Every year about this time, while the NBA Finals are being played, I reminisce about the day when I was a successful basketball coach, and imagine I might be coaching the Miami Heat today, had I stuck it out.
Having tried out for the Olympic diving team in 1964, and failing miserably (one witness said I landed so flat on a swan dive they had to get me out of the pool with a skimmer) I elected to go to the Games in Tokyo as a spectator.
In Tokyo, I saved so much money gate-crashing (this was before Munich) that I decided to take in Hong Kong, where I fell in love with that charming city.
While sitting in a barber chair I read that St. Joseph’s College was looking for a teacher, and as a firm believer in what Mark Twain said, “All you need for success in this life is ignorance and confidence,” I applied for the job. I landed the job with the help of a little fib — that I had a teaching credential.
Once again I called on Mark Twain for moral support. “A lie is an abomination unto the Lord, and a very pleasant help in time of trouble.”
After ten days or so of self-teaching how to teach, I was called into the Headmaster’s office and asked where my teaching certificate was, the one I had assured him I would send for. I tried to look surprised that it hadn’t arrived, and reassured him I would check on it post-haste.
Knowing I had to somehow make myself indispensable, I started an interscholastic basketball program and appointed myself head coach of our team, which I subsequently called, “The St. Joseph Carpenters.”
When we started winning and the parents started contributing to the Basketball Boosters Club, well, the Headmaster stopped asking me about my teaching credentials and I continued in my job, which I loved.
We took field trips down to the floating city of Aberdeen and toured deserted bunkers the Japanese left behind following their occupation during WWII. I never had so much fun.
When I retired from teaching, after a full semester, the students gave me a nice briefcase, which I still have, and the Headmaster told me I would always be welcome at St. Joseph’s should I ever wish to return.
St Joseph’s College is now 136 years old, and a quick check of their website shows they still have the interscholastic basketball team that I started 50 years ago this October.
I must confess, there have been winters where my work in America’s schools as Mark Twain has fallen off to nearly nothing, and I have glanced longingly at the world map and smiled at the prospect of returning to St. Joseph’s College in Hong Kong to resume my full time teaching career.
Expanding upon that dream, I would coach the St. Joseph Carpenters to another championship, a full half century after the first. I could then rightly claim title as the basketball coach with the most years between championships, a span Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra could only hope to see.
Well now, we have to admit, if we don’t have dreams we can’t have dreams come true.
Learn more about McAvoy Layne at www.ghostoftwain.org.