A Life Lesson

A Life Lesson

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor. 

“Don’t quit. Quitting becomes a habit, and you don’t want to live like that.” 

Richard Aloiau’s tone was gentle, but firm. Seeing that I still wasn’t convinced, he stepped forward, sat down next to me and slipped his hands inside the pockets of his blue windbreaker.  

“Give it a shot. No guarantees, but I really think we’ll be better.” 

The smart ass in me immediately thought, “Well, Coach, it couldn’t possibly get worse.” 

It was 1975. One year earlier, I had signed up for a youth basketball league in our neighborhood. I was 10 years old then, and my whole world revolved around basketball. My Dad set up a backboard and hoop that fronted our garage, and I spent seemingly every waking hour working on my game.  

Layups. Free throws. Dribbling. Bank shots. Hook shots. All of that stuff. 

Of course, going out for organized ball was something completely new to me. It seemed like a risk. Was I actually good enough to play with other kids my age? Would I embarrass myself? 

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. First, yes, I could play a little bit. Second, unbeknownst to me at the time, every kid was assured of making the team. 

Practices were fun and enlightening. We learned a lot from Coach Aloiau. Offensive sets. Zones. Traps. Presses. Give and go’s. I soaked up everything he taught us. Well, except for one minor  thing. 

“Geez, Lance, when are you going to play defense?” 

Coach Aloiau got us ready. So when the season began, we went out and played our hearts out.  

And lost every game. 

Every. Single. Game. 

I only remember one game being particularly close. We were down by two with just a few seconds left. We missed a game-tying shot, and someone on the opposing team grabbed the rebound and started to dribble toward their basket. I reached out and somehow stripped the ball away from him, and suddenly I had a wide open shot from about 17 feet from the basket. 

Five…four…three…two… 

I passed the ball to my teammate Stuart, a classmate who actually lived two houses down the block from me. Stuart went up for a shot and was fouled just as the buzzer went off. Free throws! 

At the free throw line, Stuart took a deep breath, then put up his first attempt. It banked in. On the sideline, Coach Aloiau dropped to the floor and kicked his legs in the air with glee. One more make, and we’d play overtime. 

The shot rimmed out. 

The mood of the team during the drive home was light, almost festive. Boys will be boys, after all, and a van full of 10- and 11-year-olds may as well be a bouncy house. Besides, it was our closest game yet. So close! 

Amidst the fun and laughter, Coach Aloiau yelled toward the back. 

“Lance, why didn’t you shoot it? You were open!” 

I didn’t want to answer. The truth was, I froze.  

That game was the closest we’d get to a win that entire season. 

So flash forward. It’s 1975, and Coach was trying to convince me to give the team one more shot. 

When it was time to sign up for the new season, I decided I didn’t want to play anymore. I loved the friendships and fun times, but the losing got to me. My passion for basketball began by watching the University of Hawaii’s “Fabulous Five,” after all, and they hardly ever lost. Losing sucked. 

A few days after signups ended, Coach called me and asked why I wasn’t coming out for the team.  

I was honest. “We lost every game last year, Coach.” 

Coach Aloiau paid me a visit the very next day. 

“If you quit over little things like this, you’ll start quitting over the big things,” he continued. “Life is tough. You need to be tough, too. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?” 

I nodded.  

“So you’ll play?” 

“Yeah.” 

Forty years later, I can’t tell you how many times Coach Aloiau’s advice would pay off for me. We all face challenges in life, and I’ve had my share. Health. Finances. Relationships. Work. There have been plenty of times when I’ve been tempted to simply stop trying, times when my obstacles seemed too big to overcome. 

The first book that I was contracted to write was a 400-page travel guide. That turned out to be a nightmare. Inexperienced in the book publishing field, I underestimated the amount of work it took to complete such an undertaking. I toiled day and night for weeks upon weeks, and I was only halfway done. I felt so overwhelmed that I considered returning my advance and bowing out of the entire project. 

Yet, during that entire process, and through every other time of adversity, Coach’s words continued to push me forward. 

“Don’t quit. Quitting becomes a habit, and you don’t want to live like that.” 

Coach Aloiau passed away last year. He was 85. I never got a chance to thank him for the lessons he taught me. I can only imagine how many other kids he helped during his lifetime. While my time as an aspiring athlete are many years behind me, I will always appreciate Richard Aloiau and the impact he had on my life. 

By the way, Coach was right about Year Two. Not only did we win games, but we were good enough to make the playoffs. 

I’m glad I didn’t quit

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