Hoop Dreams in Orleans
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
Hoop Dreams in OrleansWhen heart wins hands-down.
The parks and community centers in our area had all sorts of organized sports, and I became pretty skilled at many of them through the years. I was good at soccer and accomplished at baseball, but I excelled at basketball.
Dribbling or passing a basketball wasn’t easy without hands, but I did pretty well by developing my own style of playing. More than anything, the key to playing well was practicing, and pushing myself to become as good as my body would allow. I competed with myself, and eventually that led me to become a very competitive child in everything from sports to academics. And of all the things I loved competing in, basketball was number one.
When I first started playing organized sports, the kids chosen to be team captains would pick me last to be on their team. It hurt my feelings, but I got used to it. If I put myself in their shoes, I guess I could understand their reasoning—who wanted someone with no hands at the plate when the bases were loaded? But when it came to basketball, I played in community leagues where the captains and coaches had to play every kid who tried out for the team.
When I’d get on the court and start to play, it never failed to delight me when I saw the shocked look on everyone’s faces. Suddenly, they were all watching the kid with no fingers dribbling down the court with amazing speed, weaving through the defense players, and making incredible passes or leaping and twisting through the air to make a basket on his own. Smashing other people’s preconceptions and prejudices was half the fun of playing. I loved proving to people that just because someone looked different, it didn’t mean that he or she wasn’t every bit as good a person, a student, or an athlete. I’d already made that “miracle” breakthrough in my mind and stopped seeing myself as limited.
By the time I was ten years old, I was playing point guard on our team in the local league. I was very fast and had become a pretty darn good defensive player. We played a regional tournament game in which we were up against the best team in the league. Because I was point guard, I felt a tremendous sense of pride that I was leading my team in that particular match. But the point guard on the other team was a star player, one of the very best in his age group in southeastern Louisiana. By the end of the first quarter, the score was very one-sided—we were being whooped badly, trailing by almost 20 points.
I played with an intensity I hadn’t experienced since tackling my friend Kieran in kindergarten, and by halftime our teams were tied on the scoreboard. Later, during a pivotal point in the game, the opposing team’s point guard and I got into a bit of a scuffle. As we scrambled on the floor, we both went tumbling down in front of the crowd. We were both taken out of the game to cool down, but now that the other point guard was off the floor, our team surged ahead! By the fourth quarter, we’d closed the gap, and the game could have gone either way.
We ended up losing by only two points, but I’d earned the respect of my fellow players. I’d showed my mettle in front of the crowd, and I’d also shown my teammates that I was indeed a valuable player. It was one of those moments I’ll always look back upon with a certain level of pride, because I truly realized that no matter how I looked, I was going the distance.
A few days after that tournament game, I got a phone call from The Times-Picayune newspaper, asking if they could do a feature on me. They’d heard about my efforts and decided that my story would make a good article.
A day or two later, a reporter interviewed me and my family at home and also went on to talk to my teachers and coaches. It was an amazing thing for a child who’d only recently stopped thinking that he was forever going to be ignored or shunned. I felt excited about the opportunity to tell my story and to talk about my family and my love for basketball.
After it appeared, the article opened up even more opportunities. Before long, I was asked to be the “King” of the children’s Mardi Gras parade. As I sat on the throne they’d built atop the lead float, wearing a white tuxedo and crown, I waved at the throng of people who were crowding the sidewalks and waving back. I remember thinking that just a few years before I’d felt so lost, so alone, and so ignored. But now I could hear the cheers from the crowd all around me, the positive affirmations flying up to me from the mouths of complete strangers.
Naturally, my family was standing along the route as well, and I felt so much pride at having them there, knowing they’d been a driving force in my life. I was now where I was because my mother and father had stuck by me through thick and thin. They’d taught me to never give up, and it’s a lesson I’d learned well.
But while recognition and public acclaim can be remarkable, many miracles are small and happen at moments we never suspect. The greatest wonder of my childhood, for instance, came out of the blue after years of frustration and constant persistence.
Not long before I graduated from eighth grade, I sat on a bench after gym class and looked down at my unlaced sneakers. As you already know, at the age of five I’d made it my life’s mission to tie my own shoelaces. Now here I was on the cusp of adolescence, just months away from entering high school, and I had yet to master that simple act.
That day, alone on the bench, my most profound personal miracle occurred. I bent down and tied the pair of laces on my left shoe together into a bow. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was there, and there was no denying it. Then I repeated the act on the right shoe. I didn’t think or try—I just did it.
There were no fanfare, fireworks, or applause; what went through me at that moment was even bigger. Those few seconds of simple shoelace tying were the culmination, the embodiment, of every obstruction that I’d encountered up to that point in my life. So many years of struggle stopped cold as I looked down at my feet. Two tied shoes were staring up at me from the floor, and I’d tied them myself—a miracle of my own making.