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 bravado?
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, automatic shot.
“How do you miss that shot?” I moaned to my son-in-law, who was watching the game with me. “A professional does NOT miss that shot, not in a game like this!”
For the rest of the game, I was all over My Player. I groaned at every missed shot, every blown defensive assignment, and 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 that!”
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. 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 slam dunk.
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.
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