The game was tight. The lead had gone back and forth. And, there was a lot on the line. This was the Men’s AAU Basketball championship game for the greater Denver area.
As the time wound down on the game clock our team had the final possession with less than ten seconds left. My team was down by one point. One of us would take the final shot. If it went in, we won. And if it didn’t, all those championship dreams that we had been harboring since the beginning of the tournament a couple of weeks before would be dashed.
I always loved basketball. I was not good enough in high school to make the varsity. Yet, in college, I had grown four inches and had kept playing and practicing. I kept dreaming that someday I would be good enough to play on a high level.
Now I was in graduate business school at the University of Denver and had become good enough to play on a very good AAU basketball team. We trained and worked out daily. The players in our league were either former college players or players who had played professionally at one time. The competition and skill levels were extremely high.
On our team all the starters had been Division 1 scholarship basketball players, the highest level of college basketball, with one exception, me. As we took our final timeout, we knew that one of us would be taking that final shot. Who would that be?
We didn’t know the answer to that question. We would in bounds the ball from underneath the basket and our center, if he had a layup he would take it, if not he would pass the ball out to one of the corners where myself and our other guard would be.
We got the ball to our center and it looked like he was going to be tied up and not get a shot off. With less than five seconds to go, he was able to pass the ball to the corner, my corner. I was over twenty feet away from the basket. I got the ball and started to take a jump shot. I am six feet two inches. Bearing down on me and jumping at me was a defender who was six feet six inches.
As I released the ball all I knew was that he hadn’t blocked it. I did not see the ball’s flight or see what happened after that. He came crashing into me with such force that it knocked me off my feet and had me sliding backwards into the stands.
Both of us ended up in a heap. I could hear the loud cheers of the crowd! Who were they cheering for? Which team had won? What had happened? Then our center and the rest of my teammates were surrounding me, picking me up and congratulating me. My shot, that I never saw, had gone in. We had won the game and the championship.
At the time, I did not realize the impact this moment had on me. I had played and worked at basketball for almost 20 years with a great deal more failure than success. Yet, all my preparation paid off in that moment of victory. There are many life lessons I took away from that game. I had always heard that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I certainly felt fortunate to make the winning shot, yet it was all my preparation that allowed me to take advantage of that opportunity.
There were more positive impacts over the years, that positively supported me in many areas. First, was the importance of having a great team, not just in terms of ability, but our chemistry where we were willing to blend our individual talents together to create something bigger than any one of us could accomplish on our own, a great team.
Second, was that failures are the necessary stepping stones to success. I came to understand that I am not judged by the number of times I failed. I was cut from more teams than I made. I am judged by my successes and those come from my ability to find a path up from failure and to keep on trying.
I have discovered that when I keep trying in spite of failure, and keep preparing, that I increase the odds of success when the right opportunity comes along. When you do the preparation, you too will find the opportunities to make your game winning shots.