Home Court Advantage

By Bryce Doman

George Durrant is a life hero of mine. 

In the fall of 1991, my sophomore year at Brigham Young University, I was lucky to get into one of his religion classes.  You had to act quickly to get into a George Durrant class, as they filled up fast! The first day of fall semester in this particular class, there had to be about 500 students in the auditorium filled to the brim.

A few days earlier, I had played in BYU’s opening football game that season against New Mexico.  As as wide receiver on the team, I had 3 touchdowns that game and was named Geneva Steel Man Player of the Game (I think that was the only time in 4 years ever receiving that honor).  So I was feeling pretty good about myself as I walked into his class that first day - head high. George started the first class of that year by asking if everyone saw the BYU football game that weekend.  Then he went on to say that the Geneva Steel Man - himself - was in our class that day. I think I literally felt my chest extend out a couple inches. He went on explaining, in pretty good detail, some of my best moments from that game, and then he did something that changed my life forever.  He paused...and said...I know none of these things matter all that much to Bryce. I know him and his family pretty well, and I know what matters most to him. What matters most to him is striving to be a “Man of God.” My perspective changed completely as I felt my chest deflate back to its original position.  And the thought came to me, as it has many times since in other settings, “This is not about YOU!”  

Again, about 10 years later, George’s amazing story telling ability captured me and taught me this same lesson, “This is not about YOU,” as I read for the first time his book, A DAD A BOY AND A BALL.  At that point in my life, I had become a young father, and this book reminded me to focus less on myself and more on my young sons -- in all instances, including sports. As sports played a significant role in my growing up years, I wanted my sons to experience the same benefits from competing in sports that I enjoyed.  George’s book encapsulates what I loved most about sports, which is spending time with my dad and feeling his intense love and pride towards me. Wow! What a blessing to have a father who saw the opportunity of sports the same way as my friend and hero George Durrant. Thanks Dad!!!

Here is an excerpt from one of the best books ever written, A Dad a Boy and a Ball, by George Durrant (same words could’ve easily have been written by Verl Doman, my dad).

The Home Court Advantage

As we raised our family, I changed jobs quite often. Because of that our family moved a lot. Each time we considered purchasing a new home, a prime consideration was always whether there was a suitable place on the property to build a basketball court. That was a more important matter than whether the house had indoor plumbing.

As we would walk around the prospective property, I’d say to the boys, “Look! Right there is a perfect spot for our basketball court.” They would excitedly agree and the realtor would know he had a deal.

After we got moved in, we’d all go out and clear off the land. We’d put some nice straight two-by-four planks around the outside borders. We’d get everything level and estimate the number of square yards of concrete we’d need. Then I'd call my old friends Wayne Lynn and Lee Miller. They’d get there just as the cement truck would. Words just won’t allow me to describe the excitement my boys and I would feel as we’d see that cement get smoother and smoother. Wayne knew how to finish it so it looked real good. The boys would all help as best they could. Even as I write this now, it makes me want to turn back time and build a home basketball court again with my sons. 

The boys weren’t often the hardest of workers, but when we were building a basketball court they worked themselves nearly to death. In a day or two the cement would be hard. We’d put up the pipes that my friend Bob Cutler had welded for us. Then we’d attach our homemade wooden backboard. Next the hoop would be bolted at the precise height. After that we’d play and play and play. 

In the days that followed, I’d come home from work tired. The boys would ask me to come out and shoot a few. At first I’d say, “No I'm too tired.” They’d persist and I’d give in. once out on the home court, I’d discover that I wasn’t really tired at all. Oh, I was tired of office work and things like that. But I wasn't tired of important things like basketballs and boys. Out there, new energy would flow into my body and I’d really come to life. 

...When time allowed, and that was real often, playing against those young sons was pure joy. It was especially fun when they were little. In those wonderful days I used to win. Then, for a while, I was able to gain a few more victories because I doubled as both a player and as the referee. As time went by, they gradually learned the rules and began to protest many of my calls. That forced me to give up the refereeing aspect of the game. After that I lost every time. That’s when I started trying for the sportsmanship trophy. But even that was hard to win because of feelings I’d get when my boys ridiculed me. I’d throw up a hook shot that never used to fail me back in the barn. Now it would be an air ball. I’d stumble when they faked right and went left. They’d score and then they’d laugh at me and say, “Pops, I’ll bet you never were as good as you said you were.” Those comments would get me pretty upset, and I could feel the sportsmanship trophy slipping away. 

The greatest victory I ever won was on our home court. My oldest son, matt, was in the ninth grade. He wanted with all his heart to be an athlete. He was pretty good at basketball, but he wasn’t growing much. During that period of time he was pretty ornery. He would seldom talk to me, and when he did it was in an unpleasant tone. Yet I'd heard that over at school he was the most friendly and amiable boy on campus.

I wanted him to talk to me because I felt that something was troubling him. My desires for such a conversation had not yet been rewarded. One day we were out playing basketball before dinner, just the two of us. We were playing a good game of one-on-one. I’d score and then he’d score. While we were playing, I started talking to him. I asked him, “How did it go in school today?” His only answer was an uncomfortable silence. I raised my voice and asked, “Did you hear me? How did it go at school today?”

Finally he answered, “Why do you ask such dumb questions?”

A bit surprised at his abrupt reply, I thought to myself, “I guess that was a dumb question.” I decided to upgrade my queries. I asked, “What did you have for school lunch?”

He replied, “What does that matter? Every day we have the same dumb stuff.”

I wasn’t quite sure just what to ask him next. We shot a few more baskets. In my silence I was wishing he wasn’t so unhappy. Then an inspired question came to me. I asked, “How did it go in gym today?”

His countenance brightened as he enthusiastically replied, “Hey, in gym today I did pretty good, Father.” He started talking to me. We bounced the ball a little less and just stood around between baskets. As our conversation thickened, he spoke with some emotion.

“Dad, I don't know if you ever wonder why I'm so ornery.”

I replied, “Oh, no. I never wonder about that,” and he continued.

“Well, the reason is that I don't like the way I look.” I was silent for a few seconds. Then I spoke.

“You look good. You look just like me.” With that he kind of gulped with a slight indication of pain.

“No, Dad you look all right but I don't. I’m not as big as I want to be and I wear glasses. When I look at myself in the mirror, I just don’t look like an athlete.”

I knew what he was talking about. As a youth, I’d had some of those same problems. He kept talking to me, and I didn't know what to say. I could have said, “Don’t be silly. You look like an athlete. You’ll grow one of these days, so don’t worry about it. You’ll be a great athlete.” But I didn’t give those pat answers. I just listened and I thought and I cared. 

Just then, Marilyn called and told us to come to dinner. We left the basketball court and walked across the back lawn. As we passed under the big trees I put my arm around his shoulder. We climbed up the back stairs. There was a feeling of love and understanding between us. I hadn’t answered any of his questions, but he’d had a chance to tell me, his dad, how he felt and that had helped him.

That big-time victory took place because during those meaningful moments there was just a dad, a boy, and a ball together on our home court. That one sacred experience was worth ten times more than the cost of a thousand yards of concrete. It seems like the only time my children ever talk to me is when I'm with them. Sports, especially on the home court, gives me many opportunities to be with them. And it’s hard to lose when you have the home court advantage.