I was dribbling a basketball around a cone at half court. The music from the turntables stopped and I took off toward the basket. It was time for redemption.
I was at a high school basketball tournament held at a local college over winter break. The stands were packed with supporters from the four schools. I had gone with a few friends. Before tipoff, a woman from a local radio station came up and asked if we’d like to be in a contest. My friends all pointed to me. The woman told me to go to center court before halftime.
As the second quarter ended, a few people from the radio station gathered along with the other contestant. This girl could have been 15 or 22. It was hard to tell. She was built like a tank. I suddenly felt self-conscious. I was dressed in grey sweat pants and a white t-shirt that had a couple stains on it. I was not prepared to be the half-time show.
There would be two cones at half court. The deejay would begin playing music. We would each dribble around our cone. When the music stopped, we would run toward our basket. The first one to make a basket was the winner.
My basketball skills are complicated. I have great hand-eye coordination and shooting is no problem. The complication comes when other players are on the court. I choke, spraying shots, uncertain of what to do with so many other bodies. I played in 9th grade on the junior varsity team. It was largely embarrassing.
The half ended, and the two of us headed toward the center court line. The announcer explained the game to the audience. The deejay started playing the music. We started dribbling. I thought I was smart. I dribbled slowly when I was facing my basket and quickly when I was not facing it.
I was vaguely aware of the crowd but could not hear it. I focused on the music from the turntables and waited for its eventual absence. The music stopped. I took off. It was as if the themes from Rocky and Chariots of Fire along with “Eye of the Tiger” all started playing at the same time in my head. I was going to show my 9th grade self.
What is it about moments like that? Moments when we will show our former selves that we have grown, that we are more than we were. Of course we are more. We are here now.
I felt fine until I got to about the 3-point line. That was about the time when going in a circle for the past 30 seconds caught up with me. My brain heaved. I started to swerve. I felt my steps becoming unbalanced, liquid. When I finally went up for the layup, my legs buckled beneath me. I fell over. The ball sputtered off the rim.
My balance recalibrated. I stood up. The crowd may have lost it with laughter but I could only hear the ball bouncing slowly nearby. I picked it up and looked down court. The other girl was still trying to rebound her ball in. I dribbled once and banked a shot. The orange ball fell silently through the net, accompanied by a strange sense of victory.