By Mike Tenbusch | April 30, 2021
The story you are about to read is true. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent…
With a few minutes to go in the 1986 high school district semi-finals at Redford Thurston High School, just west of Detroit, U of D Jesuit’s basketball coach, Scott Hammond, looked down at the far end of the bench and decided to give a few juniors a rare chance to play. His team was up by 20. What harm could they do?
I was one of the kids he put in, and I was determined to make my mark. The gym was packed. I had already established myself as a backyard basketball legend in my mind. This was my chance to introduce myself to the world.
It didn’t take long. About a minute later on defense, a loose ball shot out towards our basket, and our point guard, Markeith Weldon, was running it down. A defender chased after him, determined to get a sweet block and his own chance for glory. I saw the whole scene unfold while I sprinted two steps behind—crystal clear on how this was going to end,
“Oop me!” I yelled at Markeith, conveying through two syllables and some mental telepathy that I wanted him to throw me an alley-oop pass off the backboard so that I could dunk it in and establish myself as a legend for generations to come. Down the court we raced. “Oop-me!” I shouted again, confident that Markeith would not let me down.
Markeith and I had literally played thousands of hours of basketball together by this time, in his backyard and mine, since we became friends at the age of 12 when he moved into our neighborhood and his adopted mom, the heroic Sue Hamilton Smith, became my “Aunt Sue.” Markeith got more minutes than me on the court. He already had a number of girlfriends, and he knew I was still looking for my first. “He knows how bad I need this dunk!” I thought as I ran.
“Oop me!” I yelled one more time, knowing that he could hear the desperation in my voice and would throw the pass I needed to make a spectacular dunk and make everything right in the world.
As Markeith went to the right side of the rim, I looped left and then cut back into the center to get just the right angle to throw the ball down. I timed it perfectly, jumping one step after Markeith to get maximum airtime and velocity. And then he did something I never expected. He took the shot himself—an off-balance, poorly imagined, dream of a shot contested mightily by kid hero between us.
The shot never had a chance. It hit the glass hard, and then rolled around the rim. I had already jumped, and suddenly I saw that my shot at stardom was still in play. I tried dunking the ball as it rolled to the front of the rim. But Markeith had shot it too hard! It was rolling too fast! Never one to give up things, I had a burst of brilliance. I held onto the rim with my right hand so that I could dunk it with my left when it rolled to the other side. It was a masterpiece in physics! The ball kept rolling. My left hand went up over the rim, waiting for the ball to get within reach for the most spectacular slam ever. But the ball never made it back around.
Crestfallen, I let go of the rim, not realizing that by that time my body had swung parallel to the ground, and to the ground I fell—flat—from almost ten feet up. I don’t know how long I lay there unconscious. I just remember waking up in inches from the biggest smile I had ever seen in my life. Pat Brennan, our 6’ 8” center, was on his knees laughing so hard he was crying, trying to wake me up, while our coach was yelling at us from the sidelines to get off the court. I think Pat thought I may have died, because he picked me up in his arms and hugged me and told me he loved me and that that was greatest thing he had ever seen in his life.
Pat and Markeith helped me walk off the court as I shook the fog from my head and asked Markeith, “Why didn’t you throw me the alley-oop!”
That happened 35 years ago. Markeith has become a successful businessman, and one of the most devoted fathers I know. Last summer, I called on him again. This time, I asked him to serve on International Samaritan’s Board of Trustees.
“Whatever you need, brother,” he replied.
When he showed up early to our board meeting last Friday, I re-lived that story with him while we waited for others to show up.
“Do you know how much different my life would have been if you had just thrown that pass?” I pleaded.
“I was trying to get my two points too!” he responded, convincingly.
How could I not understand that?
Our perspectives in life are often shaped not just by our experiences, but by the angles from which we see things. Good friends help us see the angles we might be missing.
I’m emerging from 14 months of working from my basement with such a heightened desire to just spend time with friends. What I love about this organization is the bonds of friendships embedded in it since that first trip to Guatemala 26 years ago. Friendships across communities, and oceans, and politics, and backgrounds.
International Samaritan is emerging from the pandemic with opportunities for people to engage in year-round friendships consistent with our mission through a framework we call Learn, Serve, Grow. Please take a look at some of the opportunities and let me know what you think. We’d love to have you, your school, church, business or friends join us.
Our mission is to walk hand-in-hand with people in garbage dump communities, along with those with a calling to help, to break the chains of poverty and to improve our lives together.
~Adopted by International Samaritan’s
Board of Trustees, April 23, 2021
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