A very late Father’s Day present

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 15, 2001

Sports Editor

My father and I hung my first basketball goal on the red garage that sits behind our house.

I believe the goal was a gift for Christmas, given to me by my grandparents. It was heavy and orange and meant to be bolted to a backboard and the backboard bolted to a pole and the pole put in the ground. But I didn’t get a backboard or a pole. I got a ball, a net and a goal.

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So my father decided to nail it to the garage, a garage that was already old and home to a colony of termites and rotting in certain areas. He nailed it right at the center above the garage doors. I remember one of those doors was prone to falling off of its hinges.

The goal was maybe only seven and a half feet high, but it seemed regulation height to me, a short and heavyset 10-year-old boy.

My father played me in one-on-one games and H-O-R-S-E and around the world. Our playing court was a cracked, asphalt driveway that you couldn’t dribble on because the ball would hit a broken-up piece of asphalt and fly off into the bushes – on one side – or under my father’s bread truck on the other.

The one-on-one games we played to 20 points and they were the toughest because my father would allow me to build a big lead and then come back to win, beating me by six or four or two. Of course he was much larger then me, but to his credit he never took it inside for an easy basket. He always beat me from the outside with linedrive, one-handed, baseball shots thrown overhand and usually off of one leg. Sometimes he would go behind the side of his bread truck, out of sight of the basket, while I waited beneath the goal. Seconds later here would come the ball from behind the truck and sometimes it would be off to the right or to the left or fall short, but he would shoot them until one went in. It

didn’t take long for him to find his range.

Back then beating my father in game of basketball was a rarity, but something I tried my hardest at.

Year’s later now. My father’s older, past 60 and when we played, I was the one coming out on top in our games. Our goal over the red garage had long since been torn down, leaving nothing behind but a strip of faded red paint to mark its passing. When we had painted the garage years earlier, we had simply painted around it.

We played our games in the backyard on one of the more modern, portable basketball goals. 10-feet tall and with a base filled up with water to keep it stationary. We shared a beer after the games. He still shot the ball from outside, still off one leg. We laughed. He asked me if I remembered those games from long ago and how he used to win them, giving me the lead and then coming back. I said I did.

"I only did it to make you try harder," he said.

A lesson learned so long ago had come full circle. He didn’t have to say it. I suppose I could call it an apology of sorts. I had never thought about it before, but he must have felt more then a slight pain of guilt when he beat me all of those times.

Perseverance is something taught, not natural and innate. We are not born with the will to ‘try, try again’. We learn it through repetition, action and demonstration. I learned mine through my father and a garage basketball goal and games sometimes played beneath flood lights when it was dark.

No apology necessary Dad. I offer you my thanks instead.