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Playing From Below the Rim

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Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

"You can't live a perfect day until you do something for someone who will never be able to repay you." -- John Wooden

It's 4:50 a.m., and I was awakened this morning by some nervous twitch of a dream, an aching recollection of the TEDTalk with Derek Paravicini, "In the Key of Genius." Days ago, after discovering this poignant life story about exceeding all expectation, about the genius within, I also recollected how most of us go through life, forced to play beneath the proverbial basketball rim. Maybe some of you will identify.

One Way or Another

I was 13 in 1968, and in that year my older brother Al somehow saw something he liked in his former pip-squeaking, overly obnoxious little brother. The reason I am sure of this is, he finally pretended to like me a little, and decided to teach me to play basketball. In retrospect I am pretty sure I was still obnoxious, but hitting 6 feet in height and being a moose, this probably had more to do with Al's decision to recognize little bro than any altruistic motive.

Being that as it may, basketball became a common thread between us from then on. So it was, with aspirations of emulating the greats of the day, Al and I set out to be Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell -- playing way up there, in the NBA stratosphere, far above the rim. We only had one problem though, a rather huge one actually -- neither of us was or is even close to 7 feet tall. Unshaken and industrious as we kids were back then, Al's job at the hardware store quickly provided us with a solution to this stumbling block. We built our own backboard, attached the steel hoop, and hung it over the garage door -- at a height of 8 feet, rather than 10.

Now some of you may scoff at the idea of play-pretending to be NBA legends in such a way, cheating a bit, as it were. You'd be wrong to make any negative assumption, but this is not the point of my story. Emulating the Hall of Fame match-ups every day after school and work, pushing and shoving on one another to gain position underneath the goal, ultimately reaching and reaching to gain an inch of advantage -- replay this 10,000 times and anyone learns a lot, mentally and physically. Three or four years down the emulation road, imagine a mighty contest of youth -- two 220-pound boys face off, one intent on slammin', the other on blocking, and the trusty backboard of Boston Garden (Florida) crashes down under the pressure.

As I sit here today remembering me and Al sprawled out in our Converse All-Stars in the driveway, rubbing our heads at the knots the backboard caused on our heads, we laughed in unison and so joyously at having achieved what was only a feeling, but one heck of a lot more. For 20 seconds he actually became Bill Russell, as Wilt Chamberlain smashed the rim with a mighty slam dunk. As I relish at the memory, you're doubtless wondering "what the heck childhood fantasy has to do with Derek Paravicini's genius?" I'll tell you briefly -- far exceeding any adversity, surpassing any expectation at all.

Superstardom, No Matter What the Game Is

We all are condemned to play beneath the rim somehow. For me, the fact my older brother saw something besides a puny little skinny sucker resembles what Adam Ockelford must have recognized when first he heard Derek reenact tones on the piano. So in the same way, I cannot imagine where life would have taken me without some help form my brother. I bet you have similar recollections; in fact I know you do.

Most of the time, most of us, we just don't exceed even our own expectations. -- Phil Butler

However familiar we are with the principles of emulation and achievement is though, we also share another reality. Not many of us play beneath the rim blind and autistic like Derek has had to. The lesson and permanence here being: You and I should probably wake up every morning at 4:30, we should probably envision space flight, curing cancer, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, feeding the hungry, praying to God, being the best Mom or Dad ever, and so on. Most of the time, most of us, we just don't exceed even our own expectations. Now do we? Tell the truth.

Most of you reading this will not even vaguely know who Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell is, but superimpose any titanic star you can think of -- Michael Jordan or LeBron James will do. The point is the same: Not one in 10 million of us will become so great at basketball. It is possible, however, for each of us to become superstars at being who we were meant to be. We can be our best.

No, nether me nor my brother Al made it to the NBA. We simply learned very early on how to play way beneath the rim -- and to catch a glimpse from way above it. As for Derek Paravicini? Adam Ockelford saw a Hall of Fame example of unbelievable fortitude and brilliance, where no one else would have suspected.

Here's wishing you a perfect day, and giving yourself a gift you can never repay -- a gift of reaching higher.

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