Once, there was a teenager who lived alone with his father. The two owned a special relationship. Even though the son never got to play basketball—he was always on the bench—his father never stopped cheering from the stands, never missed a game.
This young man was the smallest of his class when he entered high school. But his father continued not only to encourage him, but also made it clear that he didn’t have to play ball if he wanted to stop.
Yet the boy loved basketball. So he decided to hang in there, determined to try his best at every practice, and perhaps get to play when he turned senior. All through high school he never missed a practice, nor a game, but remained a bench warmer all four seasons. His faithful father was always in the stands with words of encouragement for him.
When the young man went to college, he decided to try out for the team as a “walk-on.” Everyone was sure he could never make the cut—but he did. The coach admitted that he kept him on the roster because of the heart and soul he put into every practice which, he said, provided the other members with the spirit and hustle they badly needed. The news that he had survived the cut thrilled him so much that he rushed to the nearest phone and called his father. His dad shared his excitement and was sent season tickets for all the college games.
This persistent young athlete never missed practice during his four years at college—but he never got to play. It was the end of his senior season and, as he trotted onto the court shortly before the big playoff game, the coach met him with a telegram. The young man read the telegram and became silent.
Swallowing hard, he mumbled to the coach, “My father died this morning. Is it all right if I miss practice today?”
The coach put his arm gently around his shoulder and said, “Take the rest of the week off, son. And don’t even plan to come to the game this weekend.”
Saturday arrived and the game was not going well. In the third quarter, when the team was behind by 12 points, a silent young man quietly slipped into the empty locker room and put on his gear. As he ran onto the sidelines, the coach and his players were astounded to see their faithful teammate back so soon.
“Coach,” pleaded the young man, “please let me play. I’ve just got to play today.”
The coach pretended not to hear him. There was no way he wanted his worst player in this playoff game. But the young player persisted and, finally feeling sorry for the kid, the coach gave in. “All right,” he said. “You can go in.”
Before long, the coach and everyone else in the stands could not believe their eyes. This little unknown—who had never played before—did everything right. The opposing team could not stop him. He shot, passed, blocked and dribbled like a superstar. His team began to triumph.
The score was tied. In the closing seconds of the game, the kid intercepted a pass and ran all the way for the winning shot. The fans broke loose. His teammates hoisted him onto their shoulders. Such cheering you’ve never heard!
Finally, after the stands had emptied and the team had showered and left the locker room, the coach noticed the young man sitting alone in the corner. The coach approached him and said, “Kid, I can’t believe it. You were fantastic! Tell me what got into you? How did you do it?”
He looked at the coach with tears in his eyes and said. “Well, you knew my dad died…. but did you know that he was blind?”
The young man swallowed hard and forced a smile. “Dad came to all my games,” he added, “but today was the first time he could see me play…. and I wanted to show him I could do it!”