Life and Basketball

My best friend growing up was Robbie Nourse. Robbie was a great friend, and we had one important thing in common: basketball. Robbie loved the game at least as much as I did, and I loved it a LOT. I spent thousands of hours on the basketball floor and thousands more playing basketball in my driveway and after school in a nearby playground in Corunna, Michigan. The photo on the right shows Robbie (center) and me (right) as ball boys for John Wesley College in Owosso, Michigan, where Robbie's dad was Head Coach.

Robbie lived across the road, so a game was never far away. I didn’t understand things like genetic predisposition back then. Robbie’s dad was 6’7” and played on the 1960 NCAA National Champion Ohio State University basketball team with John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas, and Bobby Knight. Imagine the testosterone level of that locker room. But I digress. Now imagine me trying to beat Robbie in a game of basketball with his genetic predisposition! Robbie was a great player. I was just pretty good, good enough to play on two high school state championship teams in 82 and 83. I was a walk-on at Spring Arbor University for a while, but Robbie was on another level.

Playing competitive basketball in school taught me to be part of a team; part of something greater than myself. It taught me the importance of doing exactly what I was put on the court to do, be a role player, get the ball across the half court line and set up the offense; and play defense. It also gave me the taste of winning, something I still strive for.

I knew I would never make money playing basketball, but I did it for the love of the game. Those were good times, when we did things simply because we loved doing them. Basketball made my life better because of that feeling I got when I was doing what I loved; because I belonged to a team with a goal of becoming champions. Because there was a big scoreboard that showed me in a split second how we were doing against the goal.

Then we got older and life got complicated and mundane. We started doing things because we needed the money not because we wanted that feeling of doing what we loved. We took on responsibilities like a career, a mortgage, car payments, kids, and a family. Dreams took a back seat to reality. Not only for us, but also for most of the NCAA national champions from the 1960 Ohio State basketball team my friend Robbie’s dad played on.

Mel Nowell became a state budget director

Gary Gearhart was a rep for a jewelry company

John Havlicek played for the Celtics

John Cedargren died in 1966

Jerry Lucas played for the Knicks

Richie Hoyt worked for a worker’s compensation company

Joe Roberts played for the Syracuse Nationals three years then went on to coaching

Dave Barker ran an art gallery

Gary Milliken worked for a utility company

Larry Siegfried became a counselor at a correctional facility

J.T. Landes became a school administrator

Bob Knight became a LEGENDARY coach

Nelson Miller just disappeared

Jim Allen became an emergency-room physician

There’s no shame in doing any of these jobs. But I can’t help wondering, what would Gary Gearhart think in 1960 if he knew that he would spend the rest of his life as a field rep for a jewellery company? What would he do differently? Maybe nothing. Maybe that was his greatest good; his highest ambition. Maybe it wasn’t.

My greatest fear is that my life will be ordinary and unremarkable; a mere by-line in the narrative of life. No impact. No discovery. No new idea. No great accomplishment. God help me to recapture my enthusiasm and optimism from my “basketball days”, as we head into this new chapter of our lives.

Howard Nourse (Robbie’s dad) backed up Lucas on the court, then became Vice-President of Milligan College in Tennessee. He died very recently. Howard was a wonderful, loving, devoted husband and father. He was a great basketball coach and a championship player. To me he was loving, fatherly and kind. This would be a life well-lived. I can identify with Howard in one respect: He wasn’t Jerry Lucas. He was the guy who backed up Jerry Lucas. I wasn’t Katy Perry; I was the guy who managed Katy Perry, and others. Howard may not have gotten Jerry’s headlines, but he still got a championship ring.

What about you? When every day of your life, everything you’ve done, and all your energy are reduced to one bi-line on your tombstone, what do you want that bi-line to be? I want mine to say something like, “He loved God and his family.” What do you want yours to say?

About the photos:

Here's Robbie and me ten years later in 1981, still playing basketball non-stop. Robbie is #40 and I'm #20. This team went on to win the Michigan Class B State Championship, with several great players. Robbie and I left after our Freshman year. He moved to Massachusetts and won a State Championship there. I moved to Colorado. There must've been something in that Corruna water! I think it was the rivalries that made everybody reach for their best.

My sophomore year, I moved to Denver to live with my dad. For reasons I still don't fully understand, the coach at Denver Christian decided to put me on the Varsity team as a sophomore. I was a very aggressive player, but needed discipline and didn't know the system at DC at all. Nevertheless, we were 5th in the state that year, and champions the next two years.

My highest aspiration on the court, next to winning, was to get the guy I was defending so frustrated that he got a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct, or at least lost his ability to concentrate and score.

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