A basket ball soars towards the rim of a chained basketball hoops.
Rick Nelson TAG Portrait

He wasn’t just the best boss and friend I ever had, Headley Chambers was an avid and accomplished basketball player. He had an incredible engine — intense, quick, tenacious. When most people were done, he was just getting warmed up. He loved the game and took every opportunity to play—tournaments, men’s leagues, and the all-important Saturday morning pickup games. 

I, on the other hand, had no experience with basketball other than a few eighth grade PE classes. I liked playing, and I loved watching the game, but I could never imagine myself on the same court as Headley and the guys he played with. So, you can imagine my anxiety when Headley invited me to join them for Saturday morning pickup basketball. I must’ve said no at least 10 times….but he wasn’t taking no for an answer! So I decided to join him and let him see how bad I really was. With that knowledge, he wouldn’t have to — or want to — ask me again. 

Saturday Morning

We worked nights at UPS back then, and got off of work between 5 and 6 AM every Saturday morning. On this particular Saturday, we were in the park near the Chambers house by 7:30. Of course by that time, 10 to 15 of the neighborhood folks had already arrived and games were in full swing.

I knew I was out of my league, but as with most things, Headley‘s enthusiasm and infectious positive spirit made me feel like I could give it a try.

Now, these weren’t average Saturday-morning-in-the-neighborhood basketball players. Each and every one of them had a pedigree in competitive basketball, including several that had played at the Division 1 level. If they weren’t 6’4” or taller, they were lightning quick and could shoot from anywhere on the court.  

I clearly did not belong. But you couldn’t tell Headley that. I knew I was out of my league, but as with most things, Headley‘s enthusiasm and infectious positive spirit made me feel like I could give it a try.  

You may know that when you show up for Saturday morning pickup basketball, you wait until your five are next up, you play a game to 15, winner keeps playing, loser sits down. The number of people that want to play keeps growing, and the wait between games gets longer. No one likes to lose.

It was pretty common to see people adjust their position in line, moving back to be in the best possible group of five. Frequently five guys would drop themselves all the way to the end of the line just so they could all play together with the hopes of staying on the court until it was time to go home.

Headley was one of the guys everyone wanted to recruit for their team. He could rebound, shoot, and shut down the best offensive player, no problem. As for me, I was sure they all hoped I would end up on the “other” team.

As we got close to the court, I was uneasy, even uncomfortable. I didn’t want to embarrass myself and I knew there was no way I could run with the group that was assembled there. I think Headley could sense my nervousness, because he came over and encouraged me: “Come on now, let’s go get these guys.” I told him, “I don’t even know how to play this game! And I don’t want to be the one that is responsible for defeat.” He chuckled and replied, “well that’s not gonna happen, so let’s go!

Game Plan

This was his Saturday. And this was what he loved. He was intensely competitive and took great pride in never giving up the court once he got on it. But that wasn’t his priority when he took me out there. His priority was me. He was introducing a new friend to a new experience and making that experience as positive as it could possibly be.

Well, I thought the world of the guy, so I took the court. I can truly say I had no thoughts of making an impact, I was really just trying to stay out of the way. But Headley had a different game plan. Each time we’d go down to the court, the team would work the ball to Headley at the basket, he’d see me outside the three-point line unguarded, and throw me the ball.

Shoot it.” I looked at him and threw it right back. No way was I trying that shot! Before it could settle in his hands, he snapped it back to me and said “shoot it.” So I threw it in the air…. and I can remember the sinking feeling as it tragically came up two feet short of the rim. There was a big scuffle under the basket and I held my breath for a moment…until Headley came up with the ball and laid it in for a bucket.

As we all ran to the defensive end of the floor Headley ran next to me, saying “I’m going to throw it to you and you’re going to shoot it. You’re gonna keep shooting it till you make it. All you need to know is if it doesn’t go in I’m going to get it, I’ve got you.”

Missing My Shot

We played an hour and a half that day and every time I shot it, I missed. And every time I missed he got it, and every time he got it he gave it back to me or put it in. We sat down for a cold beer after the game, and I shared with Headley how disappointing it was that I wasn’t able to make any baskets. He chuckled and said, “it takes time, just keep shooting.” I said, “I’ve got to be honest, those guys weren’t that thrilled that I was so lame.” He assured me: “they’ll get over it. We all have to start somewhere.”

Over time he taught me to shoot, and we practiced just about every morning. We played every week. Within a few weeks, I started to get the hang of it, and in time I became a quite good three-point shooter. We played basketball in that park every Saturday for years. My confidence grew with every game. And then something magical happened: players actually started to ask if I wanted to be on their team! That was quite a moment.

The Importance of Confidence

One of the many lessons I learned from Headley was the importance of confidence.

  • Confidence in the teacher, that they have the skills to train their pupil.
  • Confidence in the leader, that they have the patience and desire to support you through the growing pains.
  • Confidence in yourself that comes from knowing that you’ve put in the effort and your willing to the work.
  • Confidence is a state of mind but it is built with every experience and with the help of Great mentors and Friends. Surround yourself with them.

Not Gonna Miss Your Shot

Confidence can be hard won. Building skills takes repetitions and coaching. Building teamwork takes practice and patience.  

Even when I lacked confidence, Headley encouraged me to Take the Shot. When I doubted, he reassured. When I was frustrated, he was patient. When I missed, he had my back. In the end, Headley instilled a love for the game and a winning mindset in me.

I just needed to Take the Shot, again and again.

Your turn: Who encouraged you to Take the Shot? What was the result?

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