Nothing Short of Perfect

April 29, 2010
By , Lake Barrington, IL
            Swoosh, a sound Gary was very accustomed to hearing, whistled through the air as the ball went through the hoop. If he had a dollar for every basket he’d ever made, he could give Bill Gates a run for his money. Countless hours were spent at that small park in Connecticut . This day was no different from any other, 2 o’clock in the morning, a young boy, a basketball, and a hoop. With the wind blowing it was probably 20 degrees out, but this didn’t phase him. There were no lights, only the moon. Shot after shot, he may be short in stature, but his game is nothing short of perfect. Gary had no clue what time it was, only that he had school tomorrow, and basketball tryouts were starting. He made 200 more shots before packing up his things and began his two mile run through the park before going home.
            The door screeched open as he walked inside his toasty house. The loud noise made his heart pound, his parents could care less these days, but he still didn’t like disappointing them. As he tip-toed up the stairs they creaked, and the noise echoed throughout the spacious house. The light from his parents room shown through under the door. The sound obviously woke his mother but she didn’t bother to get out of bed and make sure he was okay. When Gary settled down into bed his fatigue swooped over him and he was asleep within seconds. It seemed like he had only been sleeping for five minutes when his alarm clock went off. Gary arose and spoke confusedly, “What is that ringing?” The repetitive sounds of his alarm rang in his head. He finally came to his senses, pressed the off button, and climbed into the shower. The warmth of the water only added to his tiredness, and it wasn’t abnormal for him to fall back asleep in the shower. Today; however, he was focused and the thought of basketball tryouts kept him awake.
            Once Gary got to school, everything was a blur. If you’d have asked him, he couldn’t recall a single thing that occurred throughout the day. All he remembered was walking into the gym after school ended, and walking back out, and he did all this with a smile on his face. He was grinning from ear to ear and skipped all the way home. He had made the team!
            “Well?” his mother inquired as Gary strolled into the kitchen. He needn’t say anything, the look on his face said it all. “I always knew you could do it!” she exclaimed. She sounded sincere but Gary knew there was an air of doubt in the way she said it. “Thanks mom, I’m pretty tired I’m going to go take a nap. Our first game is this Friday, will you come?” She hesitated for a moment and then said, “I’ll do my best.” He tried to hide his disappointment, but the smile was quickly replaced by a scowl. “Hunny you know your brother is coming home this weekend.” He nodded and rushed up the stairs so he could get some well needed sleep. He couldn’t stand his brother, that fake inconsiderate know-it-all. The thought of his brother returning from college made him angry and only gave him more reason to prove everyone wrong.
            Standing at only five feet tall (on a good day) Gary was a long shot to ever get any playing time. Fast forward to ten games into the season he still hasn’t played but he’s kept the bench very warm. “Hey shortstop throw me my towel!” Steve yelled to Gary . Coach Carter scowled at Steve but didn’t nothing about it as usual. It’s not that Gary ever did anything he was just a target for bullying, and Steve was one to take advantage. With his big ego and status as team captain he had to grace everyone with his cocky attitude. “Don’t let him get to you,” Kevin said as he sat down next to Gary . “He used to pick on me all the time, until I hit that game winner last year,” Kevin explained. “All you have to do is prove to him that you can play.” “Trust me Kevin I know that, all I need is a shot. You think Coach will ever put me in?” Gary asked. Kevin paused for a moment and then said sarcastically, “Start growing.” Over the past few weeks Kevin had befriended Gary and taken him under his wing. He wasn’t like all the other players, he was good, but he was also a good teammate. It had finally come time for shoot around, the only moment where Gary actually felt like he was part of the team. All the players lined up around the three point line and began shooting. Watching all the balls fly through the hoop was a site to see. It was as if they were conducting an orchestra and Coach was the ring leader. He would signal each player when to shoot and they would rain down their shots with ease. Gary never missed but nobody ever noticed.
            The town was crazy for basketball, and the team was having another successful season. They were undefeated and heading to the state championship. The bus rattled along the interstate heading towards the University of Connecticut basketball stadium. Gary had never been so nervous in his life, he knew he had absolutely no shot of playing even two of the starts suspended, he couldn’t get rid of the butterflies. The rest of team mimicked his nervousness and not one word was said on the way there.

"You guys already know what time it is, now go out there and take it!" screamed Coach Carter as the team huddled up for one last time. They collectively broke the huddle and ran down the tunnel into the stadium. Their screams echoed throughout the darkened tunnel and joined with the cheers of the rowdy fans. Gary had high hopes but this was beyond anything he had ever envisioned. As the line of players snaked through the stadium he couldn't help but stare in awe as the 20,000 fans that packed the arena cheered them on. As we settled onto the bench the other team came running out. "They look big," I said. "Everyone looks big to you," Kevin replied sarcastically. "True, but they've got two seven footers!" "You let me worry about them," Kevin said as Coach called the team for warmups.

The ref tossed the ball up into the air, signaling the start of the game. They won the tip drove down the court and hit Steve in the corner for a three pointer, Gary jumped in the air in excitement, this signaled a good start for the team. The game stayed in the favor, at the first TV timeout they lead 17-8. Everything seemed to be going their way, there was a great vibe in the huddle during the timeout and Coach advised them to doing their thing. However on the following possession something happened that would change Gary's life forever. Kevin missed a layup but had the opportunity to gather his own rebound. He jumped up and grabbed it, but Steve went for at the exact same time, the result wasn't pretty.

Steve's foot landed on Kevin's causing he knee to turn in the opposite direction and he crumpled to the floor. A torn ACL, their star player was out. Kevin was gimpy on one foot but he was still good to play; however, he had other things on his mind. "Coach I don't think I can do it," Kevin said. At this moment Gary's heart leapt, he knew what this meant. With four players out, he was the only player left. "Well kid, I guess this is your shot," Coach nodded at Gary and gestured him to the court. Gary turned to Kevin and exchanged a look that would stick in his heart forever. Gary knew Kevin could play after he winked at him.

He'll never forget a second of what happened next as he stepped onto the court he could hear the fans laughing and making fun, but this was his moment. There was 30 left in the game when he checked in. 10 in the first and 20 in the second, and in those 30 minutes he scored 30 points. All of his points were from three point shots. Gary never missed. The moment his first shot went in, the crowd was absolutely silent, they were stunned. When his second shot went in, the crowd got even quieter, you could have heard a pin drop. After this moment it was clear the fans were on his side. His third shot went in and the fans erupted. From that moment on the other team had no shot, it was even about the team anymore, it was Gary's turn. By the end of the game they were chanting his name, and almost chanting the ball into the hoop. Every time he touched it, you knew it was going in. The buzzer sounded signaling the end of the game, 93-57, it wasn't even close. The team carried him off the court as he triumphantly hoisted the championship trophy high in the air. This was all great and it seemed as if he had everything he could ever wish for. But this all faded away when he spotted his parents in crowd. "Put me down guys!" Gary yelled. They dropped him and he made a mad dash over to his parents. They shared a hug that meant more than any state championship, even his brother joined in. He had finally earned the respect he deserved.

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