“I can’t lie – it was a great experience, and for one brief moment I was a hero.”
Our high school basketball team had not played for the section championship for twelve years and our school was getting desperate for the opportunity again. There was no entire-state championship at the time in our state, so for us it was the state championship. Our team qualified to play in the semi-final match my junior year, the winner of which would make the trip down the highway to Buffalo the next week to play in the final showdown.
The game found us one point behind with less than a minute to go. Our coach had played the same five players the whole game, obviously because he felt little confidence in the rest of the team. However, with thirty eight seconds left in the game, and our team one point down; our starting point guard and team star sprained his ankle and could not continue.
I was one of three other point guards on the bench. For a few seconds our coach paced nervously back and forth in front of the bench trying to decide what to do—who to choose—who would be the lessor of three evils? Anyone could see the anguish on his face.
Finally, with great apprehension, he looked at me and said, “Schimel, go in for Larsen.” At his word I sprang from the bench and headed for the statistician’s table to report in.
The crowd had packed the gymnasium so tightly with seated and standing individuals there wasn’t room for another soul. Every voice in the place was screaming at the peak of its capabilities. The clock started and play began with the ball in our team’s hands.
Tick, tick, and the clock was down to thirty-two seconds. A few more ticks and there were twenty-six. Suddenly, the ball was in my hands. A thousand thoughts filling my head in that moment; nervousness from the size of the crowd and the brevity of the moment, fear of failing miserably and my coach expecting me to mess up. But to everyone’s surprise, including mine; none of them prevailed. I was actually aware of what was before me. It was unlike me as I was very prone to choking in the clutch. It’s probably why I was seated the whole game.
However, this time, when I saw that my man was out of position, I knew what to do. I broke for the hoop. As I dribbled in the direction of the basket, the sound in the gym went to whatever the maximum decimal-limit was. It was so loud I didn’t think it could reach a higher pitch. But when I laid the ball up over the rim and it fell through, I found out it could. The sound was deafening; wonderfully, gloriously, deafening.
Later, with seventeen seconds left, I was fouled and one of the two free throws I threw at the hoop went through. I scored the last three points of the game and we won by two.
When the game was over, after the crowd had swarmed the floor mobbing us, and our team was moving toward the locker room, a few players hoisted me up on their shoulders and carried me out of the gym.
It was thirty-eight seconds of glory—just thirty-eight. It wasn’t even a minute. In the average life, that is 38 out of almost three billion seconds.
Perhaps for others, in walks of life unfamiliar to me, these moments are more frequent and longer lasting. But my experience is, for most, they never happen at all; and when they do, they are about thirty-eight seconds long…or less. And yet we are encouraged by our world to seek after these experiences and to shape our lives in ways that live for them.
I can’t lie. It was a great experience. People from my home town still say to me, “I’ll never forget that basket you made to send us to the championship.” And when they do it warms my heart. But it isn’t the experience that has shaped me. In fact, in earlier years, it hurt me more than it helped me because it caused me to seek a similar illusive kind of glory; only to find it doesn’t exist in the real world and its rewards are as temporary as their moments are brief.
The experiences that have shaped me in positive ways are actually more negative. They are the failures, the losses, the struggles, and the painfulness my life has encountered. They have produced a more constant glory that undergirds my life with strength, confidence and inner joy. For in it all I have found God’s presence, His peace and His favor.
Psalms 23 tells us that with Him in our lives, the valley of death will present no evil. It says it will contain His presence, and will in the end restore our souls.
That brief moment of high school glory for the most part has faded. But the glory of knowing Him and feeling His smile has, and will live on forever.