A Sense of Where You Are
By Tom Wilbur
Contributing Editor/The Salina Post
Soon after Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, in 1898 to be the chapel director there, and to teach physical education at the University of Kansas. Later on, they decided that he should head up their basketball program. He was, in point of fact, the first head basketball coach of the Jayhawks, and is the only coach in Kansas men’s basketball history with a losing record, at 55-60. You’d think that the guy who invented basketball might have an advantage in competing against other teams during those early days of the game, but apparently it was not the case.
Dr. Naismith was buried in Lawrence in 1939 and I believe that his presence has been shooting up through the Kansas wheat fields ever since to foster a great love for the game of basketball— so much so, that it appears to me that basketball is: “The King of Sports in Kansas.” Basketball is an established powerhouse sport in our State with great tradition, and there are a number of interesting books that have been written recently documenting some of the great players and great teams in the history of Kansas sports. Further, Kansas State, Kansas and Wichita State all appear to be in the hunt for making great runs with their basketball programs this year, and I’m excited to see how all three teams do. How about an all Kansas final in the Final Four? That would be sweet.
I had the opportunity to play with and against several of the best high school basketball players in Kansas history—in fellow Salina Central teammate, Nino Samuel, and against Hutch Salt Hawk, Danny Knight, and many others. In 1971, my junior year at Salina Central, we won the State Championship at Ahearn Field house with Nino leading the way— our team scoring the highest margin of victory in Class 4A history (at that time). That’s 40 years ago, folks, and I still think about it all the time. In 1972, our Mustang squad was upset in the opening round of the State Championship at Allen Field House—and I think about that day often, as well. Both were key moments in my life. Past high school ball, I was a walk-on player at KU, thanks to Coach Ted Owens—a man who gave me the opportunity to put on a crimson and blue jersey, and a man I still respect to this day.
I first learned about basketball by going to the Salina Public Library and checking out some books on the subject. I know it seems odd, but that’s what my Dad told me to do. He said to be good at anything, you need to learn the rules of the game and study form those who are really great at it—a premise that certainly carries over into everything in life. Know the rules, and you have a leg up on those that don’t.
One of the books I found tucked away in the library was written by a young writer, John McPhee, about the life of an outstanding young basketball player who was playing collegiately at Princeton University, was an Olympic champion, a Rhodes scholar, and went on to play professionally for the New York Knickerbockers, eventually scoring 9,217 points as a pro. The book was about Bill Bradley, and was entitled “A Sense of Where You Are.” I haven’t read the book since grade school, but it impacted me for life. (It’s going to be a real treat seeing Mr. Bradley in person at the upcoming annual Salina Area Chamber banquet– in February—he is a brilliant man. Incidentally, John McPhee earned a Pulitzer prize in 1999.)
The premise of the book is that to be great in basketball you need to have a sense of where you are. Sometimes that’s just about knowing where you are on the court or where your opponent is. Or it could be developing an understanding of where you are in relation to the basket, or having a feel for where the out of bounds line is . . . obviously, important aspects of the game. But it struck me that as a young person, having a sense of where you are might apply to the game of life, too.
Hard work and doing the right thing will get you far—we all know these as fundamentals. But past that, we all need to have a sense of right and wrong—understanding the rules. We need a sense of how we might develop better relationships with others. We need a sense of direction for where our lives are going, and a sense about how faith impacts our inner spiritual being. We need to learn how to move and maneuver past our adversaries, and avoid the pitfalls life tries to throw before us. We need a sense of purpose for our actions– in serving others, selflessly—as we were placed here to do.
Awareness is one of the primary keys to success, and we live in a world where for many—a sense of where we are is measured not by the actions we take, but by the actions we never even think to take. We got caught up lounging in our MTV moments—watching flashing images that hold our attention span for seconds at a time, as we remained mesmerized by the visual imagery presented. Our kids are allowed to video game it for hours at a time with a constant barrage of images of death, destruction, and violence—and yet, we wonder why we see outbursts of violence in our nation’s schools. Kids think that they are actually accomplishing something, by proceeding through game levels and towards some fictional target, but there’s not a lot of value in the redundancy of the process or any real skill sets improved there.
As adults, we vegetate today in front of our TVs watching while Hollywood actors and athletes at every level do things to entertain us, instead of investing the same amount of time in a good book, or building something, or spending time learning something of importance. I’m reminded of the Groucho Marx quote when he once said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” I can almost hear him speaking those words, and then flicking his cigar.
I’m confident that it’s hard to have a sense of where you are without taking time to reflect upon where you’ve been, and making plans for where you are going. Thinking and planning require quiet time, and stillness, to process one’s thoughts—not a constant barrage of external inputs. It’s a conscious movement towards take action.
Bill Bradley taught a Sunday morning church class to kids while he was a player at Princeton. He never missed a Sunday in his commitment to serving those kids, even when road games brought him home very late on Saturday nights. He excelled on the court, in the classroom, and excelled in life as a three term United States Senator. His life is a model that younger people would be well served to emulate. Having a sense of where you are requires understanding the world around you—and it provides the framework for a more fulfilling life.
As mentioned, Bill Bradley will be here for the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet, along with Newt Gingrich, and it should be a very interesting evening. Their presentations and perspectives may give us all a better sense of where we are—as a community, and as a citizen of this amazing country. I have a sense of where I’ll be that night– hope to see you there.
Tom Wilbur is President/CEO of BANK VI in Salina. He is a lifelong resident of Salina, and has been a regular editorial contributor to newspapers and magazines, and a public speaker. He can be contacted at email@example.com.