The Greatest Game Ever Played
Basketball. Could I end this blog as quickly as I started it? No. A great game takes depth, so I will play by the same rules in this blog.
I have played basketball all over the world. From college gymnasiums to the side of the mountain in the rainforest, I have tried to place a spherical object into a metal circle. The rules and approach may vary based on geographical location, but the game is constant. The game forces competitors to overcome weaknesses, advance strengths, and persevere in the midst of adversity. Throughout my worldwide explorations, I have yet to find basketball as it is in Indiana, especially southern Indiana.
When my wife and I moved back to southern Indiana nearly three years ago, I was so excited to enjoy high school basketball. Our ministerial assignment was two miles from Bosse High School, a school I knew as the home of fast-paced, intense sports teams. I was excited to meet people of Evansville while watching a game I love. However, the first season came and went with me not attending a game. I heard updates of Bosse's postseason run and was upset that I missed the excitement of a state runner-up. The next year was a similar story. I started graduate school after a five-year deferment. At the beginning of the 2017-2018 season though, I prioritized watching the Bulldogs, and I am glad I did.
Growing up in the suburban cornfields of Indianapolis, I was impressed by the explosiveness of the Bulldogs. I loved knowing that I rooted for the team that could be down by ten and up by ten in the same quarter. I am the lanky kid who stands outside and shoots 3s, so I am enthralled by an offensive weapon who can split several defenders and take it to the rack.
Watching the Bulldogs was exciting. Even more exciting was meeting the people in the stands. If I simply enjoyed watching basketball, I would watch highlights on youtube. I love the intensity and the passion the fans bring to the game. I love meeting moms, grandmas, former players, and lifelong fans.
Over the course of the season, I watched the Bulldogs persevere past adversity: Mekhi Lairy surpassing the city scoring record; the team suffering back to back losses before winning the next two games by less than 10 points each; Kiyron Powell sitting out of a heated battle against a city rival due to sickness. Somehow, the only games I missed this season were the handful that Bosse was unable to score more points than their opponent, so this fast-paced team always allowed me to respond “Yes” to the question my friends and family texted me, “Did your team win?”
Yesterday’s loss was unfortunate and upsetting for so many Bosse fans anxiously awaiting the first state championship since the early 1960s. After weeks of domination, shirts being made, and articles being written, the expectation was that the season finale would be the greatest game ever played. For every satisfied winner, there is a saddened loser. The texts were pouring in from concerned congregants and family members: “Did your team win?” How was I supposed to respond to that question after being around people from a city who experienced heartbreak in Indianapolis?
As a pastor, experiencing heartbreak is what makes life-change so refreshing. We experience the greatness of Christ when we remember the corruption of man. It would be nice if all we did was “win win win no matter what”, but the wins taste so much better when we remember the taste of failure. I write this as a competitive person who was a 2-sport college athlete and former national champion drag racer; I am competitive. Unfortunately, our American perspective has manipulated the definition of success.
After Culver Academy won their first state championship in any sport, Bosse senior Jaylen Chinn received the mental attitude award. Upon awkwardly having to talk in front of thousands of fans and strangers, the presenter of the award asked Chinn to talk about how he does it. In his short, humble deliveries, Chinn deferred to others. First his mom, and then his team. He took no credit for himself. Instead, his discussion was similar to what I have read in articles about Chinn: “At least we tried.” Is that true? It is good enough because at least they tried? Is this life all about who can put the ball in the hole more? According to the mental attitude recipient Chinn, it’s not. He reminded fans that, for the Bulldogs, they had to win more than a heated battle against a city rival Memorial, a third regional championship, and a battle against a Danville team that had recently defeated Bosse’s road to state stopper, last year, Crispus Attucks. The Bulldogs faced challenges every day that would stop many of our roads to state.
I continued sitting in my floor seats with all of the parents and family, looking at the jumbotron continually reminding the fans at Banker’s Life that Bosse scored fewer points than the opposition. I didn’t want to leave that early. After all, it took four hours to make a trip that usually takes under three hours. I wanted to make the trip worth it. The fast-paced team typically leaving opponents in the dust had gotten slowed down for the first time this season under my sometimes sporadic eye. I had been reading articles, talking with alumni, and re-watching videos in hopeful expectation of this day. Obviously, I wasn’t alone in this process. There were over a thousand people who traveled north on the beloved 69 in a surprising spring wonderland of snow. The past couple of weeks were filled with interviews, practices, walk-throughs of stadiums and field houses, and rallies. You could not watch any of the local news stations without seeing the images of this fast-paced team.
I want to remind you, this team represents a portion of town that is regularly on the news. On a typical day, maps and images of their neighborhoods will be in the news. However, this time the representation of this portion of the geographical region is a little different. Instead of being represented as a people who have lost hope, this portion of the city facing generational socioeconomic turmoil shows what hope looks like. Hope involves playing together. It involves inspiring others to face adversity to accomplish a goal (perhaps driving 4 hours in a surprise snowstorm to watch a team play a game). It involves forgetting the negative and looking for an opportunity in a moment. It involves putting others before yourself.
So, once again I will look at my flip phone and read the text: “Did they win?” Absolutely they did.
To the Bosse Bulldogs and the students, coaches, and staff who made up this fast-paced team, thank you for embracing the fandom and trying to show us what hope looks like.
Make Indiana proud again!