I got the chip in my tooth fixed a few weeks back.
It was one of my front teeth.
It was probably noticeable, but I had grown accustomed to it.
I do remember, however, when the chip occurred.
I was just a kid. I was playing street hockey with some friends. I passed the ball out and then curled behind the net, with a plan to pop out the other side and tuck in any potential rebound.
However, while behind the net, I turned to watch the beauty that was my pass. (Kind of sounds like me, eh?)
My older cousin one-timed the pass viciously in the direction of the net.
But a little too high.
I didn’t even have time to flinch before it hit me.
It should be pointed out that when it is cold out, orange street hockey balls become much harder.
It should also be pointed out that getting smacked in the face when it is cold out seems to sting even more than usual.
I felt a little something on my tongue. I did that half-blowing, half-spitting thing you do when you have a sunflower seed in your mouth. You know?
I didn’t think much of it at the time, instead focusing on the pain in my face and the fact that I was bleeding all over myself.
But a few days later, while trying to brush my teeth without hitting stitches, I noticed the chip.
I stared at it.
Then I shrugged and decided it made me look bad-ass.
A badge of honour.
Back in those days, all of my heroes had such badges.
I saw them every Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada.
I had been watching them since I was little.
I’d stand in front of the TV for the national anthem, in my Montreal Canadian PJs. One of many pairs I went through in those days. Besides my many, many growth spurts, I’d also wear out the knees while playing hockey cards on the kitchen floor.
The game was simple.
Four hockey cards leaning against the wall.
Two combatants taking turns trying to knock them down by flicking cards at them from a little distance.
The winner – the person who knocked the last card down – would win all the cards that were used.
And the glory.
Worn out PJ pants was a small price to pay for glory.
My parents never said a word.
Not even while they were trying to cook supper with hockey cards ricocheting all around them.
My parents ended up getting into hockey with me.
My mother would swear at the refs’ bad calls.
My father would go out to pick us up some fast food during intermissions. And late night junk food to a little kid is the greatest gift of all.
So it was no surprise that as I got older and my love turned to basketball my parents were there too.
When my team needed drives to games, they were always the first to volunteer.
They’d drive us all over the province. Giving up their weekends for years.
And when we stopped for post-game food, one of my parents would always pull me aside to sneakily slip me some extra cash to make sure everyone on the team could get something to eat.
It was rarely needed, but that stayed with me.
I don’t understand when people say “it’s just sports.”
Sports showed me how supportive parents can be.
I still laugh when I think about my poor mother putting up my car window while I ranted and raved at a male relative, in the next car over, whose only crime was telling us “it was just a game.”
It was after our last ever high school basketball game.
I realized that I’d probably never feel that level of camaraderie again.
I also realized that I never, ever wanted to be such a petulant little jerk again.
Sports taught me about teamwork and brotherhood.
I’ll always have a bond with those guys. We bled together. We sweated together. We ran suicides until our legs couldn’t possibly do one more together.
We lost some for a while to the haze of drugs and crime.
And some of us have drifted apart.
But we’ll always have those days.
Long-time friendships grew.
One teammate – and father of a twerp – quite literally became part of the family.
He met me through sports.
He met his wife through me.
Sports have taught me a lot.
Sadly not all of those lessons were obvious to me at the time.
I bitched about my basketball coach forcing me – and my silky smooth J – to always play centre. I didn’t see all the time he gave up for us. Time away from his family and his wife.
I think I heard that his marriage ended a few years back. I know we didn’t directly have anything to do with that, but… You know.
I see him once in a while. We meet while driving on the road. We always wave.
One of these summers, at some local festival, I hope to meet up with him. I’ll buy him a beer. I’ll tell him I get it now. I’ll thank him for the time. And for the opportunity to learn all those lessons. I’ll thank him for his confidence in me when he made me a starter in my first ever game.
I’ll tell him he should have let me play some small forward.
Sports continues to teach me things.
That there are ups and downs in life.
That even in this era of big business, there are inspirational sports stories to be told.
Sports has even taught me that something as simple as fantasy football can help you bond with an amazing girl.
My smile is different now. It’s true.
And I was worried that fixing my tooth might have somehow taken away a reminder of all those important things I learned.
Those things that shaped how I look at the world today.
But when I was brushing my teeth this morning, I realized that it wasn’t Dr. Wong who changed my smile.
No. Not at all.
It’s just that you’ve made it even bigger.