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Monday November 30 2015
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We were trailing by three points, with less than a minute to play. It was our ball. My son Anthony, never bashful to shoot the basketball, was hitting nothing but net from beyond the arc.

As an assistant coach of his 5th and 6th grade basketball team, it was a pretty proud moment to see Anthony succeed in such a tension-filled moment. He rose to the occasion and hit a pressure packed shot in a packed Catholic school auditorium, on the road. To add to the tension, it was 8th grade recognition night, so the enemy crowd was raucous, anxious to get the younger game finished.

Our opponent took a time out. We implored our team not to foul. With 17 seconds left, we wanted to pressure the ball, and deny an entry pass in the paint. Our plan worked to perfection. Our opponent ate much of the clock before their point guard took a jump shot with 5 seconds left. It hit the back of the rim, and Anthony came down with the rebound. We were going to overtime. But wait, as the clock expired, Anthony was fouled! With no time left, he was going to the line. Since our opponent was in the bonus, Anthony had two shots to make one to win the game.

I have to admit, I felt terrible for the poor kid who fouled Anthony. He was the guy holding his head with both hands, his head bent over his knees. Anthony was grinning. Our team's best free-throw shooter, he confidently strutted to the line. His teammates locked their arms on the bench, about to explode onto the court, waiting for Anthony to swish the free-throw.

As Anthony stood all alone on the line, the opposing coach called a time out. Anthony was still all smiles as he walked back to the huddle. There was no way he was going to miss two shots. No way. Right?

After the time out, Anthony walked to the line. The crowd, led by the opposition's 8th graders in their farewell appearance in their school's uniforms, roared so loudly, you couldn't hear Anthony's bouncing the ball at the line.

As he launched his first shot, with perfect rotation, we thought it was over. Nope. The ball bounced on the front rim, then the back rim, the front rim again, and then remarkably, fell out. The fans went wild, raising the level of cheering and jeering. Panic may have set in, because Anthony missed the second attempt.

And you guessed it, we lost in overtime.

The ride home from the game was difficult. And silent. Until I passed the Dunkin' Donuts. That's when I pulled in and asked Anthony and his friend Gavin what kind of donut they wanted. It wasn't until the boys were half-way through their sugary treat when Gavin offered the words of friendship, support, and compassion.

"Hey Anthony," he said between bites. "Just so you know, I couldn't even hit the rim. I shoot like a Grandma."

I think Anthony learned a lot of lessons that night. As did I.

The best take-away for me? You are truly blessed when you have a teammate who has your back. It's easy to be friends when you are winning championships. But the value of a friend far exceeds a trophy. Anthony may have lost the chance to give his team the most points that night. But Gavin's touching words, and their friendship, makes me believe they did indeed walk away winners.

Neil Walker’s contract expires after the 2016 season. The Pirates second baseman is due for a big raise in arbitration this offseason—likely to $10 million—and signing him to a long-term extension will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-$15 million annually.
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