Scott Taylor: Whether in sports or ‘game of life,’ compassion can supersede competition

How the moment after a hard foul in a tense basketball game played into President Nelson’s invitation for ‘Peacemakers Needed’

Throughout the back-and-forth basketball game, the opposing coaching from both benches had been needling the lead official and loudly bickering between themselves about the rough play from the players.

But in the closing minutes of the tense contest, the shouts from the two benches and the cheering from the crowd dropped to hushed silence when two opposing players collided and fell to the floor, one trying to defend the other on a shot, the shooter writhing in pain and the basketball falling far short of the hoop on the foul.

From the opening tipoff, Klay — the defender mentioned above — had displayed the skills that set him apart as one of the better players on the court, dribbling and driving through defenders for easy layups for the game’s first two baskets and then firing crisp, off-the-drive passes to teammates for two more scores to seemingly set the tone for a lopsided outcome.

But as Klay took a turn on the bench late in the first half, the other team clawed back to tie the score at intermission, setting the stage for the frantic second half.

A basketball hoop, with a red rim and white net, is pictured during a high school basketball game.
The hoop is pictured during a high school basketball game on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Once again, Klay started to take over, hitting a couple of longer jump shots and driving nearly at will past opposing players. But those driving shots from the lane rolled off or glanced off the rim, with Klay retreating to play defense with grimaces of disappointment and frustration.

It was on defense and jumping to stop a driving shot when Klay collided with his opponent, sending both to a crumbled heap on the floor. With all the on-court tensions and sideline emotions serving as a powder keg, would this be the explosive moment?

As he had previously in the game, Klay hopped to his feet and walked over to the opponent to offer a hand of consolation and assistance. But his opponent remained on the floor in pain, gripping at his chin. Klay remained nearby as coaches rushed to the fallen player, comforting and offering him aid.

While being helped off the court and toward the bench, the injured player learned that the official had awarded two free throws on the shooting foul, and he asked if he could stay in to take them and continue playing.

Positioned on the lane near the free-throw line, Klay waited for his opponent to shoot — and make — his first free-throw attempt. Klay then quietly stepped over to offer a handshake of goodwill and acknowledgement, quickly returning to his place on the blocks. The brief gesture was done and accepted without fanfare — but poignant for the few onlookers who did happen to notice.

What happened the rest of the way — the game’s final minutes and Klay’s team winning — paled in comparison to that moment.

In his April 2023 general conference message titled “Peacemakers Needed,” President Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, invited listeners to “examine your discipleship within the context of the way you treat others” and to “interact with others in a higher, holier way.”

One of the easiest ways to identify a true follower of Jesus Christ is how compassionately that person treats other people, he said. “How we treat each other really matters. How we speak to and about others at home, at church, at work and online really matters.”

A referee, in a black and white striped shirt, holds the ball during a high school basketball game.
A referee holds the ball during a high school basketball game on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Because of conflicting circumstances, Klay’s parents couldn’t attend and watch his game. But a grandfather had caught a few video clips on a cellphone and shared them while recounting the highlights.

And Klay’s best move of the day wasn’t one of his driving layups or assisting passes, the parents were told. Rather, it was the brief moment when — despite personal frustrations, the game’s percolating emotions and the hard foul — Klay stepped forward to shake his opponent’s hand and defuse any lingering feelings.

Rather than turning inward, Klay instead had turned outward to his opponent, with compassion superseding competition.

It was a mature act that, in the words of President Nelson, really mattered — coming from 8-year-old Klay.

Like us all, he’ll have a lifetime of ongoing opportunities — not only on playing fields but in the proverbial “game of life,” both as a participant and as a spectator — to examine his discipleship within the context of how he treats others and to interact with them in higher, holier ways.

— Scott Taylor is managing editor of the Church News.

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