THE BLOG
03/13/2013 03:39 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2013

The Last Shot

From time to time, I need my faith in humanity to be restored. Sometimes, I see the world as a cold, dark place where everyone struggles to survive and not many people truly enjoy being alive. Occasionally life is a bleak, unfair monster that haunts us when we close our eyes, and we aren't powerful enough to chase away our subsequent fears. But every once in a while, there are unexpected moments in life that surprise us and fill our stagnant souls with an inexplicable joy and sense of redemption. I got to experience that. I was standing alone at the top of the bleachers. The moment was over in the blink of an eye and at the sound of a buzzer, but it left an imprint on my soul and reminded me that life's lessons often come to fruition when we least expect it.

There were 15.6 seconds left on the clock, and it was senior night, the final home basketball game, the last time those seniors would ever step foot on the court again in front of the home crowd. The entire game had been close, so only the best and most reliable players ever touched the floor. But when the coach was secure in his victory in the final seconds of the game, he allowed the seniors who had not received any playing time to sub in. One of those players was Levi, who never saw much action.

After a missed shot by the opposing team, we rebounded the ball and headed towards our goal in a two-on-one fast break situation. Another guard brought the ball down the floor while Levi sprinted hard down the left side of the court. Aware of the seconds ticking away on the clock and conscious of the moment before him, our player with the ball drove into the paint as Levi spotted up on the wing. He could have easily taken it all the way to the goal, but instead he drew the defender to himself and unselfishly passed the ball off to Levi, ensuring that he got to take the final shot of the last home game.

As the ball rolled off Levi's fingertips, time slowed down, like it often does in Hollywood's most climactic moments. My eyes held steady on the ball's rotation as it got closer and closer to the goal. My entire body tensed, and I held my breath until his perfect shot fell through the net and the sound of the buzzer filled the gym.

In an impromptu display of unabashed excitement, the fans sprung to their feet, threw their hands up in the air, screamed at the top of their lungs, and fell harmoniously into a thundering standing ovation. And when I say fans, I mean every single person in the gym, including the opposing fans. I felt the emotion catch in my throat as my eyes became blurry from witnessing a moment of glory in which goodness is rightfully rewarded and hard work pays off. It wasn't the game-winning shot, but it was the only shot that anyone will remember from that game, maybe from the whole season. You see, Levi, at eighteen years old, is only 4'8" and has difficulty running due to the abnormal outward curvature of his legs.

He left an inner-city school after his freshman year and moved to our rural school system. He became a part of our basketball program as a sophomore, despite his size and athletic limitations. Levi endured the grueling weeks of pre-season conditioning, came to practice every day, and worked just as hard as the starting line-up, who would no doubt receive all of the glory and recognition. He devoted his time and energy and invested his heart and soul into the team, knowing that he would never be a star, that he would never even be a major contributor.

But as time passed, he became a major contributor in other ways... he inspired, motivated, and encouraged his teammates, and in return, they became his biggest fans, his most ardent supporters. They found it almost impossible to have a bad day or display negativity when he was around, because his smile, his positive attitude, and his work ethic were all undeniably contagious. Before every game when emotions and adrenaline were running high, he was in the center of the huddle offering enthusiastic words of inspiration. On the bench, he was the most fervent cheerleader and a keen observer of every play in the game. Though he wasn't physically on the floor, his mind was always right in the midst of the action, experiencing the game vicariously. His love for basketball was deep, and he had the heart of a true athlete, the kind every coach wishes all of his or her players possessed. However, his heart was just surrounded by a smaller than normal, non-athletic body.

Over the past three years, Levi has been both a student and a teacher, yet he was unaware that we were learning something from him, that he was schooling us all in the game of life. It was just the last shot, and not even a game-changing one, but his moment of glory was full of lessons:

• Don't let any limitation stop you from doing what you love.

• When you set out to do something, whether big or small, do it to the best of your
ability -- not because you desire accolades or fame, but because the self-rewards are far
greater.

• Never give up. Never back down. Never make excuses.

• Perseverance, heart, and attitude are more important than size, ability, and opportunity.

• Not only do hard work and dedication make you a better person -- they inspire those
around you to be better too.

• When you are positive and lift up other people, allowing them to shine, the brilliance of
their light often reflects back upon you.

What a different place the world would be if we all approached life with that mind set. Perhaps we would discover that our own fears and obstacles are not so big after all. Maybe we would realize that no matter how small we may seem, we still have the power to change the world.