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A silhouetted body stands isolated in a dark tunnel. Only the sound of muffled cheers can be heard. Echoes of footsteps become louder as another figure approaches him and places a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s your show now, Waters.”
The silhouetted man walks down the dark hallway towards the open light, the cheers louder with each step. With a brief pause and a deep breath, the door swings open and Andre Waters makes his grand entrance. Thousands of loyal Spartan fans and students erupt with joy. Their savoir has come yet again to bring home the fourth consecutive state championship. They know that it will never be the same after this year.
The announcer picks up his microphone. “Standing at 6’4, please welcome your Senior All-American shooting guard and captain…ANDRE WATERS!” The crowd chants M-V-P at the top of their lungs as Andre humbly approaches his teammates. On the way to the huddle, he stops to high-five a few kids in the stands. Ten seconds out of his life and a little skin means the world to these children. Andre is one of the most sought after basketball players in the nation, yet if you hung out with him off the court, you would never know.
Andre’s stats tonight have been phenomenal, but that hasn’t made up for the team’s lack of defense. Ten seconds left in the game and the Spartans are down by two. Everyone in the crowd expects a miracle shot from Andre. What they don’t realize is that the opposing team will do everything in their power to prevent Andre from shooting the ball.
The Spartans huddle up. The gymnasium remains dead silent; this little basketball town is in full panic. Everyone’s heart pumps heavily except for Andre’s. He’s as cool as the other side of the pillow. Coach Harris turns to his team.
“The ball’s going to Andre. I don’t care how it gets to him, just that it gets to him.”
The buzzer sounds. Beads of sweat drop down the players’ bodies. The ball is thrown in to Andre. Three guards immediately surround him. He tries to dribble past them but to no avail. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the open man and dishes the ball. The clock hits six seconds, five seconds, four seconds…the player freezes. He can’t handle this pressure. Andre breaks free as the ball soars back into his hands. Two seconds, one second…Andre elevates and releases. The ball flies through the quiet air until all that can be heard is a little, tiny swoosh. Nothing else needs to be said.
One would think that after winning a game like that, Andre would be high on life. But the real world kicked in fast and offered him a reality check. Leave it to his father, Daniel Waters, to spoil the moment.
A few days after the championship, Andre found himself alone in his room becoming lost into the short stories of Katherine Anne Porter, when suddenly his father stormed in.
“Son, we can’t just sit here and enjoy the moment. You’ve got big decisions with big implications. I know college is your top priority, but think about the risk.”
His father’s voice continues to dribble off. Andre knows exactly what his father wants, and, it’s exactly what he wanted to avoid. To Andre, life wasn’t all about basketball. It wasn’t all about being a star. And it sure wasn’t about the girls. To be honest, basketball was something he did for fun. It was his father, upon seeing a spark in Andre’s natural talent at the age of eleven, who decided that it should be more than just fun. Andre never blames his father for the pressure though; he knows it comes with the territory of being slightly unique.
With all this new confusion between going to college or going straight in to the NBA, Andre only had one person he could seek for advice, Mr. Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton was his eleventh and twelfth grade English teacher who opened Andre’s mind to a world beyond the hardwood. After class one day, Andre approached his bow-tied mentor.
“Mr. Hamilton?” Andre asked.
“Yes Andre?” Mr. Hamilton replied.
“You’re the only person I can tell this to…”
“Is everything ok, Andre?”
Andre looked over at a couple familiar students who had yet to filter out of the classroom. This was the story with these kids every day. They were his groupies; even though that’s the last thing he would ever want. Noticing Andre’s insecurity, Mr. Hamilton asked the others to leave the classroom. Mr. Hamilton pulled out two chairs.
“Go ahead Andre. Whatever it is, it’s ok,” he said.
“Not to make you feel responsible or anything,” Andre answered, “but…I don’t think that I want to play ball anymore. I honestly don’t even know if I can handle four more years. All this pressure has made me fall out of love with the game.”
Mr. Hamilton leans forward, puts his right hand on Andre’s right shoulder and looks him dead in the eye.
“Son you’ve only got one shot at living. You might as well take advantage of it and do whatever makes you happy and not everyone else. This is your life. Don’t let others live it for you.”
Andre felt the weight of his words and disappeared.
Unfortunately, when only one person was strong enough to tell Andre this wisdom, it made it hard for him to disregard the will of everyone surrounding him. He could never find a way to express his feelings to even his own father. Andre knew it would break his heart. And so he gave in to the excitement around him and decided that college would have to wait until after he retired from the NBA.
After being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, he set out to training camp that summer. Scouting reports knew something special was with this kid and soon the national media did as well. Prior to even his first game, Lakers Jerseys with #1 and “WATERS” on the back were selling like crazy.
It was two days before the season opener and he had just left the Staples Center. There was a light mist in the sky, something rare for Los Angeles, and people could barely make out the headlights in front of them on La Cienega Blvd. Fidgeting with the stereo controls, Andre hit the gas pedal as he noticed his light turn green in his peripheral vision. BOOM!
When Andre awoke he found himself lying on a hospital bed with all sorts of unknown tubes coming out of him. He could hear his father’s tearful words coming from the hallway.
“Is he done? I need to know is he’s done?” Daniel begged.
“It’s too early to ever tell, but your son did sustain severe spinal injuries,” said an unknown voice.
Andre knew exactly what had happened. The other car flashes before him. All he can do is close his eyes, lose himself in his own thoughts, and smile.