BOWEN COLUMN: Basketball is Life!

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, June 21, 2022

I’ve been reminiscing lately about my illustrious – or maybe not so much – basketball career. The nostalgia came from my study in the book of Philippians where the apostle makes the grand statement that “To me Christ is life,” as some translations put it. That thought immediately reminded me of the tee-shirt we’ve seen that says, “Basketball is life.”  Naturally, that spiraled my memories to scrolling all the way back over a number of decades, across several states, and up and over many mountains and down many valleys. You understand.

When the wheel first stopped turning, it had landed on my career in the third grade, which tells you a great deal about just how far back the influence of that orange sphere really goes. And when the memory wheel stopped at the third grade, it naturally stopped with one of the names that was etched in a young mind and forever will be: Ms. Goforth.

She is the teacher who invented the phrase “cruel and unusual punishment” — or, so I like to say. You see, Ms. Goforth held me after school for an hour one bright and beautiful fall afternoon. That was a penalty far too great for a small crime, one so small I don’t even remember what it was. But Ms. Goforth saw it differently — I say ‘differently’ here just so my junior English teacher Ms. Long will be proud that she taught me how to use adverbs correctly and, perhaps, will attest to the unparalleled excellence of her former student, merits evidently lost on my third-grade educator and warden.

Ms. Goforth decided one day to avail herself of joy of the presence of the eight-year-old star basketball player for an hour after all my friends had long vacated the Southwest Elementary School premises. I had a big game scheduled down at the old Y at Hillside right after school; and it was all I had on my mind the whole day. That slight ‘distraction’ may have contributed to Ms. Goforth’s decision to extend my sentence beyond the normal school hours into the abyss which is life after school. Oh, how I wish she had just taken me into the hallway and laid a couple of good ones on me and said, “Don’t make me call your Mama, young man!” then called it even!

The dismissal bell rang, then time crawled along slower than a long sermon. Time during regular business hours flew by in comparison to that torturous after-hours session. As tip-off drew nearer over at the Y — it must have been a 4 o’clock tip-off — I appealed over and over to the warden, only to see all of my appeals denied. Tears did not put even a little dent in Ms. Goforth’s armor.

Sometime after tip-off, she mercifully unshackled me and released me to the bright sun of the outside world. I hit the door running — free, free, free at last!

I am glad to tell you that the young star player — who had freshly crossed over into double digits in age (if not in points that day) — made it to the game that day after a frantic one-mile bike ride to the gymnasium. But, alas, he walked in with the game was half over, and the results when he hit the floor were less than impressive. I remembered slipping and sliding along the whole game; and I have no memory of anything spectacular, such as a dipsy-doodle shot in the paint or a downtown-Freddy Brown shot from deep. I felt it was a low-point in my young career; and I owed it all to my third-grade educator.

Years have passed, and I have tried to forgive Ms. Goforth for her inability to appreciate my brand of excellence. I’m sure that her actions helped mold my character and make me a better person. But a couple of hard licks with the paddle would have branded some character into me, too, I’m sure. I would have gladly taken it on the chin — or the other part of the anatomy — to have been afforded the opportunity of a thrilling thirty-point game and, perhaps, unfading third-grade glory!

You see, way back there, something already had come over me that was not going to ever go away. The imprint had been made: Basketball was life. Ah — and I saw this with a smile — Ms. Goforth had long before figured that “Basketball is life” thing, much to the chagrin of that baby-faced lad. And she played that Ace card on him at the most inopportune time one gloomy and merciless afternoon long ago.