The Thomas Lake Interview (PT 2)–and how Basketball Shaped Him

Part 2 of my long-form interview with Thomas Lake is now up at the Gospel Coalition.

We talked in this part about the importance of long-form journalism, what it’s like to work at the world’s greatest sports magazine (Sports Illustrated, which like Lake I read cover-to-cover every week growing up), and how pastors can be great storytellers.

I’ll leave you to go read the interview if you like.  However, one of the most personally revealing segments of the interview is available only here on this blog (a world-exclusive!).  In the questions below, Lake and I talked about his love for basketball and his tough experiences getting cut from the Gordon College team.  I resonated with Lake’s words here, and I think the anecdote shared here tells you a great deal about the empathy for the underdog, the down-and-out, that is a constant theme of Lake’s writing (many of his stories are collected here).

Is it true that you’re a skilled pick-up basketball player?  Do you have courts named in your honor at Gordon College? 

I wish!  I do love to play and hoped to play in college although it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. 

Why?

I started out at a community college and didn’t make it.  I was smaller and behind on the physical curve, then I tried out at Gordon and that’s it’s own long story about why it didn’t work out.  Probably ever since then there’s a part of me that’s on the court trying to prove that I was good enough—I guess you never get away from things like that.

What happened at Gordon?

The coach was Troy Justice.  If you asked him about me, he probably wouldn’t remember, as he’s had to do a lot of cuts in his career.  The way he put it was, he told me about the last guy who had made the team.  The guy’s name was Luke Reynolds, he was trying to soften the blow, and he said “It’s not like Luke was a 10 and you were a 5, more like Luke was an 8.25 and you were an 8.24.” 

He handled it about as well and nicely as he could have, but I walked out of his office and went downstairs and found a bathroom stall and cried and it was the first time I had cried in a few years.  I guess the reason it was so hard was I can’t really overstate how much preparation I had put into wanting to achieve this goal.  We’re talking about thousands and thousands of hours of practice, much of it by myself, on little courts in Little Falls, New York and later in Herkimer, New York shooting hundreds of thousands of jump shots and running hills.  I bought special platform shoes that were supposed to help you be able to dunk the ball.  I was probably about a quarter of an inch from getting it down.  When it came to Gordon’s team, we’re not talking about the UK Wildcats—this was NCAA Division Three, so it didn’t seem like an impossible goal.  To come that far and for it to mean that much, and to know that was it, that was your last chance, you didn’t measure up, you’re not good enough, and now you have to go ahead and do something else–that was a lot for me.

I was talking with Terry McDonald of SI about how when I’ve written about how when people put it all out there and come up short that my experience has helped me relate to people, because there was such a finality to it.  That’s a part of life.  You don’t always get what you want.  Hard work doesn’t always pay off.  Sometimes you still fail, you come up a little short, and then you have to wake up the next morning and decide what you have to do with it. 

But come on—there are people who have some serious tragedy.  I can talk about it dramatically, but other people have had it much worse than me. 

Read the interview at TGC.

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Filed under sports, sports illustrated, writing

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