Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Teammate, My Friend, Forever

We started playing against each other in the third grade. For almost a decade in duration we competed against each other on the basketball court. Eventually we enrolled in high school, and our years of being teammates began. And that's where our story begins...

It was 1989 and I had known my teammate for eleven years, but I was always playing against him. My high school had close to 1100 students. There was no diversity whatsoever. My teammate was probably 1 of 10 African-American students that our high school served. However, I am not writing this in regards to race relations but it is more of a story of brotherhood and the connection between teammates.

Growing up, my teammate lived across the street form Martin Luther King Jr. Park, which professed the best basketball in the city. For a white kid walking out to call next was almost a joke to the players around the court. The intensity and the verbal altercations could be predicted by the amount of broken forty ounce beer bottles on the side of the main court. He knew I would not get a team to pick me so he told the teams that would ask him that he would not play unless I was taken with him.

When we got on the court with a team he turned to me and said, "Coop, we got next. Just do what you do best." Which meant to shoot.

In our senior season he and I had to petition the school district to attend, because we moved outside of the school zone. As we started our season we had our normal two-a-day practices. He needed a ride on most mornings. Practices started at 6AM, and it took me an hour to get to practice in the morning, because the adjusted route to pick my teammate up took an extra 30 minutes. At the end of the day I wouldn't get home until 8PM. This would happen every so often throughout the year. 

That year we got deep into the state tournament only to be stopped by a potential NBA Hall of Famer.  We went farther than any team in our school in 20 years, and our school has not gotten that far since we played in 1990.

After high school we ran across each other on three very important times in my life. We survived a gang related ambush, that was regarding one of the people we were with at the time. I have been told what I did saved our lives, but I didn't feel that way.

The second crossing came after my divorce in 1997. I saw him on a playground basketball court where we just shot around, and we discussed our next moves. I don't think it was a coincidence that he showed up to an empty elementary school out of the blue. I don't know why, but I felt better and moved on from the loss with confidence.

13 years from that last meeting, I lost virtually anyone would value as possessions, and another relationship was terminated to compound the issue. I assumed I was at a low that would be a considered the end of the world by most. I did not think I could dip into a deeper hole. I did not think I could recover. I spent hours at night in the local chapel with rosary in hand. Then, out of the blue, I got a message from my teammate. I had not even thought of him in over a decade. In the email he said he heard I was going through a tough time. He said he wanted me to have faith, and that he knew I would get through this. He asked if there was anything he could do for me.

I was touched and the memories of our successes came flooding into my mind, and the positivity began to resurface. As strange as it may seem another teammate emailed me, as well. He wished me well, and said he was doing great. I told him that my friend had emailed me, and he replied that a few weeks before my teammate and friend emailed me, he had lost his home to a fire, and everything was lost. Pictures, papers, and furniture were gone. He and his wife and young children had to move in with his pastor.

When I think about these stories I can't help but to be touched to the point that I am moved to emotion. Maybe someday when I tell this story enough I will be able to fight back tears, but it doesn't get past me that we became teammates in high school. However, I never knew how much his friendship would mean to me throughout my life.

Just because he contacted me at that perceived low in my life, it didn't mean my life was going to get better. However, the memory of us at MLK and his confidence in me reminded me, that; although I was on the sidelines as life went on, I started to gain the confidence that I had next.