…three, two, one…
Dribbling the ball, I raced down the court as fast as I could. The cheers of the crowd were almost deafening. I raised up, and the ball released from my fingertips toward the rim.
I was 10 years old. A formidable time of life, where a kid’s only worries were whether or not he’d get to watch Saturday morning cartoons, or if he had forgotten to close the stall doors in the barn after feeding the horses.
Growing up in Smallville, USA, life was bliss. We lived up a semi-private, quarter-mile dirt road, that was more of a goat trail than a road. We were surrounded by mountains and trees, and all sorts of wildlife. I could take a five minute walk and find myself dunking a worm in the Weber River trying to catch a rainbow trout.
At night, we’d open our home’s windows to allow the cool mountain air to permeate from room to room. You could faintly hear in the distance, the daily cargo train blast its horn several times as it made its way down the winding canyon rail. Yes, it was a magical place to grow up. But I digress.
Living in Smallville, one of the highlights of my youth was the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities, such as basketball and football. Because the population was so scarce, nearly all who came out to play were afforded the opportunity to join a team. The thirty boys my age were split into five basketball teams, and we played games in the local high school gymnasium on Saturday mornings.
Games were mostly for fun, but even at this tender age, the competitive drive had begun to develop in our brains as we hustled our very best to pull off a win. They were never high-scoring affairs, but they were intense.
The limited scoring from all teams, made every basket feel all that more important. A six-point lead felt almost insurmountable.
I proudly wore the name of Celtics across my chest, as did the rest of my teammates. This particular Saturday morning, we had the task of taking on the Hawks, the team in first place.
The game went back and forth as both team, almost unconsciously, traded baskets at an alarming rate. Celtics by two. Now a tied game. Hawks by two; and now four. And the Celtics claw their way back to tie the game. As the quarters came and went, neither team could pull away from the other. The crowd, full of anxious parents and bored siblings, rose to their feet as their team scored each point.
And then, it happened.
With a tied ballgame, my teammates and I found ourselves without the ball with a few seconds remaining. The Hawks lined up to throw the ball in from the sideline at mid-court. They needed a basket. We needed a miracle.
The referee blew his whistle and handed the ball to the Hawk player standing out of bounds. Both teams scurried here and there with the Hawks trying to get open and the Celtics trying desperately to cover every passing lane.
Finally, the ball came sailing into play with a high arching pass that seemed to float effortlessly through the gym’s rafters and slowly descended to the floor. I started running as fast and as hard as I could, needing to beat my man to the ball.
With all the energy I could muster, I stretched my arm and hand as far as I could reach. I felt the ball touch my extended fingertips as the it deflected away from its intended course.
The crowd roared to an earsplitting decibel. I picked up the ball and sprinted down the floor. The crowd got louder and louder as I approached the basket. I could hear them calling my name. “SAV – AGE!” “SAV – AGE!” “SAV – AGE!”
…three, two, one…
I raised up, and the ball released from my fingertips toward the rim. Everything slowed down, just like in the movies. The ball’s rotation slowly overturned, revealing the brand Wilson as the leather globe reached the cylinder.
The ball and net’s harmonious sound echoed against the noise of the crowd as I jumped high into the air, celebrating my game-winning shot!
Turning around I quickly spotted the familiar faces in the crowd holding despondent looks of dissatisfaction, and the unfamiliar faces cheering for delight. I continued surveying to see my teammates with heads down, slowly walking off the court, and the Hawks team jumping up and down in jubilation.
It was then I realized that the cheering crowd was not in fact cheering me on as I raced down the court with the ball. No, instead they were imploring me to stop, and to turn around, as I headed for the wrong basket.
It was eight years later before I’d get another chance to make a game-winning basket, but that is another story for another day.
The Celtics ended up winning the league that year, with the Hawks in second place. Receiving the small victor’s medal at the end of the year, help soothe the pain of the errant shot I had made earlier in the season, and today, I look back at that impressionable time and experience with fondness and humor.
“SAV – AGE!” “SAV – AGE!” “SAV – AGE!” Oh what fun memories.