Make sport, not war

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Basketball, Flickr image by ??? · tripuAllow me the temerity of paraphrasing the late tart-tongued Mother Teresa: there are no great stories, only small stories told with great attentiveness.

So I tell you a war story that has nothing to do with arrogance or fear or cash, the usual reasons we foment war. It has to do with a really lovely left-handed jump shot, the parabolic poem at the heart of the sweet, quicksilver, tumultuous, graceful, gracious sport of basketball.

It's about a boy I'll call Jimmy Ward. He was the shooting guard for our basketball team when we were boys just starting to be halting men. Point guards came and went on that team, forwards shuffled in and out, centers lumbered and plodded and were replaced by other massive slabs of meat, but Jimmy was eternal.

Jimmy played every minute, year after year, because Jimmy had the quickest, deadliest, loveliest jump shot anyone had ever seen, and even the most martinettish of coaches knew enough to leave him alone and let him happily terrorise defenses with his sharp-shooting.

He had divine range, and could drill that shot from anywhere. He was cat-quick, and could get his shot off against the grimmest of defenders. He had exquisite judgment and timing — he never took a bad shot, was liable to stunning hot streaks, and had the killer instinct granted to a few great players who understand exactly when a crucial score utterly deflates an opponent.

College scholarship offers piled up on the dining room table of his house. I remember Jimmy's father grinning as he riffled through the pile, reading the names of the colleges aloud in wonder. But Jimmy declined the glories of collegiate sport; he wanted to be a United States Marine, one of the few and the proud.

He joined the Marines the day after we graduated from high school. Several months later he was in a war. Two months after he joined the war both his hands were blown off by a mine.

Two years later he entered college, this time on an academic scholarship. Eventually he became a teacher, a profession he enjoys today, a few miles from where we were boys playing basketball. He coaches, too — the littlest kids, on the theory that if he can get them to run and pass and savor the looping geometry of the game, they'll have good hoop DNA when their bodies begin to rise.

He can't shoot, of course, can't handle the ball, not having any fingers, and while watching him coach the other day, smiling at the way he barked at the minnows, I wondered where his jump shot went. Is it in the steaming soil far away where his hands are buried? Is it only in the memories of aging men?

What else is lost when we go to war? What trillions of other small wondrous gifts vanish when hands hold rifles instead of basketballs? What ways to war have we not even imagined yet? Are we ever going to grow up as a species and figure out how to get to the country behind violence? Are we ever going to stop saying one thing about violence and doing another? Are we ever going to really live like joy is glory and blood is a crime?

Jimmy says we should have sports tournaments to solve international disputes — sport is stylised war anyway, so why not take it to the logical conclusion, and have an epic Israeli-Palestinian soccer match, or a chess match between India and Pakistan for Kashmir?

And why not have sporting punishments for criminals, like a competition between Osama bin Laden and Radovan Karadzic to see who can clean the most toilets of the families whose children they murdered? I mean, says Jimmy, why not have some fun instead of the usual murder, you know? Because wars are murders, he says. No one ever admits that in public, except the guys who used to be in wars.

I'll stop here, with Jimmy smiling at us, a lot of nothing where his hands used to be. A small story, one guy, one war. But, you know, where did his jump shot go? And why?

Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of Thirsty for the Joy: Australian & American Voices.

Topic tags: biran doyle, jump shot, jimmy ward, basketball, mine, war, sport



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What a great article. We need more writers like Brian Doyle to tell the truth - war is murder as he says and we do not really need it.

Such a waste of talent; time; money; weapons; and people when there are places in this world of ours where people are starving,uneducated, unhoused, poor beyond imagination and the politicians can always fund wars!
Rosemary Keenan | 03 June 2009


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