A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


The family basketball games changed when Mike started playing.

Which, come to think of it, could be taken any number of ways, since there are no fewer than nine Mikes in the family, and they all play basketball to one degree or another. The Mike to whom I am referring is one of the most recent Mikes - a 6-foot, 8-inch former college basketball playing Mike who married into the family a couple of years ago. As with all the other family Mikes, this Mike is a good guy. But this Mike can dunk.

And that changes everything.

Suddenly everyone on the floor started working little bit harder to elevate their game. Dunking Mike was pretty cool about being bigger and better than everyone else. He actually toned down his game a bit, but he still dominated on both ends of the floor. The games became a bit more competitive and intense as all the former high school basketball players (and high school shoulda-beens) tried to prove that they belonged on the same court with Dunking Mike.

And that made for some interesting games. Fun games. Competitive games.

Maybe a little TOO competitive.

During one recent game, things started getting a bit heated. Now, you've got to understand something about our family basketball games. When we get mad, we don't get mad at each other - we just get mad at ourselves.

Our minds remember what we are supposed to do, but our bodies seem to have forgotten. And so we get frustrated with ourselves, and occasionally we express that frustration verbally. We say: "Goodness gracious! I'm playing poorly! I need to move with more vim and vigor!"

Or words to that effect.

On this particular day, some words were spoken that sounded unduly harsh.

Profane, in fact. And my son Jon, the youngest of the hooping cousins, was bothered by them. Not that he's never heard such language. Sadly, he hears it all the time at his elementary school. It's just that he's never heard it from his brothers and cousins. And so he came home from the game that day a little disillusioned to think that one of the guys he looked up to - literally and figuratively - would use language like that. And I wasn't exactly sure what to tell him. On the one hand, I didn't want to justify the use of profanity. But on the other hand, I didn't want to condemn a group of young men who I love and who were, in every other respect, outstanding role models for my son.

Thankfully Dunking Mike knew how to elevate his game. Only this time it wasn't with a twisting, turning jumper or a blocked shot out of nowhere. This time it was with an e-mail, addressed specifically to Jon.

"I just wanted to write a little apology for what was said during Saturday's basketball game," wrote Dunking Mike three days after the game. "I don't know who said it, buddy, but I want you to know it wasn't me. Sometimes things slip out and people say things what they shouldn't. I understand that. But it's important to me that you know that I didn't swear."

"Jon, swearing is wrong, and when people do it they are not setting a good example," Dunking Mike continued. "I apologize on behalf of all of us. As your older cousins, we need to set a good example for you to follow. And I promise from now on we will."

There have only been a couple of family basketball games from that day to this. But so far Dunking Mike has made good on his promise.

And that's a slam dunk any way you look at it.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through