Could an adult cope with that?
I prayed for the wisdom to find the right words for him.
His eyes still brimmed with tears. The referee stood beside him at the foul line, holding the ball patiently while Paul alternately rubbed his knee and brushed tears from his face.
The kids around me were yelling in high-pitched voices. I shouted loudly, so Paul would hear me: "Nice and easy, kid. Follow through."
His shot arched up. Swish!
I looked around the gym. It was packed with players from the teams waiting to play the next game, and parents and friends. Suddenly the place fell silent.
Paul took the ball. He bounced it once. At practice he had once made three of 10 from the foul line. That was his best. Overtime, I decided, wouldn't be bad. The shot flew up and, typically, had too much velocity and too little trajectory. A real brick. It went bang-swish—off the backboard and through the hoop.
Final score: 17-16, Nets.
No goats, no heroes, I reminded myself. Paul fell amid a heap of screaming and pummeling teammates. Parents raced onto the floor. A white-haired old lady with tears in her eyes stood beside me repeating, "I'm his grandmother. I'm his grandmother. I came all the way from Florida."
I shook hands with all the players. They showed me how to do a high five. I learned that if I scooched way down so that I was almost kneeling and held my palms up over my head, they could leap at me and slap my hands. We all did that several times.