Tuesday, January 24, 2006

One on One

by Nancy N. Rue

And the score stands 13 to 10 with Dad in the lead. Nathan takes a jumper, he misses. Dad snags the rebound. He takes it back, he shoots—14 to 10! Nathan snatches the ball, tries a crossover. Dad steals it—he scores! It’s over! Dad, 15. Nathan, 10!”

Nathan ignored his older brother David’s commentary and tapped the basketball out of his father’s hand. He made a neat layup, softly hitting the backboard and swishing the net.

“Doesn’t count,” David said. “Dad already won.”

“I know,” Nathan said. He continued to dribble the ball. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his father wiping off his neck with a towel.

“You’re learning to get those rebounds,” Dad said.

“You oughta just let him take the ball after you score, Dad,” David said. “He might have half a chance that way.”

“No way!” Nathan said. “I gotta learn to play defense.”

“That’s right,” Dad said. He tossed the towel toward Nathan. He caught it but threw it on the grass.

“I don’t need it,” he said. “I’m not done practicing.”

“You’re crazy,” David said. “I’m gonna see what there is to eat.”

Dad snatched the towel and snapped it playfully at David’s leg. “Play me a game, Dave,” he said.

David shook his head. “Maybe later.”

“You could outplay me any day if you’d practice.”

“Later,” David said and disappeared into the house.

Nathan dribbled out to the three-point line and eyed the shot. Dad watched as he released the ball. It bounced hard against the backboard and rolled off into Mom’s azalea bushes.

“You know what you did wrong?” Dad asked.

Nathan nodded and went after the ball. When he came out of the bushes, Dad was still standing there.

“You’re getting better,” he said.

“You think I’ll ever be as good as you?” Nathan asked.

Dad only grinned. “Just keep practicing, son.”

Practice Makes Perfect

As his father went into the house, Nathan thought, Wonder what he meant by that? If I keep practicing, I might be as good as him? Or I will be?

Either way, it was something Nathan had to do.

Ever since he was little, he’d known his father was a star in high school and college. There were pictures and trophies all over the basement. A year ago, when he was 10, Nathan had asked why Dad didn’t become a big-time player. That’s when Nathan learned his father had suffered a knee injury, which kept him from competing again.

“Your father would love nothing more than for one of you boys to follow in his footsteps,” Mom had told Nathan. “If you or David were to get a basketball scholarship, he’d love you for it.”

Nathan thought about those words now as he imagined himself flying through the air, headed for a slam dunk. He’d never made one, although he’d watched his father and brother by the hour, hurling themselves at the basket, jumping high enough to shove the ball into the net.

Nathan had watched every basketball game on TV—really watched it. He even prayed that God would let him beat his father.

And it had to be fair and square. When Nathan first begged his father to teach him to play, Dad had said, “I will, but I’m going to teach you the right way. I’ll never let you win. If you ever do beat me, it’ll be fair and square.”

Nathan shook off the sweat and went for the basket.

His jump didn’t get him high enough to touch the rim, but at least he was in the net.

Later that night, Nathan lay on his bed.

He closed his eyes and whispered: “God, please would You help me be a great basketball player? I want Dad to love me for it.”

Even after praying, Nathan felt heavy inside.

If I can’t get my father to love me, he thought, how can I expect God to?

Friendly Competition

The next day Nathan woke up early as usual. The minute his shoes were tied, he was on the driveway warming up. An hour later, David came out, lazily scratching his chest and squinting at his brother.

“You really are crazy, you know that?” he said.

Dad appeared in the doorway, grinning. “You gonna let him give you a hard time, Nathan?”

Nathan shrugged and kept dribbling.

“I sure wouldn’t,” Dad said.

David’s eye twinkled. “What would you do if I gave you a hard time?”

“I’d challenge you to some one-on-one,” Dad said.

David laughed.

“Let’s go.”

“Aw, man,” David groaned.

“Let’s see the ball,” Dad said.

Reluctantly, Nathan tossed it to him. Dad dribbled and waited for David to join him on the three-point line.

“You’ll need to get off the court, Nathan,” Dad said. “I might mow you down.”

Nathan felt as if a bee had just stung him. He moved off the court and slumped down on the grass.

“You gonna be the sportscaster?” Dad asked.

Nathan shrugged.

Dad took a shot and made it. David checked it up, and the game was on. When Dad made his first layup, Nathan didn’t say anything. David took up the commentary.

“Dad makes his first shot. A one-pointer. But he misses a jumper. David rebounds, takes it back and comes in for the kill. He charges the basket. It’s . . . a . . . slam . . . dunk. The score stands one to one!”

“Come on, Dad!” Nathan yelled. “Don’t let him score again!”

But David did score. And then Dad did. Then David again.

They played for 10 minutes. Through it all, David kept “announcing,” but Dad kept his focus on the ball. By the time the score stood 14 to 14, Dad’s shirt was soaked and his face was red. David wasn’t breathing hard at all.

“Next basket wins,” David said in a low voice. Dad dribbled a perfect crossover and broke for the hoop. But David blocked the shot, grabbed the ball and sank a pretty fadeaway jumper.

“That’s the game!” David cried. “The kid takes it, 15 to 14!”

Dad grinned and leaned over, pressing his hands on his knees. Nathan could see his chest heaving.

Getting the Point

Nathan’s chest was doing some heaving of its own. Before the tears could make their way up his throat, Nathan scrambled into the house. He barely made it to his bedroom.

Dad found him there a few minutes later. When he heard him at the door, Nathan quickly sat up and smeared the tears from his face. If Dad saw them, he didn’t say. He just perched on the edge of the bed.

“Have I told you that I’m proud of you?” Dad said.

“For what?”

“For the way you go after what you want.”

“Big deal,” Nathan said. “David doesn’t try at all, and he’s the one who beat you!”

“Some people are naturals, and some people have to work at it. Doesn’t mean they both can’t be good.”

“But I want to be great.”

“Are you mad at David because he’s a natural and you’re a worker?”

Nathan shook his head.

“Then who are you mad at?”

“Myself,” Nathan said.”


Nathan shrugged. He wanted to blurt out, “I want you to love me for what I do!”

Dad rifled his fingers through Nathan’s hair. “I love you, son,” he said. “Don’t take things so hard.”

Nathan pulled away. “Would you love me no matter what I did?” he said.

Dad looked a little surprised. “Of course.”

“Even if I robbed a bank, you’d love me?”

“Sure. I’d be angry. But I’d try to do what Jesus would do. Why are we talking about this?”

Nathan looked down at his shoes.

“Have you somehow gotten the idea I’m going to love you more if you play basketball?” Dad asked.

“That’s what Mom said.”

Dad’s eyebrows went up to his sweaty hairline. “What did she say?”

“She said if me or David got a basketball scholarship, you’d love us for it.”

A smile twitched at the corners of Dad’s mouth. “She only meant I would love it if you did that. She didn’t mean I’d love you any more or less.”

“But wouldn’t you be more proud of me if I was like Michael Jordan?”

“What’s that got to do with love?” Dad said.

Nathan didn’t answer.

“You know what?” Dad said. “I think you and I ought to do something together today besides play basketball.”

“Like what?”

“Go fishing—just you and me? What do you say?”

“What about David?” Nathan said.

Dad grinned. “David has a date with his snacks and the telephone. This is gonna be one-on-one, just a different kind.”

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