The Old Man Who Could Have Been King

A number of years ago, I was part of a group of teachers who volunteered to teach summer school for some struggling eighth graders in the Cincinnati Public School District. One of my co-teachers was a friend named Jimmy who was also the boy’s basketball coach at one of the district high schools.


Arriving early one morning, we talked about his program, and then the topic shifted to the basketball program at the University of Cincinnati. Jimmy sounded like he was more familiar with the program than I had expected, so I asked him if he knew Coach Huggins.


“I’ve known and worked with him for years,” Jimmy said. “As a matter of fact, he’s tried to hire me as an assistant several times.”


“Why wouldn’t you want to move up to the college level?” I asked.


“Well, first of all, I love what I’m doing. There’s nothing like coaching high school basketball. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. I give my players my number so they can call when they need help making better choices.


“Second of all, if you are a college assistant, you don’t coach anyone; you spend all your time recruiting. And you wouldn’t believe how tough it is to recruit the best players. These kids get letters from half the colleges in the country, and you have to work like crazy to sell them on playing at your school. That’s not for me.”


The school where we were teaching was on the edge of the West End projects, and a group of young men had a game going at a neighborhood hoop below the window. I said to Jimmy, “Why would you look all over the country? Check out those guys right down there. They’re good, real good. Some of those guys can do magic things with a basketball.”


“Yeah,” Jimmy said, “but we can’t use ‘em.”


“What do you mean?” I asked.


“Why are they there right now?” he asked.


“Well, I guess they don’t have jobs,” I replied.


“That’s right. They didn’t listen to their parents. They didn’t listen to their teachers. They didn’t listen to their priests or pastors. They won’t listen to a boss, and they won’t even follow what their lawyers tell them to do.


“If I picked them up and took them to the college, an hour later I’d be dropping them off right back at this corner because they wouldn’t do what I said either. They just won’t follow instructions. All they want to do is show off and grandstand.”


I said, “So you aren’t even looking for any of these guys?”


“They think we’re looking for them, but we’re not,” was his answer as he headed for his room.


As I sat there thinking about what Jimmy had said, I noticed a little old man sitting in a doorway down the street from the young men. He was holding a bottle in a paper bag, and it looked like he was pretending to shoot an occasional basket as he sipped. He seemed to be trying to explain something to each person who walked by him, but it was too far away to hear his words.


Then recalling Jimmy’s words, I believe he was telling all who passed by and would listen, “Hey, I used to be good with a ball. The best on the street, man. I know I could have been a star in the NBA. Man, I could do magic things with a basketball, but I never got my shot. They just never found me.”


“And unfaithfulness in thought and deed keeps many of us sitting right there on the sidelines with our friend in the doorway, wishing to get our shot at Life,” reflecteth Pastor Jerry.


Obedience, or faithfulness, is learned in small matters, and sets the stage for success in life.  Jesus said in Luke 16:10a,  “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.”


Or as He might say in 2017, “He that sweateth not the small stuff will sweateth not the big stuff, nor will Life sweateth him very much, either.”

Luckily, the cure for all this un-sweateth-ness is relatively simple. Check back soon for the next part.


Also upcoming: The Curse of Talent”

Blessings,  Jerry