a slam dunk At least, it should have been
Everyone in the arena knew it as the
tall, graceful athlete glided toward the basket. There was no one within 20 feet of
him, no obstacle to prevent him from scoring as he had so many times before. The
only question was: what kind of dunk would it be? A thundering, two-handed power
dunk, complete with the obligatory chin-up on the rim? Or a more aesthetically
pleasing one-handed dunk, perhaps with a little windmill action, or some over-the-shoulder
In any case, it was going to be two points for the good guys (read: My Team) at a
critical juncture of a close, competitive NBA playoff game. And that was really all
that mattered. Mentally, I added two points to our score as I watched the player
My Player move into position for a shot that 99 percent of NBA players would
slam home 99 percent of the time.
And then the unimaginable happened. He missed.
Torn between dunking and simply laying the ball in the basket, My Player clanged the
ball off the rim. I couldn't believe it. Never mind that he was running at
full speed during a pressure-packed game, with thousands of opposing fans screaming at him
to miss. As far as I was concerned there was no excuse for missing such an easy,
"How do you miss that shot?" I moaned to my sons, who were watching the game
with me. "A professional does NOT miss that shot, not in a game like
For the rest of the game, I was all over My Player. I groaned at every missed
shot, every blown defensive assignment, every bad pass. There's no question that he
didn't play a perfect game. In fact, he played poorly especially after the
missed dunk. But in my mind, every mistake was magnified by the memory of the ball
clanging off the rim. By the end of the game, I was prepared to blame the
three-point loss on the slam dunk that should have been.
"You're a pro," I scolded him through the television screen as he walked to
the locker room, his head bowed in defeat. "A pro doesn't make mistakes like
Later that evening I was doing some filing when I paused to re-read a column from
several weeks earlier. I winced when I came upon a typo at least, I'm pretty
sure it was a typo. Did someone slip the word "tje" into the English
vocabulary when I wasn't looking?
I didn't think so.
So I messed up. Instead of "the" I had written "tje."
But it was an understandable error. After all, the letters "h" and
"j" are right next to each other on the keyboard. Anyone could slip and
hit the wrong key. And as for missing the error in the editing process . . . well, I
had been in a great hurry that week. Besides, anyone reading the column would know
that I meant to write "the," not "tje." And I was sure the
editors to whom I send the column outstanding professionals one and all
would catch the mistake and fix it before it went into publication.
I had just about rationalized the mistake into oblivion when a local sportscaster began
showing highlights from the game during the nightly news. Sure enough, the first
clip he showed was My Player missing that easy basket. My stomach started churning
all over again until I glanced down at the column in my hands. My eyes went directly
to "tje." And somewhere in the back of my mind I heard a familiar,
scolding voice: "You're a pro. A pro doesn't make mistakes like that!"
Especially not on "the," which should have been . . . you know . . . a
I guess it's true we don't really have a right to expect perfection in others
until we're prepared to expect it in ourselves. And not just professionally.
This also holds true on the highway, in the grocery store, at the movies and most
especially in the home. Unless we can offer ourselves as a perfect example, we ought
to be willing to cut each other a lot of slack.
In other words, judge not . . . even if you dunk not.
Walker is a veteran journalist who worked 10 years for a daily metropolitan
newspaper, including six as the TV columnist and critic. Since 1990 he has written
ValueSpeak, a weekly syndicated column that appears in about 30 small hometown newspapers
around the country. He is also the author of the book How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?
Home Remedies for an Ailing World, available on www.Amazon.com.
You can email Joe at: firstname.lastname@example.org