Franklin was not happy at all. He sat on a bench next to an oak tree with his arms folded tightly across his chest. His lips were squished together like he was tasting something sour. He ignored the laughter coming from the group of kids on the court. He didn’t want to play basketball anyway. It was a dumb game.
Franklin could not help that he was short. His mom says he was born a little earlier than what the doctors expected. This caused him to grow slower than the other kids. All his friends were three, four, or even five inches taller than him. And he was older than they were. Franklin was not happy at all.
Some would laugh as he would shoot the ball at the hoop. Many times, it would miss the rim. Other times someone taller, usually James, would block the ball. It would bounce into the arms of a player on the other team, and they would score. Yes, basketball was a dumb game.
After missing another shot, his teammates started to yell at him. James laughed. Franklin was embarrassed. He didn’t feel like playing anymore. So, he sat down on this bench with arms folded and lips squished. Franklin was not happy at all. Basketball was a dumb game.
In the middle of his pouting, he did not see it happen, but he heard the kids yelling. This time it was at James. He had blocked the ball, and it went over the fence. On the other side of the fence was the mean man who owned the house next to the park. He did not like kids. He did not like basketball, just like Franklin at this moment, did not like basketball.
The man had kept every one of the balls that flew over the fence. Now he would have another to add to his collection. Franklin looked, but he did not see the man. He must not have heard, or he was not home. So, Franklin knew there was a chance. He stood up and walked over to the fence.
Most of the kids knew about the hole. But they never went near it. It was not because they were afraid of the mean man, but they were all too big to go through it, so they stayed away. Franklin did not know if they knew he could fit through it; he didn’t care. They were mean to him. But he didn’t want to lose another ball either.
James watched him as he walked to the hole. He watched him get down on his hands and knees and squirm his way under the gap. It was a tight fit, but Franklin made it. James watched him as he stood up, dusted himself off, and looked around. James looked around too; neither of them saw the mean man.
Franklin quickly ran over to where the ball was sitting. He picked it up and ran back to the hole. He didn’t dare try and throw over the high fence, it was as tall as the hoop, and he knew it wouldn’t make it. So, he rolled it under as he squirmed back under the fence.
Franklin carried the ball back over to the kids. None of them were laughing now. They were looking at him. Some looked surprised. Some kids cheered. James walked up to him. Franklin handed him the ball.
“Awesome job, squirt,” James said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” said Franklin. Then he turned and started to walk back to the bench.
James called after him, “Hey, you want to play?”
“Are you sure?” Franklin asked.
“Yeah, of course,” James said, bouncing the ball to him. “Sorry if I was mean.”
“It’s okay,” Franklin said. “Sometimes, it is good to be shorter.”
Franklin walked with James back toward the court. He was bouncing the ball, not very high, but just high enough for him. When he reached the sideline, he passed the ball to one of his teammates. Franklin was happy. He loved basketball. It is such an awesome game.
Originally published June 13, 2019.