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The Pick-Up Game
By Dave Franco - July 3, 2013

Greg Wright stood on the outskirts of the park, a basketball wedged between his arm and hip, and watched the pick-up game taking place on the basketball court.

“These guys look pretty good,” he thought to himself.

New to San Diego, Greg, his wife, Sheila, and their 13 year old son, Matt, had just moved into a condo near the beach in La Jolla. Greg, the 6’7” former high school and college basketball star had walked across the street to the park on several weekends in a row looking for an early morning game, but because of the stubborn marine layer, the courts were never dry.

This morning, however, was different. The sun was up early, the weather was particularly beautiful and the park was buzzing. The best part was that the guys that were already occupying the courts had everything Greg looked for: height, speed and skill. If he was going to dominate—and make no mistake about it, he was going to dominate—he wanted to play the best guys he could. There’s nothing like making really good guys look really bad.

As Greg watched, he measured up the two fellows playing the center position. He checked out the guys handling the ball to see if they were watching for cutters. Could they deliver the ball? He wanted to know which guys looked like they were a bit better than everybody else. Better yet, he wanted to know which guys thought they were better than everybody else. They would be target number one.

It was a trait that he had used to his advantage all his life. He was good at sizing up the competition, getting the lay of the land, moving the pieces to give him the best chance at winning. It’s how he handled himself on the court, in life and how he had experienced a fast rise up the corporate ladder. He was good at looking like he cared about others, but truth was, Greg didn’t care about people as much as he did about getting ahead.

That’s how you make it, he justified. Set a course, remove the flaws, go around the impediments.

Finally, he approached the court and when they saw him coming, their eyes lit up. Six-seven is an advantage no matter how you slice it. When he got in the game, he set a few screens, and when he got the ball, he found the guy with the best jump shot and made the pass. The guy drained two jumpers in a row.

“OK,” Greg thought to himself. “I showed that I’m a team player.  Now it’s time to show my stuff.”

Greg was being guarded by a tall guy with a solid build named Tex, and as the next shot went up, Greg spun around and found himself free of Tex who couldn’t find him to block him out. He swooped in for the rebound but instead of coming down with it, he decided to simply put it back up. Just then, Tex jumped to try to block Greg’s shot. With Tex and Greg’s hands on opposite sides of the ball, Greg tried to push through the block.

It was one of those rare moments in life when everything aligns perfectly.

The weight. The angle. The timing. Greg began to fall backward. His back hit the surface first, followed by his skull that slapped the concrete like a rain-soaked Sunday newspaper. Everything stopped. The ball bounced aimlessly to the grass as the guys gathered and looked down at the giant with the still body, blank stare and a slight sound of air escaping his lungs.

“You OK?” Tex asked.

Liquid began trickling from Greg’s ears and nose.

* * *

Sheila was looking out the window that morning around 10 a.m., wondering where Greg was when she decided to answer his work cell phone. It had been ringing for the past 30 minutes.

“Hello?” she said into the phone.

“Hi, this is Scripps La Jolla. We have a tall guy here and we think his name is Greg. Would you happen to be married to a Greg and haven’t seen him in a while?”

“Yes. I haven’t see him for about two hours.”

“Ma’am, please come to the E.R. right away. Your husband has had a serious accident.” Sheila’s heart began to race. “And if you have powers of attorney, bring them.”

“Ma’am, please come to the E.R. right away. Your husband has had a serious accident.” Sheila’s heart began to race. “And if you have powers of attorney, bring them.”

* * *

When he woke up, it was the fourth of nine days that he would spend in the ICU. He was wrapped and wired up like a NASA experiment. “Where am I?” he was able to say.

The doctor came near as Sheila held his hand. “Mr. Wright, you’ve experienced a terrible fall. You are going to make it, but you are a very lucky man.”

Greg had sustained multiple fractures in the back of his head, a broken incus, which is the middle of the three bones inside his ear, and a severed nerve that controls taste and smell.

When he was finally able to leave the hospital nearly three weeks later, he was a mess. His strong and agile body was suddenly rickety and old. He was wildly dizzy. He had severe headaches with some lasting for weeks. He winced just to touch his hair. All sound was like having someone banging a cymbal inside his head. He seemed to have an opposite reaction to temperature. When everybody else was hot, he was freezing. When it was cold out, Greg would break into a sweat. When his family was asleep, he was kept wide-awake by the pain. He was stripped of his driver’s license and now reliant on others to take him places. He was sullen, brooding, miserable and mad at the world.

Worst of all, outpatient therapy was required at the hospital to help him in his return to the workplace. In his group was a construction worker who fell off a ladder and busted his head so badly that half of his skull was removed, a waitress who got cut down by a parking arm whose personality was scrambled, a fighter pilot who lost part of his memory after he had been given a vaccination. Greg was insufferable and fidgety in the presence of these people that he considered losers telling their sad stories, people whose company profited him nothing.

As the weeks went by, Sheila watched Greg changing into a different person—mean and miserable—and she didn’t like it.

“Where are we going?” Greg curtly asked her as she took an unexpected turn while driving him home from outpatient therapy.

“You’ll see,” she replied. Arriving at the beach, she parked and turned toward Greg who was mumbling and nearly climbing out of the window like an animal trying to get out of a cage. He stopped and looked at Sheila staring at him. He had seen that look in her face before. This wasn’t going to be good. Sheila stuck her finger in Greg’s face and read him the riot act. “You’re destroying everything. You’re destroying your family, your values and everything you believe in. You’re destroying me and you’re destroying you—all because you can’t have your way!” For the next 20 minutes, his 5’3” wife ripped him apart, making him feel like a spoiled brat.

When she finished, the 6’7” man felt 2’7.” He stared out at the waves crashing in the dusk light and thought about the conversation that he had with his brother just that morning. He had been complaining bitterly to him about the condition of his life when his brother asked him, “Who are you listening to?”

“What do you mean, ‘who am I listening to?’”

“Who are you listening to?” his brother asked again.

“Nobody. What are you talking about?”

“Do you love your wife?” his brother asked.

“Yes,” Greg replied.

“Then listen to her.”

Greg looked at Sheila one more time focusing on the had-it-up-to-here look on her face. “I have just two words to say to you,” he said. “I agree.”

The first thing Sheila wanted to do was to go back to church as a family. Greg consented.

A few days later, they drove to the Rock and they almost didn’t get inside; the music was too loud for Greg. But just as they were about to turn around, the music stopped and Sheila tugged at him to continue on. It appeared the only seats were in the balcony. The accident left Greg uneasy with heights but Sheila pushed him forward. When they finally found seats, Greg, hoody pulled over his head and arms folded, looked to the stage. Suddenly, he saw someone or something he couldn’t quite make out moving toward the center of the stage. “What is that?” he thought. It was Nick Vujicic, the evangelist who was born without arms or legs.

“Oh God, you’ve got to be kidding!” Greg said to himself indignantly. “I come to church and this is what you give me? There is no way! What’s he going to tell me?” Greg was essentially squaring up with the little man.

It was one of those rare moments in life when everything aligns perfectly.

The evangelist, who has nothing more than a torso and a deformed foot, opened his mouth and instead of being a prisoner in his tiny body, spoke about the boundless and exhilarating freedom he had in Christ. Greg suddenly had nowhere to place his self-pity. He looked at Nick, smiling, loving his audience, excited to tell of how God has given him a life without limbs but also without limits, and Greg was struck between the eyes.

“Nothing he says makes any sense!” he said under his breath. “Nothing about his existence makes any sense!”

“Nothing he says makes any sense!” he said under his breath. “Nothing about his existence makes any sense!” His heart cried out, “God, please give me that!”

Afterward, he went home to lay on the floor of his bedroom and with tears streaming down his face, he thought over and over about all that he had seen and heard. He simply couldn’t shake the idea that the only way that Nick could be so joyful was for something in him to actually redefine the meaning of our existence.

The next day, he was scheduled to go back to the outpatient therapy. He walked in a new man. He greeted everyone and smiled and kindly asked questions about how they were doing. He found, and so did they, that he actually cared about everyone in the room. In the following days and weeks, he stopped and shared time with some homeless folks he saw by the side of the road, learning their stories and giving a word of encouragement and prayer. He looked at the trees and sky; the greens were suddenly greener, the blues were bluer. When he finally got his driver’s license back, he found himself driving 40 mph and wondering why everyone was in such a rush.

He has never been the same since.

Greg has made a full recovery and often thinks back on that pick-up game.  He realizes it was so much more than what it appeared to be. He thought he was there to get some exercise. He was actually there to get a new life.

See Nick Vujicic at the Rock Church, July 28th, 8AM, 10AM, 12PM, 5PM and 7PM.