In the late spring of 1981, there was an epic basketball clash which took place that you may have not known about. While the Boston Celtics with Larry Bird were facing the Houston Rockets led by Moses Malone in the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals, the unofficial Preacher’s Kid Basketball Association championship was being played out in the backyard of my house on Ogeechee Road in Savannah, Georgia.
My dad was the pastor of a church in Savannah. During one week in late May, he scheduled a revival with a traveling evangelist at our church. The evangelist arrived with his camper in tow along with his wife and son. They were a big-time husband and wife team back then and my dad had snagged a revival.
The son – who I will call “Harold” – was a brat. I don’t know any nice way to put it. I tried to get along with him but he would kick and punch me when our parents weren’t looking. When I would try to retaliate or defend myself, he would curl up in a ball and call out for his mommy. Yep, I knew it was gonna be a long week.
During this time, I was a junior in high school. Harold was two years younger than me and was home schooled by his mommy in their little camper.
Harold was annoying and I was warned to play nice.
I had basketball goal that I had in the backyard and thought this might be a good distraction for him so we started with shooting some hoops and talking about the NBA finals. He was good at trash talking and making fun of the fact that I liked Moses Malone and the Rockets. I think he would have picked the opposite of whatever I had said anyway. Did I mention he was annoying?
Finally, he threw down a challenge.
“I bet I can beat you in a game,” he said.
“Oh really,” I looked at him sideways. There was no way this brat could beat me.
Although he was big for his age, I knew I could beat him and I wanted to shut his mouth.
“You’re on. Let’s make it a best-0f-seven series like the NBA,” I proposed. “We will play every day when I get home from school.”
The battle was on.
Each game was played to 21. I thoroughly trounced him in the first two games. He was no competition. His trash talking grew silent as I was dribbled around him on the dirt court and cut to the basket like Moses Malone would have. He couldn’t block any of my shots unless he fouled me. I relished in the way I was easily scoring on him.
Midway through the third game of our championship series, I could see the light leave his face and the arrogance was being drained from him.
This is when I made a crucial mistake. I felt sorry for the brat.
It wasn’t much fun beating the crap out of him and I wanted some kind of competition so I did the unthinkable – I let him score a few baskets to make the game close.
Then I let him win the next game – huge mistake. I now led the series 3-1.
In game 5, he resorted to fouling – a lot. I still let him stay close and he hit some impossible shots with his awkward style – if you can call it that – and he pulled out a stunning win to pull the series back within 3-2.
The light was back in his face and the trash talking returned. I was intent on ending the series in game 6. Dispose of him and be done with it.
He played the best game of our series and I couldn’t hit anything. He won another close game and now the series was tied 3-3.
Our game 7 was played on a Saturday so I didn’t have school and had all day to get ready. I felt some nerves and felt the pressure of the do-or-die finale with the bratty preacher’s kid. The nerves showed in my game. My usual moves failed me and my shooting percentage was way off. I couldn’t hit the side of a barn. Meanwhile, everything was falling for Harold. He got more vocal with each score. The game went back and forth. I wasn’t going to show any mercy or let him score anything. My game failed me. Harold hit the game winning basket.
Harold won. I dropped my head in defeat while Harold jumped around me and yelled in my face something about being the best and beating me.
To make matters worse, he bragged about it to the entire church that night – the final night of the revival.
Everyone looked at me, then looked at him. They were puzzled.
How was this possible?
I didn’t bother with the “I let him win” explanation. That would certainly be the loser’s claim in any defeat.
I never saw Harold again. I never wanted to.
A rematch? What good would that do?
Boston defeated Houston in six games to win the NBA title in 1981.
I lost to a bratty P.K. in seven games.
The agony of defeat still stings as much as the stupidity over the decision to let him win a few games.