When I pick up the faded basketball, I immediately recognize the gold trimmed black Wilson logo on it. As I hold it in my hands, the ball almost molds into my now adult grip. However, as a young boy the fit was not always this perfect. Bouncing the ball I can smell the years of sweat that the leather holds. When the ball hits the floor, I hear an almost metallic hollow echo. This sound is sweet music to my ears. This is a sound that symbolizes the many hours of hard work, blood, tears, and most importantly, a never ending bond between me and my dad. This ball has brought many different memories and feelings to the surface. The day I was given the ball, the trips taken to the gym with the ball, and meaning of passion that the ball symbolizes.
It was the Christmas of 2004 and it was set to be great one. The brightly wrapped presents were overflowing from the bottom of our decorated tree. I knew that several of the presents would be for me so I was very excited, and anxious for the giving to begin. Following our family tradition, everyone had to have a gift in front of them before any tearing open was allowed. Before I knew it we were already on the last round of gifts. I could tell by examining the wrapping paper from across the room that my remaining present was oddly shaped. When it was finally my turn to receive, my dad handed me this awkward looking package and said “Jayden, this gift is from me, and you might not understand the importance of this thing now but just give it time. This gift is much more than any old present, and you will see and understand that with time.” Confused but without delay I ripped open the wrapping paper, and found an old, warn down basketball. Not just any old basketball though, this basketball was a ball my dad had been given at his high school graduation many years ago. A little disappointed at that moment I just said, “Thanks, Dad.” I was definitely unsure of the meaning of the gift but I went along with it and tried to act grateful. Later, after spending a great deal of time thinking about it, I was kind of excited that my dad had given me a present that seemed to have meant so much to him. The look in his eye told me there was something special about this tattered basketball. Little did I know then that this ball would not only have an impact on me personally, but also on my relationship with my dad.
When the aftermath of Christmas settled down, I was eager to go to the gym to put this ball to use, with my dad by my side of course. I remember almost every detail of that day. Because my dad was a coach at the local school he had keys to all of the gyms. When we got to the gym of choice that day it felt freezing cold inside.
Christmas break was in session so no students meant that there was not a regularly running furnace. When my dad hit the bank of light switches and the lights flickered on one by one. He tossed me the ball, a little harder than usual and I caught it with an “oof” sound. “OK, Jayden, here’s what we’re gonna do,” he began…. It was a great afternoon for both of us. At the age of ten, this was the first time I had really worked out with my dad. We both loved the game of basketball and had shot baskets together many times in our driveway, but this trip to the gym was unique. My dad treated it like a practice and treated me like a player on one of his teams. Even at that young age, I understood this and knew that I should take full advantage of anything that he wanted to teach me. I left that gymnasium that day, the ball in tow, knowing this would be the first of many times I went to the gym for a purpose, with intent. Our trips to the gyms became legitimate workouts. My dad wanted me to push myself to be better. He would condition me to work hard on different drills and then coach me to beat my own times and records on them. Our practices would go on for what felt like forever. In the beginning after about an hour was up, I would be leaning over completely out of breath and drenched in sweat. I didn’t expect my dad to make me work that hard, but I loved the game of basketball. I knew he was doing all this to make me better. Over the years, many more trips to the gym took place with the ball and my dad. As I grew older, this handed down ball also came to symbolize the true game of basketball. My dad had always coached some level of boy’s basketball and I was always tagging along. One of his coaching assignments was assisting with the youth program. When I was finally old enough to enroll in organized play, through our local high school, I was fortunate to have my dad actually be my coach. He was able to remain my coach until I reached Jr. High. Once I reached seventh and eighth grade I was on my own, having to rely on what he had taught me. Once I reached high school, his coaching level, we were reunited.
The ball remained with me at almost all times throughout my high school years. If not in my locker, hand, or gym bag, it was in the trunk of my car. On the very few times I would leave it at home by mistake, my Dad would bring it to me when he joined the team for practice after school each day. I really enjoyed having my dad coach me. The memories we have together from a coach and player standpoint are unforgettable. One of my favorite memories took place in the fall before my junior season. We were in the middle of conditioning, and I was really struggling. Everyone was struggling. Half way threw the drill my dad said to me, “Come on, Jayden, push yourself. Make the most of it. Let’s go!” I was so tired. I stopped to lean over for a second as I could barely catch my breath; I just wanted him to stop yelling at me. It clicked then that he was not only trying to coach me through this conditioning, but preparing me for life as well. He was telling me that he knew the conditioning was tough but I had to fight through it. I had to understand how this would help me to perform better when it counted. I had to know how important hard work, preparation and consistency were to achieving the result I wanted in the end. Whether it was winning a game, earning a good grade on a college paper, or securing a job in my chosen field, my dad wanted to me know that all is possible if you have the passion. Not only did I comprehend that message in the gym that day, but I have since realized it in life. After I gathered what he was telling me I ran even harder. I told myself to leave nothing out there. I gave it my all! Lessons like these are what I loved about having my dad coach me. He has been also able to mix a common basketball scenario with a real life situation. The re-gifted basketball has always been a part of these lessons.
To look back on it now and realize the true impact this old ball has on my life is remarkable. Whether it was workouts in the gym or going to scout basketball games with my dad by my side, this ball has been a part of these opportunities to spend time and build this relationship with him. I have accomplished many of my goals in the game of basketball and the game of life. I truly believe if I wouldn’t have received that oddly shaped gift on that Christmas morning I may not have had the success I have had with this game, the relationship with my Dad, or the lessons he taught me with that ball always close by.