Down twenty to nothing…
have a feeling,” I said, sitting in the bleachers with other parents of
the Jazz, our 9 and 10 year-olds’ winless (0-5) basketball team, this
past Sunday. “This is going to be the day they get their first win.
This is our day.” But no one believed me. Not even I believed me. The
other team, the Nets, looked bigger. And better. Just like every other
opponent we’d faced. And within 30 seconds of the opening tip-off, the
Jazz trailed the Nets, 4-0.
Then it was 6-0, 8-0, 10-0. “Come on guys, let’s score a basket!”
cheered the Jazz’s coach from the bench. But the Nets stole the ball
and hit an easy layup. 12-0. Then 14-0. “The Nets are shooting at 90%,”
a Jazz parent observed. 16-0. 18-0. And with one second remaining in
the first quarter, a Nets player took a shot from just inside the
three-point line. Embarrassed by the gory slaughter that was taking
place on the court, even the Nets’ coach hoped that the shot would miss
its target. The buzzer sounded, and a moment later, the ball swished
through the net.
20-0. That’s twenty to NOTHING after one quarter of play.
“A typical scoring total for an entire game at this level is 30 points per team,” said one parent. “And they have 20 in a single quarter.”
“At this rate, we’re going to lose 80 to nothing,” observed the mom sitting in front of me, with a smirk.
“Hi, honey,” I heard one dad sigh into his cell phone. “Well, they’re losing twenty-zip, so I’m not sure it’s worth the trip.”
Then my cell phone rang. It was my wife, calling to discuss the
schedule for the rest of the day and transportation logistics for our
five kids. “How’s the team doing?” she asked after we’d discussed the
“Well, they’re losing 20 to nothing after one quarter,” I answered.
“Not again,” she replied. “Do you think they’ll win a single game?”
Then, the Jazz hit a layup. Every parent in the gym cheered with
“Now it’s 20-2,” I told her. “I have to go, it’s getting really exciting.” We chuckled.
The most memorable comeback I ever saw in person was the Red Sox’ remarkable win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Game 5 of the 20088 ALCS at
Fenway Park. Down 7-0 going into the bottom of the 7th inning – and
facing elimination from the series – the Sox clawed their way to
victory. I know “Game Five” is my most memorable comeback because it’s
the first one that popped into my head yesterday as I watched the final
three quarters of a youth basketball game that took my breath away and
left me shaking my head and grinning the rest of the day.
The second and third quarters are a blur in my memory, so I’ll quote the text messages I sent to my wife.
“Was 20-0, now 22-8. R has 2 pts.”
“26-15 at the half.”
(It was during halftime I remember saying to a few other parents,
“Can you imagine if they came back and won this game? For the rest of
our lives, whenever we’d see each other in town, we’d say to each
other, ‘We were there for the greatest comeback ever.'” We all laughed.)
“28-21, 5 min left in 3rd Q. R has 8 pts.”
“31-30. R’s team WINNING. 1 min left in 3rd Q. Amazing.
“Winning 38-36. R has 12, 2 min to go. Do you believe in miracles?”
“Wow,” my wife replied.
“Unreal,” I replied to her reply.
Knowing that I was (perhaps) witnessing one of the greatest
comebacks in 4th and 5th grade sports history, I videotaped the final
two minutes of the game on my iPhone. The Nets’ coach called three
timeouts, the Jazz coach called one — and these are the only timeouts
I’ve seen ANY coach take during the entire season so far. This was a
run-of-the-mill, regular season youth basketball game between kids
whose tank tops fell to their knees, but these two coaches (volunteer
dads) suddenly realized that this game could be one that they and their
players would remember for a very long time. And they wanted to win.
With the Jazz up by two, 38-36, with 30 seconds to go, the Nets
fouled. And fouled. Until they were finally over the limit and the Jazz
went to the free-throw line for a one-and-one with 15 seconds
remaining. And the 4 ft 8 in, 10 year-old Jazz player (#31 below, on
the right) hit BOTH shots, banking them in off the backboard. (To put
this feat in perspective, 9 and 10 year-olds shoot about 20% from the
free throw line…and about 3% when they’re nervous. Maybe he was too
naiive about what was happening to be nervous? Or maybe, just maybe, he
had “ice in his veins” and was truly clutch.)
Game over. Jazz 40, Nets 36.
kids went crazy on the court. My son jumped on the back of a smaller
teammate who was caught by surprise, and they crumpled to the ground in
a heap of joy. The Jazz coach suddenly produced a camera and started
taking pictures of the boys’ celebration. The teams shook hands. Two
Nets players wept as they found their parents in the bleachers and put
on their coats to go home. Meanwhile, everyone wanted to take a picture
of the Jazz players. They lined up and posed for about ten cameras.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
Jazz parents didn’t know how to react. Is it OK to marvel at the
outcome of a 9 and 10 year-olds’ basketball game? No one high-fived,
though we wanted to. There were a few slaps on the back, and we all
shook our heads and smiled. “That’s one of the greatest comebacks I
have ever seen, at ANY level,” I said to the Jazz’s coach.
“Yes, well there was the Red Sox comeback against the Yankees in 2004,” he replied.
And just like that, this Jazz-Nets basketball game was “on the list”
— along with Frank Reich’s Bills, Doug Flutie’s Eagles, Mookie
Wilson’s Mets, and David Ortiz’s Red Sox.
I’ve written it before, and I’ll write it again: Some of the greatest sports moments of the day never make it onto ESPN’s Sports Center.
Yet on backyard rinks, on dusty fields, and in tiny gyms across
America, every day another sports drama unfolds that teaches its
participants – and its other witnesses – that “you gotta play the
game,” and “anything can happen.” I could tell my son a million times
to never give up, to keep the faith, to grind until the end…. and
now, thanks to this one game, that attitude will forever be in his
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