He didn’t see us enter Key Arena or traverse the stairs to a pair of close-up seats, but I saw him. There was my boy, warming up on Ray’s home turf.
He looked good. He looked natural. He even looked comfortable, though I couldn’t imagine how he pulled that off. Thousands and thousands of stadium seats –17,072 in all– faced that court, looking like an enormous avalanche of red plastic, frozen in mid free-fall. I think the seats alone would have unnerved me. But there was so much more. The backboards, clear and backed by nothing but space, gave the shooters no reference point. Instead of a gym ceiling overhead, a giant, multi-lighted mother-ship of a structure hung suspended and staring. Only the black-striped, orange globes in their hands offered the boys any sense of familiarity.
A whistle blew and warm-up ended. And then, as if this were an ordinary game and there was no simply no need for ceremony, the announcer called out the names of the two teams, listed the starters, and brought the game into play. Zac wasn’t among the starters. He’s okay with that. He’s the new kid, the one who hasn’t been playing with this group of boys for all their high school life; the one who came from a small private school that never gave thought to actually memorizing and running plays. Zac has had a lot of catching up to do. But he’s getting there.
I waited through every moment of the first quarter, watching Zac, cheering his friends, scrutinizing the face and movements of his coach. My stomach began to churn as I noticed how frequently the opposing coach swapped players. Why couldn’t our coach follow suit? A dormant fear — one that had sprung into being the moment I learned we got to shell out $26 for the chance to watch both MPHS and the Sonics, but which I’d tried to squelch — surfaced yet again. What if … what if the coach didn’t put Zac in? What if my son suited up, warmed up, and then spent the entire game holding the bench in place? Like mothers do (and a few fathers, too, I suspect) I rehearsed my greeting to the coach, should such an oversight be committed.
Thankfully, the specifics of my imaginary greeting need not be revealed. After uttering a prayer and asking God to sway the coach’s thoughts (and head) toward my boy, that’s exactly what happened. While I sat staring through sprinting bodies and blurry orange passes and watching Zac’s face, and marveling at his ability to laugh with a bench buddy and cheer and not seem to care that he hadn’t yet made his pro-basketball-court debut, it happened. An invisible hand took hold of Coach’s head and turned it to the right. I watched his eyes traveling the line of waiting boys, watched his arm lift and his finger point at the boy at the end of the bench. Zac grinned, stood, and raced to the announcer’s table, where he hunkered down and waited for the beckoning whistle.
I can’t tell you everything he did (one stuff and four rebounds); nor can I tell you how much time he spent playing during that quarter and another appearance in the fourth (8 minutes, 42 seconds total), but I can tell you that my heart pounded like thunder and my throat ached with pride and I whistled so loudly that at one point, the spectator sitting in front of me swiveled and stared.
We won. Dave, in charge of the camera, is still kicking himself that he didn’t get a picture of the giant “Marysville–60; Everett–49” sign, but we won’t forget. And when it was over, and enough time elapsed for one proud mother to knit six rows of her project and one sweaty boy to have himself a shower, Zac “The Stuffer” Woodward rounded the arena and swooped in for a hello. Not only that, he sat with us through the entire varsity game, reliving the glory and letting the reality of the day sink in a bit.
And then he was gone — off to meet the team, with whom he would hang out at Seattle Center while waiting for the Sonics game to start. Which meant Dave and I were alone. Alone in Seattle … staring at three hours of freedom.
“Want to take a walk,” I suggested?