the heir apparent to Cory Joseph’s spot on the Raptors` roster. I blame our collective blind spot on advertising and the wheelbarrows full of money that turned pro sports into the lair of swaggering stars and greedy agents. And while it's true that not all players are jerks and not all agents are evil, $49 million over 5 years in exchange for filling stadium seats and causing palette-loads of sneakers and sugary drinks to fly off store shelves seems a little steep when kids in South Sudan are starving.
We all need to put things in perspective. Fast.
Once we do, everyone will see what I do... young Mister Downey fouled us on that last play! ... That Carvery kid`s eurostep is a travel! C`mon ref!
And my son? Well, please just ignore that last turn-over, that botched defensive assignment, and the fact that he`s 10 years old, and believe me when I tell you that, in my expert & unbiased opinion, the boy is clearly Second Coming of Steph Curry.
Hey ref! The #24 is getting hacked every time!