Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Look At Us

I distinctly remember the day in 1972. It was basketball tryouts day, 3:00 PM sharp in the school gym. I thought the school day would never end.

I spent the whole summer of 1971, as well as a good part of autumn, working toward my goal of making the team. I practiced on my own, joined in every pickup game that I could. I gave it my all. I sweated and grunted, bumped and bruised my way to what I saw was a sure spot on the team. I was fairly tall for my age, so it seemed I was destined for a place on the starting lineup.

So the day had come. I suited up in the locker room, and headed out onto the court. We ran laps, did shooting drills, and short scrimmage drills. We spent two hours showing our best stuff under the watchful eye of the team coach and his assistants.

5 o'clock PM: The Cutting Hour. It was time to line up and find out which of us were going to make it to the next round of tryouts. One by one, the hopefuls reached the front of the line. Those that went to the right had successfully moved on, those who walked to the left were heading to the locker room to dress, go home and call it a day. I made it to the front of the line, and heard the words I dreaded. I was sent to the left. No Hoops Glory for me that season.

When I went home, my family was sitting down to dinner. When I joined them, my Mom asked how it went. I didn't say much, but my parents both knew, from the look on my face, that it hadn't gone well. Not ones to make a big deal out of something at the wrong time, my parents simply tried to make me feel a little better. My mother reminded me that I'd only been at it since the summer, and that with more work and practice, maybe I could try out again the next season. My father echoed the sentiment, noting how much I'd improved since just last May. These things take time, was the consensus.

And that was that. I survived. In fact, through my father's guidance, I took a shot at baseball and football, the latter being the game I grew to become somewhat successful at. My Hoops Dreams faded quietly, as I was 11 years old, and it didn't take much more than some accomplishments on a gridiron to change my direction.

Now, take the same events, but place them in 2007.

The way things are now, I'd have come home for dinner. My parents would have been waiting by the front door, anxious to get the news immediately. Upon being informed of my failure to make the team, they would no doubt launch into a tirade, letting me know that the coach and his assistants were incompetent people who obviously didn't recognize exceptional talent. They might even go so far as to march immediately down to the ongoing tryouts and confront the coach. There was no logical explanation for me not making the team other than the fact that the coach simply didn't know what he was doing, or perhaps the tryouts were "fixed", with spots on the team going only to the kids whose parents were friendly with the coach. A ballplayer like me simply couldn't be overlooked, and my parents wouldn't want me playing under an idiot like this anyway. We'd just have to seek out a team that was being run by a "real" coach.

Now, truth be told, you might as well have sent me out onto the basketball court with a cinderblock in my hands. I played and practiced for years beyond 1971. I worked out with excellent players, joined a couple of rec leagues that didn't require tryouts, and gave it my all. But it didn't matter: I just wasn't a good basketball player. I even tried out again in High School, only to be met with the same results. No Varsity letters for me in hoops.

I enjoyed the game, so I played recreationally. I accepted the fact that I was not destined for the NBA and moved on. Because of the attitude of my parents, I didn't dwell on that failure, and happily discovered a modicum of talent on the football field, but even then, the NFL was not in my future.

Yet, again, somehow I survived. I remember the classic Clint Eastwood one-liner: "A man's got to know his limitations." Now, a cops & robbers "shoot 'em up" movie is not typically a source of life guidance or inspiration, but that line is so true. I recognized my limitations pertaining to athletics and dealt with them. I did manage to enjoy the sports nonetheless, but I wonder what might have become of me if I had simply fought the reality, and refused to accept the truth. How many other life opportunities would I have missed if I stood my ground in the belief that my talent was simply going unrecognized, and that I was due a rightful place on those teams?

That seems to be the way to go, these days, however. And it's not only the kids of this day and age who are deluding themselves. For any of you who saw the preliminary rounds of the television show American Idol, it is quite obvious that there is much more than a handful of people out there in the world who have unrealistic opinions of their own talents. Quite a number of the hopefuls, upon meeting with rejection, did not recognize their failures as a result of their own lack of talent and ability, but rather, they questioned (not so gently, in some cases) the competency of the judges. It wasn't a poor voice that brought the dream to an end, it was the ears of the panel members that needed scrutiny.

I'm a parent myself, and I've fallen victim to some of these traps when it came to my children. I've caught myself numerous times on the verge of emotional, rather than logical, reactions to situations where my own kids did not come out on top. It's easy to blame everyone else for my kids' shortcomings. It takes the onus off of the children as well as myself. It's very easy to distort reality when it suits our purposes. But it doesn't change the fact that the reality is, indeed, distorted.

Next: American Narcissism


  1. jimmy, as always--so profound, and so true. It makes me feel good to know that there are some sane parents left out there.

    We are raising a lazy, irresponsible, blame-someone-else generation. Where does all this entitlement come from?

    Those AI contestants need a reality check--oh, wait, they got one.....they need to accept it.

  2. Anonymous6:07 PM

    Good points...one never knows what would have happened "if"...and it's often dangerous to go there.

    Perhaps your knee would have acted up a lot sooner...perhaps you'd have been a hot shot ball player.

    Ah, but you're just Jimmy...and we like ya just fine.


  3. Anonymous7:30 PM

    Oh Jimmy! I tried out for basketball that same year but unlike you I was picked for the team BUT I was a bench warmer. My parents never once demanded that I play, we were taught, as your say, to accept our limitations but not to give up on something that may be better suited for us. I became a professional divorcee' and you became a wonderful father and friend to many.


  4. Anonymous9:24 PM

    I just loved this post. So true. It's an issue that as a struggling actress I consume myself with a lot, honestly--given that it's often hard to determine in the harsh world of the entertainment industry how much 'gumption' you have to hold onto in order to muster your way through all of it and how much 'a man's limitations' you're dealing with. I seem to think I fall sway to the more modest end when I know it takes the resilience and complete self-belief to actually push your way to the top in such a competitive industry--but then I guess that's the point of having friends whose opinions you value who believe in you too. Not the parents, so much--cause they're always going to have some bias.
    Rambling, yes... but your entry did provoke a lot of thought. :)
    Lady M

  5. This story shows us how Gen X was born. Entitlement issues start very young. Wonderful story to illustrate this ;)

  6. Anonymous1:00 PM

    This is a great entry Jimmy. The kids now seem to think that they are "owed" and I hate that. They don't want to work for anything. And they don't know how to lose. Very poor losers. Ol' Clint was right.
    Very good entry.


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