All About The Game

March 2, 2017

Getting away from his family was a blessing. He could only block out thoughts and memories of his past if he pretended like he didn’t know where he came from. But it’s difficult to change your reputation. No matter how hard Tre tried to hide his past, it always seemed to catch up with him. Tre hurried down the dimly lit sidewalk, keeping his head down to avoid eye contact with passing strangers. People whispered as he walked past;
“Is that him?”
“Honey, look away. Don’t make eye contact.”
Not everyone reacted the same way.
“That’s the guy! Screw you!”
Tre deftly sidesteps an object thrown to him from across the street while continuing his slow trudge down the sidewalk.
“You make me sick! How could you do something like that?” one man spat.
Tre feels the sharp edge of those words, but he’s grown accustomed to their sting.  How could something as trivial as a conversation on the sidewalk make him feel any worse? Even the millions of dollars Tre received for his contribution can’t quell his deep feelings of guilt. Tre sighs, then continues his slow trudge down the sidewalk, feeling as though he was carrying five hundred pounds on his back.

Everyone wants to be the greatest. Every little kid growing up in the ghetto has the same dream. It’s a very simple dream. Make it out of the hood. Escape the violence. Escape the poverty. For a lot of young kids, sports is the way out.
“Hey Tre!” a voice sounded off in the distance.
Tre looked around the basketball court he was sitting on to find out who said his name. He turned towards the entrance and saw his friend Amir walking towards him, a big goofy smile plastered across his face.
“Wassup Amir!” Tre smiled as he approached his friend. “We both know you don’t belong on a basketball court! What’re you up to?”
“I came to school you!” Amir laughed.
“Haha yeah right, we both know who the next Michael Jordan is! Me!” Tre proclaimed.
“Alright, alright, we’ll see. Your mom sent me out here to tell you to head inside for dinner” Amir explained.
“Oh, alright. I’ll be inside soon.” Tre grabbed his basketball off the ground, dribbled just beyond half-court and shot.
Clank. The metal net rattled about as the ball sunk through.
“Nothing but net.”
As Tre got older, his game improved. He put in countless hours of work on the basketball court. He knew that giving his all to the game would pay off. He’d finally be able to enjoy wealth and high status. He was named the Gatorade National Basketball Player of the Year in his senior season, and then moved on to play college hoops at Duke University. He continued to dominate the competition, establishing himself as the 1st overall pick in the NBA draft. Pundits, players and fans alike dubbed him the second coming of Michael Jordan.
Even with all the hype and press surrounding him, Tre kept his cool. He remained humble. He was dedicated to the game. Respected it. Loved it. And he made a promise to himself; that his career would never be about money or accolades. It was all about winning games. For himself. For his fans. And for his teammates.
Tre was on top of the mountain. A five time MVP, multiple championship rings, and a statistical record that made Michael Jordan look like a D-League player. Tre had it all; but he didn’t just want more. He NEEDED more.
One of the many attachments of fame and fortune is the amazing, yet sudden expansion of the wealthy one’s family. Tre felt the reality of such scenarios when he fielded a phone call from his uncle, Ray.
“Tre? We need to talk.”
“Yeah, Uncle Ray? What’s going on?” Tre noticed the tension hidden in his uncle’s voice as he spoke.
“It’s my wife, Shawna. She’s got leukemia. We don’t have enough money for the treatment,” Ray explained.
“Alright. Let me see what I can do.” Tre hung up the phone.
A few weeks later, Uncle Ray sent Tre the full cost of treatment for Shawna. He looked at the number of zeros attached to the number in shock. Truth be told, Tre hadn’t been as smart with his money as he should’ve been. Too many family members asking for handouts combined with a number of failed business ventures made it impossible for Tre to pay for Shawna’s medical fees.
One evening, Tre was talking to one of his teammates, Andre, about his financial troubles.
“I just don’t know how I’m gonna pay for those medical fees with my current status!” Tre sighed heavily.
Andre furrowed his brow, deep in thought.
“Look man.” he began, “I know a way you can make some money on the side.”
“Really? How? Any amount would help at this point…” Tre’s voice trailed off.
“It isn’t really a big deal,” Andre explained, “just a couple of little wagers I put on the game. You know, total points I’ll have, amount of turnovers, point margin at the end of the game. It’s been a great way to supplement my income, especially as I’ve entered the tail end of my career.” Andre detailed.
Tre thought about the opportunity. At his stage in the NBA, no teams would be offering him huge contracts like they had in the past. But he struggled to come to a decision. He remembered his early days, playing on the hoops in his hometown, hearing the ringing sound of the net as he made shot after shot. Back then, it was all about the game. He remembered the promise he made to himself as a young rising star gaining national media attention. It’s all about the game.
But circumstances change. Tre felt the pressure to make a change. His family needed the money. And he needed a way to earn it.
He got involved in a point-shaving operation.  He’d miss a few shots here and there, maybe throw a couple of turnovers. Nothing major. He was making good money, too. One specific scenario showed Tre the true viability of the entire operation. Up four points with five seconds left on the clock, Tre’s opponents that night, the Utah Jazz, held the ball just past halfcourt. Tre walked over to congratulate the team’s opposing point guard, and when the Jazz player extended his hand, Tre grabbed the ball, ran to the other end, and slammed it through the hoop ferociously. To the typical NBA fan, it was two points that didn’t make a difference in the game. But Tre’s late game antics kept the point spread at two, making Tre a cool $25,000.
After the game, Tre walked up to Andre at his locker.
“I just wanted to say thank you for introducing me to this side of the NBA. Thanks to you, I was able to support my uncle and his family.” Tre smiled.
“No problem!” Andre laughed. “Besides, it was funny to watch you steal the ball at the end!” Andre shook his head in mocking disbelief.
“Haha! It sure was!” Tre shook with laughter. “And if I could make that much with just that, I know my finances will be secure in no time!”
Tre walked out of the locker room, smiling. He had no idea that such simple, easy to execute tasks could earn him so much money. But deep inside of him, he understood that there was something wrong about the whole thing. But he wasn’t in too deep.
It could be worse. He thought to himself.
At least I’m not doing anything that would seriously upset somebody.
Tre heaved a great sigh, and got on the team bus back to the airport.
Tre’s involvement hit a new low when he began shaving points in NBA Playoff games. His new source of cash had created new problems for Tre that he had not foreseen. More family members came out of the woodwork requesting money for houses, education, and medical bills. The stress of having so many people reliant upon him drove Tre to develop a gambling habit that deepened his financial woes. He wasn’t just back at square one. He was worse off than when he had started.
It was Game Seven of the NBA Finals. Tre had the opportunity to win the game for his team. The roar of the crowd fueled his adrenaline and quickened his heart rate.
He juked left.
Then right.
He received the inbounds pass from his teammate. Tre glided down the court, eluding defenders with deft ball handling.
One of his teammates set a screen for him, leaving the sound of crunching bone and the thud of a body hitting the ground behind him. Tre looked up at the clock above the hoop.
Sevens seconds left.
Tre dribbled to his right, and elevated for the shot.
He had two choices available to him: he could either take and make the shot, or he could brick and make $50 million.
The conflict in Tre’s mind and heart was really a battle between the dreams from his youth and the harsh realities of his adult life.
He could make the shot, continuing his boyhood dream of greatness, and stay true to his promises of preserving his legacy.
  Or he could miss, and make the money he needed to fix his financial woes and handle the real world.
After that night, Tre was $50 million richer.
At first, Tre was satisfied. He got what he needed, and he was able to pay off his debts and help his family.
But he had small feelings of guilt attached to it. They were exacerbated when he could see the reactions of fans on social media. They were upset, but they didn’t blame him for the loss. They thought that he had done his best. And what more could they ask for as fans? He was haunted by memories of the game, and he was forced to relive the moment through sports networks and social media replays.
Tre was reading the newspaper one morning during the offseason when a headline caught his attention:
Tre’s blood ran cold. He continued to read the article.
This is bad. Tre thought.
As he continued reading, he learned more details. Andre had been promised a more lenient sentence in exchange for more information on the entire operation.
The next Monday, Tre saw a new headline in the paper:
After the scandal was uncovered, Tre was blasted by sports pundits and fans alike. The reputation that he had spent years to build, his legacy, the actions that would be eulogized by sports fans for years to come, was destroyed. His punishment was a prison sentence, albeit a shortened one, but the impact of his decisions reach further. They can be seen everytime he walks down the street, and he hears it every day. Every comment, every sideways glance, a reminder of his greatest mistake. He had broken his promise to himself.  And it was the defining moment of his life.

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