The shot the Lord guided – maybe

Published 8:30 pm Friday, May 3, 2019

will tell you from the start that I am going to get in trouble for today’s column. Bank on it. Or, as I told my ballplayers through the years: Put it in your notebook.

The trouble won’t come from just one side, either, but from two. I’m going to feel arrows flying around like Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

A man who is an atheist is going to say, “Do you really believe all of that?” I know, because I just had a nice atheist gentleman respond a bit unfavorably to a recent column. Mainly, I’m glad he takes the time to read us.

On the other side, though, a man who espouses faith will say, “Do you really believe God cares about whether a ball goes through the hoop or not?” Again, I know, because I’ve heard such a statement in matters God is more likely to care about than this case.

But this is not just any case, and it’s not just a run-of-the mill shot, either. It is an important story in a man’s biography – a great moment, indeed – and it has to be told. If I may be so proper, it shall be told – arrows and all.

The occasion was my last home game before I closed out a three-decade career of coaching basketball. After over a thousand games, it came down to this: One last game on that Red-Oak-Hawks home floor against a formidable foe — the Lancaster Tigers, our nemesis from five miles down the road.

Despite the stoutness of our opponent, my young men went toe-to-toe with their rival all night. We trailed for most of the evening but took the lead late; and – with 20 seconds left – we clung precariously to a three-point lead.

The Tigers, though – on an inbound play under their basket – got a man loose in the corner; and, naturally, he knocked the shot down without so much as grazing the rim. By the time the net swished, the clock had ticked down nearly to ten seconds, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Through the years, I always tried to keep one timeout in my back pocket for such a time as this, but on this night I had exhausted my timeouts in the nip-and-tuck of the game.

The kids, though, seemed unfazed by the big moment. They inbounded the ball quickly but found themselves in the face of the tough Lancaster full-court press, preventing them from getting up the floor quickly.

The inbound came in to one of my guards, and he reversed it back to the inbounder as we looked for an open pass down the floor. One of those two backcourt players should have been my little freshman point guard Mark Boson; but, instead – and I still do not know why – he took off down the right side-line and filled the shooting guard’s lane. After the reversal to my junior forward Jalen, Jalen spotted Mark open down the sideline and sent a two-handed chest pass diagonally to young Mark, thirty-feet from the basket with only a couple of seconds left.

I remember thinking that Mark had time to take a dribble or two to get within shooting range. But, instead, the young freshman, who was not a particularly good shooter, caught the ball and slung it up in one quick motion. I knew there was no chance of that ball going in because – after coaching more than a thousand games – I had never won a game with a “Hail Mary.”

I stood on the sideline with a grimace, watching that ball sail and thinking about overtime. The ball, it seemed, floated in slow motion, just as it did in that last shot in the great movie “Hoosiers.”

After watching it sail for what seemed an hour, I remember thinking, “Hm, this ball has a shot.” From my vantage point, it seemed long enough, and it seemed to be on line enough. The next thing I knew, the ball ceased traveling in slow motion and resumed to full speed, kissing off of the glass as sweet and gently as a grandmother’s kiss on the cheek.

You would think I would have jumped up and down – the kids were doing plenty of that as they thronged my young freshman – but, really, I could only smile at that moment. It was over – not just the game but a thirty-year career. For it all to end that way, you can only smile.

In all of those years, I never felt that the Lord gave me any particular advantage, even though – I admit – in my time I prayed a lot during some high-pressure free-throws from my small sideline prayer-box. But, for the most part, the Lord seemed to let me win or lose on my own, without any particular providential help – at least, as far as I could tell.

But this night was different. I cannot help but feel the Lord guided that ball right to the glass and into the net. I don’t even know if He called “Glass” the way we are supposed to, but He seemed to have had it in His plan to give my team and me a proper send-off.

For all the growling skeptics, I will say this:

Maybe the Lord had nothing to do with the flight of that rainbow shot. Maybe it was just our time. Be that as it may, I’m still very thankful to the Lord that shot went in. You see, even if my skeptics are right and He didn’t guide that ball skillfully through the net that night at all, He sure didn’t reach down and swat it away, either.