For those of you who don’t know, I played Church League Basketball.
If you read that and wonder which one I am, I am the quintessential Washed-Up Ballhog.
Our team was the First Baptist Muskogee Green Team, and well, we were what you’d call “suspect.” As in, “I suspect that at one point these guys were probably all really good, but I’m not sure at what, and they definitely aren’t now.”
Our team consisted of a couple of ex-baseball stars turned pharmacists, a man who makes shopping carts, an inventory lackey, a guy who does something with rugs, a farmer, an auto mechanic, and yours truly, an extremely overweight newspaper reporter/peon.
|The only person we were missing is this guy. Jackie “Love Me Sexy” Moon.|
At one point during the depressing first stages of our season, a Sunday School classmate approached me one evening and said, “Travis, I have a friend here who wants to play on a church league team, could y’all use him?”
I looked at his friend, who was maybe 6’4″ and weighed a solid 175. He looked like he was in really good shape, he had hands the size of a satellite dish, and he was black. Then he looked at me and said, “I have another friend that’s wanting to play too, would that be okay?”
You know how when you fall in love all at once and all you can think about is just being with that person day in and day out and conquering life together and taking on the world and hell with a water pistol and at the end of each day you look each other deep in the eyes and tell each other that you love one another more than life itself?
Well that’s kind of what happened to me only it was with a basketball context. I just stared at him in what was I’m sure a bit of a creepy way and nodded.
|Stanley was hands down the best character on that show.|
Since I was in church when all this took place, I took the opportunity to thank The Lord for His sudden and glorious contribution to a failing team. We were going to be the miracle of the season, the proverbial Bad News Bears of church league basketball.
PRAISE BE TO JESUS ON HIGH WE LANDED SOME TALENT.
For the sake of privacy, I will change their names. Let’s call them Kip and Jerry.
We signed them to a contract on Sunday, and Monday we had a game. We knew it would be a difficult game, but since we had signed our stars, we felt a little more confident.
Let me tell you folks. Kip and Jerry could HOOP.
They ran our team like Durant and Westbrook. Like Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Like Jordan and Scottie.
They were shaking people and breaking ankles and doing that thing where they almost dunked but didn’t dunk because it’s church league and you’re not allowed to dunk because they value self-esteem more than anything and getting dunked on in church league could really hurt your self-esteem.
Kip and Jerry fearlessly led our group of overweight has-beens clear through till the end. I’m here to tell you, we went on actual fast breaks. Fast breaks! We had transition buckets! Anytime any of us got in the slightest trouble, we’d kick the ball out to Kip and Jerry and BOOM! Buckets!
To put it mildly, they made it rain.
Then, to top it all off, they put together a string of successful and quite marvelous basketball plays that ultimately lead us to victory, 73-72.
WE HAD EMERGED VICTORIOUS.
The other team was stunned. No doubt they’d received scouting reports on our miserable performances and sloppy victories from earlier in the season, and I think they were expecting to beat us by 40 points and then go home and brag to their wives and children about how they embarrassed someone in church league because that’s what those kind of men do.
When I say that we beat a team by one point who should have beat us by 40, you can understand how glorious we all felt in that moment. You know the end of Hoosiers where Jimmy takes that shot and everyone starts going crazy? That was us.
My excitement was short-lived.
Fast forward to the night of our next game. As I was sitting there mentally gearing up for a gruesome thirty six seconds of actual trying, I got this text message.
|My world collapsed around me like a Lisa Loeb song.|
Apparently these boys were some local college hoops stars, and if there’s one thing church league rules clearly don’t allow, it’s actual good players. My world came crashing down around me. I knew what came next.
I had to break up with them.
I called the friend who had introduced me to them and desperately pleaded with him to do it for me. “Don’t let them show up tonight,” I said. “Please tell them I’m so sorry, and it’s not them, it’s us.”
My friend said alright, and then both of them showed up at the game expecting to play.
I can remember it clearly, like it happened yesterday. We were in the hallway just off the basketball court and near the locker rooms. The clock was ticking off the seconds until the game would start, and I was stalling for time trying to find the right words.
“I’m sorry boys, it’s over. You play college basketball, and they won’t allow it.”
They stared at me. You could see it in their faces, emotion etched into their eyes, each of them holding back tears while mine flowed freely down my face.
|It got real bad.|
I explained the rule to them, and one of them, in a desperate attempt to salvage the whole thing, said, “But I’m not going to play next year.”
I wanted to hug him. I wanted to reach out and hug them both, rub their backs, tell them everything was going to be okay, and that all we needed was time to pass to sort this all out.
But I held back, and told them that they were of course still welcome at our church, and how I wished they’d come back to see us sometime, and I must have apologized 25 more times.
And finally the buzzer rang that signaled the start of our game, and I gave them one last look, turned, and walked through the door and on to the court, and I haven’t seen either of them again since that day.
And that’s the saddest thing that’s ever happened to me in a break up.
|Change the “him” to a ‘them” though.|
It is pretty well known that I have somewhat of a way with words. I’m no Plato, but I like to think I have a slightly higher than average vocabulary, especially being in good ol’ Oklahoma.
|Sometimes I get a bit wordy when I’m leaning on things.|
Every now and again I can put words in a certain order that will make some folks laugh, other folks cry, and piss others off beyond belief. Call it a talent, call it a gift, call it whatever you wish, but there is no denying that God has given it to me.
So why is it that I so frequently muddle my words in His house?
That’s right, I’m going to give you the top three most offensive things I’ve ever said in a church building.
Having been raised in church my entire life, I’m no stranger to being behind a pulpit. In fact, I preached my first sermon at the tender age of 13, and it was exactly seven minutes long. I buzzed through three pages of notes so fast that the congregation wasn’t sure if I had completed one point or the typical Baptist three.
Fortunately, the third most embarrassing thing I’ve said in church was nothing irreparable, but it did manage to make a whole slew of folks mad at me.
3. “The Revival/Basketball Game statement”
I was 16, I was athletic, and I had just recently gotten a team together for a church basketball league. I was excited, because I was basically the head coach, and I might have done a bit of “outside recruiting.” You know the kind, where you have to search outside the doors of the church for a few players, players that don’t really know anything about Jesus, but have a mean 14 foot jump shot, and so you sign them up all in the name of witnessing.
Being proud of the team I had acquired, and not knowing yet that we would be spectacular failures in front of both God and men, I wanted to encourage the people of our good church to be in attendance for our first game. I stood behind the pulpit and addressed them, saying, “It’d be real nice of y’all to come out and watch us play tomorrow evening.” Then I remembered something in the back of my mind. Weren’t we having a revival this week? No worries, I can handle that.
“I know we’re having a revival tomorrow night, but surely some of you can make it out to support us.”
You would have thought that I had just questioned the immaculate conception of our Lord and Savior AND mentioned predestination all in one breath. The sharp inhalation of all those old-timers in the congregation caused a mild vacuum in the building. My youth minister at the time practically dragged me off the stage by my earlobe. I’m pretty sure I had to sacrifice a small goat to make amends.
But it gets better.
2. “Pimp Juice”
I had just recently been named Youth Minister, and I was busy establishing myself as a “cool guy” once again. This took more work than I thought it would, and so I found myself hanging out with my youth, trying to absorb their culture, their language, and their customs. One of the things I really harped on was transitioning from secular to Christian music, and I knew that in order to do that I should listen to some secular stuff to get an idea of what the kids were being bombarded with.
Some of you remember Nelly’s song “Pimp Juice.” It is a tale of unrequited love in which Nelly seems to have captured the heart of a beautiful young lady, but he is concerned that she only wants him for his “pimp juice,” which I, at the time, thought was something served out of that big cup that rappers always carry around.
Little did I know, “pimp juice” stood for something very different in the eyes of my youth. One Wednesday evening, as we were preparing to start the lesson, one of my kids was joking with another about how he thought this girl liked him, but the girl was in the room, and she was vehemently denying it. I looked up and addressed the situation by saying, “Yeah, she only likes you for your pimp juice, man.” The entire youth group stopped and looked at me.
|I love this picture.|
It took two or three of the older guys in my group to take me aside and explain to me what their translation of “pimp juice” was. Suffice it to say, I could not look the young lady in the eyes for the rest of her days in the youth group. I was, to put it mildly, mortified.
And it gets even better.
1. “The unknown sexual innuendo”
This took place only yesterday, and was in fact the inspiration for this post.
We have a very diverse and incredibly awesome Sunday School class. I know I’ve raved about it before, and I’ll continue to rave about it because it is amazing. The people are real. They have problems, we have problems, and everyone will share them with everyone else so no one has to feel left out or alone in their struggles. We are also…a tad immature.
You know how when you were twelve and someone would say “sex” and you’d giggle for thirty minutes with your friends? Well, our class has never really grown out of that phase. In fact, I’d venture to say that those reading this from that class just giggled when they read the word sex not half a paragraph ago.
At the moment, we are going through a series called “The Five Love Languages.” This is a very popular curriculum in churches, and it honestly does help a lot of marriages. The five languages of love according to the author are quality time, gifts, affirming words, physical touch, and acts of service. In our class, you can pretty much substitute “physical touch” for “sex.” Imagine that, a bunch of mid to late 20 year olds having sex. Anyway, when we start discussing physical touch, it inevitably leads to giggles, laughter, and someone, usually me, saying “SEX” really loud, just for the laughs.
Anyway, back to the situation yesterday. One of the class members is the mayor of the fair town of Muskogee. He does the announcements for our class, and is sort of the “warm-up” act before the main lesson. He addresses everyone in the room with a question of the day, and gets everyone comfortable. Some days that works splendidly. Other days he has to fight for control like the producer of “Toddlers and Tiaras.” So yesterday, Bob looked at me and, referencing a newspaper article I wrote last week, said “Travis, I bet you at a lot of peaches last week, eh?”
“Absolutely not. Why would you eat anything with hair on it?”
I stopped myself too late, as the duality of the words I had just spoken washed over me the way they can when a man offhandedly refers to cunnilingus during Sunday School. For a moment, some semblance of order was maintained as those around me began to grasp the painfully obvious. I just hung my head. Then the giggles started. And they kept going. And I just sat there, eyes downcast, wondering why in the world the good Lord lets words even come out of my mouth.
Bob, I’m sorry. Next time I’ll just talk about how much I love oranges instead.
|This is me. Right now. Pissy and sad.|
I’m in a foul mood. Thanks to the IRS, the jackass that I work with that ate all my oatmeal and left the empty container in the cabinet, a headache, and the fact that my church league basketball team got slammed again last night, I have sort of gone into this funk, almost a pity-party, but with more anger and loathing.
So before I sink too far into the “well of despair” and have to see some sort of doctor who will prescribe a pill that makes me really happy all the time but kills my sex drive and gives me a permanent case of the hot poops, I’ve decided to make a list of all the things that I have to be happy about.
I’ve never tried this before, and I may leave some things out, but don’t judge me.
The Literal Counting of My Blessings
- Our kids. Obvs. I actually got left alone with them the other night for forty-five minutes, and they didn’t annoy me at all. In fact, I finally had to give them gum to shut them up because we were getting along so great.
- My wife. She’s every bit as mad as me, but hey, misery loves company.
- I’m alive. I’m fat, I have diabetes, I’m stressed from work and school and everything, but when I woke up this morning, I wasn’t dead. So there’s that.
- I have pretty much the coolest dog on the face of this planet. She licks my face.
- My Sunday School class is seriously the best thing in the world. They REALLY suck at basketball, but they are definitely the underwire in the push-up bra of my life.
- My best friend is getting married.
- Last week, I told a lady at work that her lunches always looked amazing and that I was seriously considering giving her money every week to pack mine for me. Today she made me a sandwich.
- I serve a God who I get really mad at sometimes and maybe I say mean things to Him. He can handle that, and sometimes He slaps me in the face with sandwiches to remind me He’s still around.
- You’re reading this.
- I have an A in Algebra. Which, if you’re an atheist or maybe even just agnostic, proves the existence of God.
- In five weeks I’ll be laying on a beach in Florida. That may, in fact, be all that I can afford to do, but at least I’ll have that.
- My mom, brothers, sister, and niece are the bees knees.
- We have a house, two vehicles, jobs, and food to eat.
- I’m actually not that terrible at Draw Something.
- I’ve lost thirty pounds since January. My BMI is still 8,456, but it’s progress.
- I got a new flash drive today, and I named it Turd Ferguson, and then I found out that you can replace the default icon on your desktop with one of your own, and so now when I plug Turd Ferguson into my Mac, a picture of Norm McDonald in that ridiculous hat pops up and makes me laugh.
- I can still laugh at Norm McDonald.
- I haven’t heard the song “Rack City” in almost two weeks.
- I can still tell a wicked good story that will have you laughing so hard you might pee a little.
So there you have it. Those are a few of the things that I feel like are blessings in my life right now.
But remember that guy a few years back that flew his prop plane into the IRS building because he was mad at them? For the record, I totally understand that guy right now. Totally.
As some of you already know, I play church league basketball. About four years ago, I retired from The League, citing my overworked knees and my tendency to get really competitive and angry during games, resulting in decidedly un-Christlike behavior. Then we started going to a new church, and our Sunday School class decided to put a team in the “recreational” division of The League. We’ve played together for two years now, and in that time I’ve noticed that all the teams are pretty much made up of the same nine guys. There might be fifteen on a team, but it’s really only nine personalities out there.
Here are those personalities.
1. The Angry Guy – This is the guy that’s probably had a really bad day at work. Maybe he got yelled at by his boss. Maybe he IS the boss, and his employees are only marginally more competent than a stick of room temperature butter. Maybe he came home from work to grab a quick bite before the game and his wife told him that their four year old had choke slammed a kid at school resulting in their suspension and now they have to pay the choked out kid’s medical bills. Regardless of what happened, the dude is angry, and he’s going to release that anger on the court. Some might be passive aggressive and elbow you when no one is looking or call you ugly under their breath, but others will downright try to hurt you. They see you as the person who shot their pet turtle that one time in the fifth grade. They are what is traditionally known as a “live wire.” They are probably already taking baby aspirin, and are a choke slam away from having that first heart attack.
2. The Show-Off – This gentleman is usually the best player on the team, and he knows it. He also has it in his mind that there are actually NBA scouts in the stands, and if he plays well enough he’ll get a contract. He probably had a shot at college basketball at one point after high school, but he blew it in one way or another and he’s still bitter. He’ll give a post-game interview to anyone who cares to tell him “good game,” and he’ll usually try to get his teammates to run at least one play that he’s seen the Lakers run. He’s really not a bad guy, and all he wants is his picture in the paper.
3. The Mediator – The Mediator is the person who spends most of their time yelling encouraging things at BOTH of the teams. Peppy stuff, motivational stuff, and helpful stuff, reminding everyone that it’s a church league and that Jesus is watching. He’s the first one to break up any arguments that might happen, and he’s the first one to explain to the referee that The Angry Guy’s kid choked someone out in school today. He’s the guy that will tell you it’s all in fun when you’re down fifty points and have absolutely no hope of winning a single game during the season. Everyone loves The Mediator, but everyone also secretly wants him to validate their own emotions by seeing him punch just one guy, one time.
4. The Competitive Guys – These folks can be broken down into two groups. The “Skinny/In Shape” guys and the “Fat/Out of Shape” guys.
The Skinny Guys are the ones who dive for every loose ball, foul you hard in the paint when you think you’ll get an easy layup, try to get you to run a 1-3-1 defense, and just in general think that everyone should be playing as hard as them. These guys aren’t angry, but they more than likely have an actual training plan for the church league basketball season that includes a strict diet and exercise regimen.
The Fat Guys are the ones who really want to run that 1-3-1 and who will still foul you hard, but they just can’t get up and down the court the way they used to. They’ll play with the heart of a lion for about thirty six seconds, and then they’re huffing and puffing and pretty much just praying to God above that they’ll be in the right place at the right time. At some point during the game, a Fat Competitive Guy usually turns into an Angry Guy.
The Stalwart Defender – No one else knows when it happened, but at some point and time in the Stalwart Defender’s younger days, a coach looked at him and said “Son, you play really good defense. DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS, SON!” This guy could tell you the year, the month, the day, and what they were wearing when their coach told them this. They despise all things zone, and by the end of the evening can tell you what flavor of gum you’re chewing. If you get stuck being guarded by a Stalwart Defender, your only hope is to try to check into the game when he’s on the bench, which will probably be often, because his jumpshot looks like something out of a Michael Bay film. When he comes on the court, he immediately yells “FIND YOUR MAN!” followed by “I’VE GOT THIS GUY!” while tugging on your shirt like you’re a puppy about to go for a walk. This is probably the most annoying guy you’ll ever play against, but you want him on your team.
The Third Referee – Every sport has this person. The person who thinks they were born with a striped shirt and a whistle in their hand. The person who seriously considered listing “NBA Referee” as their five year career plan, or even worse, used to be an actual referee. They aren’t the referee in this game, but you wouldn’t know it except for their jersey. Their favorite line is “OVER THE BACK!” but they don’t limit it to that. They’re constantly trying to get a three second call on someone. They explain to the officials how that really was a foul. They scream “WALK!” after the referee has already blown the whistle to call a travel. They’ve usually been warned about it in a church league game and have been kicked out of their old high school’s gym for insulting an official’s mother. He’s the only person on the team that will actually try to take a charge. He is also more than likely…
The Crybaby – This person may not try to be an official, but they aren’t happy with ANYTHING they call. “Their foot was on the line.” “That was probably a foul.” “I want more playing time.” “I just can’t get it to fall tonight guys.” “Honey, I can’t believe you don’t come watch me play.” These are all things a Crybaby says. They are pouting when they come in, and they are making excuses after the game. They would rather miss a play on defense because they’re trying to get the ref to notice that the way the point guard is dribbling is actually carrying than just suck it up and play hard. At some point during the game, The Crybaby will say, “I got Powerade in my eye guys, give me a sec.”
The Washed-Up Ballhog – This is the guy that had a so-so high school career but was never actually good enough to get into college. He’s played church league almost exclusively after that because he feels like he’s better than everyone except The Show-Off. If you pass this guy the ball, he is GOING to shoot. Ball movement never enters his mind. He’ll shoot 23% on a great night, and 12% on an average night. He doesn’t understand how people can manage to block his shot or steal the ball from him without fouling him first. He probably tried to “retire” from church league at one point and got talked into coming back. He tells people he’s out there for fun, but when it comes down to it, he’s a choke slam away from being an Angry Guy as well. He’ll make little noises on the three point line to let someone know he’s open even though the guy with the ball has a higher shot percentage and a better shot. At some point during the game he’ll yell “GIVE ME THE ROCK!” Also, he calls a basketball a rock.
The Guy Everyone Wants To See Make It – If there was a “Most Improved” award, this guy would get it every year. He’s never played basketball a day in his life, but he got sucked in by all the “It’s gonna be so fun!” talk, and decided to cough up the money to play. At some point you’ve probably had to explain to him that he can’t play in work boots or flip flops. When he gets the ball, everyone yells at him to shoot it, no matter where he is on the floor. He is, in fact, the only person that will ever have a screen set for him. The entire crowd is breathless when he chucks the ball at the hoop, and if it goes in…pandemonium ensues. At least one time during the season he’ll have an asthma attack, and he can probably give you a complete run-down of the stats for the entire team.
So that about wraps it up. These nine guys step out on that floor at some point during every game. It may only be church league ball to you, but for everyone out there, it’s forty more minutes of trying desperately to hang onto what’s left of the Glory Days.
To them, it’s The League.