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I don’t know what I’m going to do. My teammate passed me the ball and we’re in the last few seconds of the game. Why did I decide to cherry-pick? I had to if I want to win this game.
We’re down one point. We all watched the opposing team’s player shoot that three with the knowledge of the fact that if we could get a rebound and just make one lay-up we could win. As the ball flew through the air towards the hoop I started back pedaling towards the opposite goal. Everyone in the gym stared as the ball made its descent toward the rim. Some were yelling and some were held silent in the grip of the seriousness of this one shot. Time went by in slow motion. The ball hung in the air for what felt like centuries. I glanced at the clock. I saw the brilliant red number nine and time suddenly sped up again. The ball completed its journey and bounced off the backboard straight into my teammate’s outstretched hands. As his fingers closed on the ball the gym suddenly exploded with screams of joy and grief. My teammate turned and saw that I was the only one from our team halfway down the court. I suddenly realized this is the first time I had ever been in this kind of situation. As he began to throw the ball down my way I was happy. “I can win this for us,” I thought. Then the ball was in my hands and the red lights on the scoreboard said there were seven seconds for me to win this.
Now I realize the magnitude of my position. All of my team and my team’s supporters are counting on me to make something happen. I’ve never been the best player in basketball and now it’s up to me to finish the most important play of this entire game. This is insane. I just have to make a lay-up but the pressure is more than anything I’ve felt in my life. It’s crushing me.
No, I can’t let this be too much. I can do this. My team is counting on me to do it. I turn and steal a tiny glance at the clock once more. It is now down to six point five seconds. Now I put my head down and push myself to go the fastest my body can go. As my feet hit the ground I realize I can hear someone chasing me down. The other team’s best and fastest player is already a couple feet away from me! He’s going to catch me before I can make it to the goal. I’ll have to score on him. The situation couldn’t get any worse but now I’m committed. I will do this.
I’m approaching the goal and one more time I look at the clock. The time is now four point six seconds and time slows down one more time. I can almost feel the opposing team’s player’s feet hit the ground right behind me. I can hear his breath coming in and blowing out in rapid succession. The gym somehow is beginning to get louder as I approach the hoop. Men, women, and children are all making as much noise as they can to encourage me or to mess me up. It doesn’t matter what their reasons are because at this point everyone’s voices have combined into a giant ball of noise. I feel like their screams will bring the whole building down around us.
I have to think through every step. Every pull of a tendon. Every fraction of a second. It’s time to start my gather. I put my right foot down slightly past the free throw line and spring off as far as I can. The opposing player is right on my heels. I can pretty much feel him tense up to jump with me. As soon as my left foot hits the gym floor I begin to push back off. The opposing player goes up with me. I bring the ball up and push it in to the air. It feels wrong. Oh no. There’s nothing I can do now. The opposing player’s arm appears suddenly from the side of my vision. His hand slaps my hand, hard. The ball is safe. It’s going to make it! The ball hits the backboard but it doesn’t fall in the net. I put it up to hard. It’s over.
The opposing player has more momentum than me as we’re going down. His body collides with mine and then we’re both on the floor. I roll over on my back and suddenly the buzzer sounds. I stare at the ceiling. I’m a failure. I let my team down. I let our fans down. I let everyone down. This is the biggest disappointment of my life. Did the gym just get even louder? It doesn’t matter. I’m deaf now anyway.
I’d forgotten how long I’d been on the ground as the referee comes into my line of sight. His lips are moving but nothing he could be saying could matter to me right now. He reaches down and helps me up. Isn’t he so nice? Helping the biggest loser in the world off the floor. I look at the stands and my family is staring at me screaming but they don’t have angry faces. They have looks of encouragement. Why? Then I finally hear the single most important word I could ever hear from the referee. Free-throws.

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