Monday, August 8, 2011

The Language that Surpasses All Others

Basketball is very much alive deep
in the heart of Mexico
If you've wondered why the blog has been absent of content the last week or so, it's because I've been deep in the heart of Mexico with my church on a mission trip to help a struggling town that needs something to believe in.

While most of the time we worked on tasks like painting schools, shoveling sand, and profusely sweating, there was opportunity for play. And by play, I mean pick-up basketball.

Whenever a basketball court is within sight of high school guys, it's flocked to instantly. It's like Howard Shultz around puppies. He has to kick them. Regardless of the situation.

OK, so maybe it's not like that. But you get the point.

To Continue...

Anyway, me and my friends show up to this Greenlake like basketball court with the intentions of just shooting around. We figured it was too hot (85 degrees with seemingly 900% humidity) for a game, plus our water bottles were nearly empty.

But then they came.

After about ten minutes of us shooting around, five Mexican guys strut up to the court with looks on their faces saying "Whoa. Why are these white people here hogging our court!"

We wanted to tell them we were just shooting around and not messing with them, but a problem aroused. We didn't speak Spanish, and they spoke minimal English. There was no way to communicate except for a couple universal hand signals and head nods. 20 seconds of awkward silence went by of seeing who would leave and who would establish themselves as the Alpha Males (I submitted this story to Animal Planet, but they declined).

After those 20 seconds passed, we decided it wasn't worth it and we could play tomorrow. But as we were leaving, one simple action by one of the Mexicans destroyed the language barrier and put everyone on the same level.

He stretched out the ball and nodded.

Challenge accepted.

From that point, there was no need for speaking. I pointed to one hoop, he pointed to the other. We put our tallest guy in the middle of the court, they did the same, a ball was lifted in between these two men, and we were off. Pick-up basketball at its best.

Everyone knew the rules of pick-up basketball, so fouls were never called and smack talk was frequent, even if we didn't understand each other. The Mexicans were quicker than us, but we had a sharpshooter with the name of often-shouted-out-on-this-blog Tanner Mahler and Paul Sparks, who looked and played like Jon Brockman compared to the much lighter Mexicans.

I had the task of guarding their point guard; mainly because I was the shortest out of all my friends. Every play he would do the following: 1) Attempt a badly performed jab step to his left that didn't fool me at all, 2) run as fast as he possibly could to his right which had me gasping for breath by the tenth time he did this, then 3) air ball a layup. Let's just say it got old.

But hey, we ended up winning. Height is a beautiful thing.

The final result of the game, while satisfying, wasn't the thing that stuck with me. What stuck with me is this: The ability of sports to unite people that wouldn't meet otherwise, regardless of background or language. Sports has it's own language that doesn't require you years to master.

All you need is somewhere to play and a ball to speak it.

(In retrospect, it probably wasn't the best idea to play in that humidity and having minimal water supplies, as I collapsed from heat exhaustion later that night. Go hard or go home kids.)

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