Remember: The Ball Is Your Friend Sports are a great way to learn life lessons — at 6 or 60. Author E. Ethelbert Miller's caution to his son became a lesson for living.
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Remember: The Ball Is Your Friend

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Remember: The Ball Is Your Friend

Remember: The Ball Is Your Friend

Remember: The Ball Is Your Friend

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/111631953/111708195" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

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The ball is your friend.

iStockphoto.com

Although I've written several books of poetry and two memoirs, within my family I'm mostly known for one line.

Many years ago, when my son was about 9, we had a Bill Cosby moment on the playground. I had been teaching him how to shoot a basketball. Frustrated with his inability to make a shot, he kicked the ball out of the playing area. After rushing to retrieve it, I confronted him with the ball in my hand, and in a very angry tone I told him, "You never kick the ball; the ball is your friend!"

Little did I know that day that my son would become captain of his high school and college basketball teams. When he went off to college four years ago, all the basketballs in our house disappeared. This is how a parent measures time and how quickly a child becomes an adult.

A couple of days ago I noticed a brand-new basketball in the house. This ball belongs to my wife. She saw a sign at the neighborhood recreation center for senior women's basketball. They were recruiting women 50 years and up to play three-on-three half-court games. My wife never played basketball in her life, but she wanted to try something new.

We will both be 60 next year, and the challenge we face is being 60-young instead of 60-old. At dinner the other night, my wife told me she had recently spoken with our son. "Did he give you any pointers on how to play basketball?" I asked. "Yes," she said with a chuckle. "He told me not to forget that the ball is my friend."

Whether it's basketball, football, baseball or soccer, one can learn so much about life while on the court or playing field. Too often, however, we grow apart from our friends. We move away; we stop writing or calling. The ball loses air or simply rolls into the corner of a room, never to be touched. Don't you wish it wasn't this way? Once again I'm sitting in a gym, watching players getting ready for a game. It's my wife on the court this time, and not my son. I tell my heart, the cheering never stops. The ball is a good friend and teacher.