Saturday, April 24, 2010


From late fall until late spring I am thoroughly entertained by college and professional basketball games. Being paralyzed and mobility impaired, I stand in awe and marvel at the athleticism and skill of these great basketball players. Loving basketball as I do adds some spice and enjoyment to my life which wouldn't be there otherwise. I also have learned great lessons about life from participating in and watching great basketball players and teams over the years.

From the time I was a very young boy I loved to play basketball. We had an alley that ran along the side of our house in Ruth, Nevada. My dad and older brothers sunk a large post in a hole they dug in the alley next to our back fence, nailed a makeshift backboard to the post, approximately 10 feet high, screwed a rim onto the backboard and this would be our basketball court for years to come. We played basketball all year long. In winter we would shovel the snow away from the basket as best we could and then with heavy coats, mittens, wool stocking caps, and overshoes we would play basketball for hours at a time. As spring gradually arrived and the dirt in the alley began to thaw out we would play in the mud, and as spring turned into summer we would play in the dust of the alley. I tried to practice the piano and clarinet before school so that it would not interfere with my basketball after school. I would run into the house, throw my books on to the table, grab the basketball, and head for the alley. If there was nobody to play with I didn't care and would shoot hundreds of jump shots, pretending I was shooting the winning basket for the White Pine County High School Bobcats.

I humbly admit that because of all the practice I became a deadly three-point shooter. The only trouble was that in my era you only got two points for a made basket regardless of the distance. One of my great dreams and fantasies was to play on the varsity high school basketball team. I attended every high school basketball game I could possibly get to as a young boy, and my heart would almost leap out of my chest as the Bobcats would come running out onto the floor dressed in their magnificent blue warm ups as the band played and the crowd sang "On Ye Bobcats, On Ye Bobcats...."

I am going to fast forward to my junior year in high school. 12 boys made the varsity basketball team that year and I was No. 12. My joy was complete the night of our first game as I ran out on to the court in my glorious blue warm ups as the band and crowd sang our fight song. Our coach was Nephi Schwab (not a Catholic), who along with his brother Moroni, had been outstanding all-conference linemen at Utah State University in their day. I had made the team but I had a little problem that coach Schwab was trying to help me resolve. To this day I can hear him screaming at me as I ran up and down the floor, "Rushton, there is more to basketball than offense!" Well, you could have fooled me. I never saw a shot I didn't like and given a little space I could hit most of them. However, I was a defensive liability because of my lack of speed and jumping ability and desire to play defense. You see, defense is hard work and there is little glory in it. Defense in my mind could not compare to the sound of the basketball swishing through the bottom of the net. Defense demanded discipline, hard work and dogged determination. Sad to say, but at that time in my life I was more offense than defense.

I have come to appreciate the words of Nephi Schwab, "Rushton, there is more to basketball than offense!" I know now that as in basketball, there is "more to life than offense" as well. Those things that don't bring to us the spotlight and the cheers of the crowd but demand discipline, hard work, and endurance in the face of great challenges are those things that ultimately matter the most. I suppose we all need to work a little harder on our defense.

Ultimately the kind of defense that will do us the most good in our lives comes not in the form of better home security systems, or arming ourselves with weapons to defend ourselves. The defense we need the most comes from being willing to pay the individual price necessary to obtain the kind of armor described by Paul that will protect us spiritually from the evils of this world. "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God,that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God...." [Ephesians 6:13-17]

We can't buy this kind of protective armor from eBay or Costco. It is very individualized. Someone else's breastplate of righteousness and shield of faith will do me no good in my individual battle with wickedness and the inevitable challenges and adversities of life. Our defense and armor must be strengthened and polished every day or it will grow weak and rusty and useless. There will never be a day in our lives that we don't need to pray, read the Scriptures, seek to entertain pure thoughts and images in our minds and hearts, and serve others. This is the equivalent of playing sweaty, hard-nosed, in-your-face defense against the Adversary of our souls. If we don't carefully prepare to defend ourselves daily we likely will lose the game of life and experience the agony of defeat instead of the joy Father wanted each one of his children to experience in mortality.

Thankfully I finally caught on to what Nephi Schwab was trying to teach me as a young teenager. I learned I could never win the battle against paralysis and the depression and feelings of hopelessness it can bring with it without polishing and strengthening my armor each day through Scripture study, prayer, trying to entertain pure thoughts, and serving others in my own unique way. All of this is very personal and private, but is far more important than any public thing I could ever do in the spotlight. Yes, there certainly is more to life than just "offense."