Who’s the Coach Here?

Years ago, my son Josh and I attended the Men’s NCAA Basketball Regional tournament on the campus of Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

The Vanderbilt arena is one of the oldest in the country, and the teams sit on each end of the court. We had seats about six rows up from where the University of Kentucky team sat, coached by Rick Pitino.

That year UK won most of their games by a great margin. A tradition that developed when UK got substantially far ahead that season was that the fans would start chanting, “Send in Svoboda, send in Svoboda.”  Todd Svoboda, basically a practice player, was always the last player to enter a game. When they started shouting his name, the fans were in essence saying, “The game is over—we’ve won!” 

At this game, UK was ahead of their opponent by 20 points or more and the crowd began chanting for Svoboda.

Behind us a row up and to the right was perhaps the most avid UK fan I have ever witnessed. He wore UK’s blue and white in every possible form—blue sweat suit and cap, Wildcat logos everywhere, even down to a wristband. He had an irritating shout, and he cheered wildly throughout the game.

With about five minutes left in the game, Pitino was pacing as he typically did. There was action on the floor as this fan shouted over and over, “Send in Svoboda, Coach! Send in Svoboda!” 

Suddenly Pitino whirled around, pointed to the fan, and said, “I coach, you cheer.” He then turned his attention back to the action on the court. Amazingly, Pitino was coaching, but he was also acutely aware of his surroundings. He did not miss anything.

We too often are oblivious to what is going on around us. We gain more from our experiences when we pay attention.

Getting to Know Keith

On our way to church one beautiful spring morning, a young man was sitting by an intersection with his cardboard sign asking for money. As we waited for the light to change, I motioned him over to the car and gave him some money. I have a routine I follow under these conditions: I smile, hand the person money, shake his hand, ask his name, and ask what he plans to do with the money. I usually then ask, “Where do you live?” 

This man’s response was “Here and there.”  Any money he received he said he was going to use to get back on his feet.

Then this young man, Keith, took over the conversation. He elaborated, “I lost my license, and then I lost my job. But I know things are going to get better.”

As I started to drive away, I wished him luck and then he responded with a statement that will stay with me a long time. He said, “Well, you have to go to hell before you can make it to heaven.” 

Some of the most poignant thoughts will come from the people you least expect, whether or not you agree with them. You simply have to start a conversation to find out.

Always Ask Questions

Cris Collinsworth, noted sports announcer, lives in our little suburb of Cincinnati—Fort Thomas, Kentucky.  A few years ago he and some other well-to-do citizens donated money to replace the Highlands High school football field surface.  An article appeared in our local newspaper about the generous donation. 

The reporter had been in the school and seen that the chemistry and biology labs were critically lacking in state-of-the-art equipment.  So she said to Cris, “The school’s labs are in terrible shape.  Why didn’t you donate money for the academic needs of the school?” 

His response was a simple one:  “They did not ask.” 

You never know until you ask.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions—and  to ask for help.

Saved By a Speech

On October 14, 1912, Teddy Roosevelt was in Milwaukee campaigning for President on the Bull Moose Party ticket. He ate dinner at the Hotel Gilpatrick with supporters and was leaving the hotel to go to the Milwaukee Auditorium to deliver a speech. As he shook hands and waved at well-wishers, a man stepped out of the crowd and at close range shot Roosevelt in the chest.

By all practical reasoning, he should have been killed. Not only did he live, but he gave an eighty-minute speech before he would go to the hospital for treatment.

What saved his life? Was it a miracle? A supernatural event? No, what saved his life was that the bullet penetrated his folded, multi-page speech manuscript. Who would imagine that a speech manuscript could save a person’s life! Well, the bullet was also slowed down by going through a steel spectacle case in his pocket before entering his chest, thus creating only a flesh wound.

There are very few times when delivering a long speech from a manuscript is a good thing, but in this case, the speaker was saved by his speech—and his myopia! Strange objects can save people’s lives.

[Note: I used to tell this speech and draw from my breast pocket a toy cap gun and shoot it as part of my speech. I stopped when an elderly lady in the audience almost had a heart attack when she heard it! Then of course after 9/11, that was totally unacceptable.]

No One Told Him He Couldn’t

One of my favorite major league baseball players was Jim Abbott. He was a left-handed pitcher who played for the California Angels, New York Yankees, and Chicago White Sox through the 1990s. He was one of the few players who went directly from playing college baseball at Michigan to the major leagues. But that is not the main reason he was such a memorable pitcher.

He made millions of dollars and had nearly a .500 record as a pitcher. His best year was 1991 when he won 18 games for the Angels. But that still is not the most memorable fact about Jim Abbott.

Abbott pitched a no-hitter when he played for the Yankees against the Cleveland Indians in 1993.  Obviously very significant, but still not the most memorable aspect of his career.

No, the most memorable trait of Jim Abbott was that he had no right hand. He won nearly 100 games in the major leagues with no right hand.

After one game, a reporter asked him how he learned to play baseball at the major league level with one hand?  Jim’s response was, “No one ever told me I had an impairment. If they had, I probably would never have played baseball.” 

Too often the limitations we face are the ones we have in our minds. Let us be careful not to place limitations on ourselves or others.

When Enough is Enough

One of the most memorable cab rides I have ever taken occurred a number of years ago en route from Hartsfeld Airport to downtown Atlanta. Rain started as we got into the downtown area. I noticed that the driver did not seem comfortable with the cab. For example, he did not turn on the windshield wipers until we could not see out the front windows.

When we came to an intersection, I heard screeching and turned to see where it was coming from. The noise was coming from the car I was in! We were careening back and forth across the highway in a skid. I thought we were going to hit two cars that had stopped at the intersection. Somehow the driver got the car turned in the direction of a deep row of hedges, which softened our impact.

A cab behind us stopped and sheltered us from other cars until my cabbie was able to get the car started. We backed out of the shrubs and were no worse for the experience.

However, when we arrived at our destination hotel, the cab driver turned off the engine and turned to face me.

“You are my first customer,” he said. He went on to say that he was unfamiliar with the cab and had been unaware of the bald tires and bad brakes.

He told me that he was parking the cab in the hotel lot and calling to tell his employer that he was quitting immediately.

So I was his first and last cab fare!

We all have our breaking point in any job; I happened to be riding along when this cabbie realized “enough was enough.”