The Same Game

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My palms were sweaty. The lump in my throat grew bigger. My heart was beating so fast I thought it was going to shoot out of my chest, and the bumpy road only made it worse. Every time the bus rattled, it served as a wake-up call to the butterflies circling my stomach, ready to attack. I took a deep breath, tried to slow my pounding heart, and attempted to relax with my head back against the cushion. Relaxation…finally…...…..Thump thump! Another bump. More butterflies. Faster heart.

Calm down James. It’s just a game. I silently tried to lecture myself but the little voice kept yelling, “This is the King of the Bluegrass Championship. You’re playing against one of the best players in the country. There’s going to be a million people there.”

From behind me, the words of Jay-Z blared out of my teammates’ headphones as they bopped their heads and rapped along with the words. I remember thinking, how can they be so relaxed right now? Aren’t they nervous? Don’t they know how big of a game this is?

After the bus came to a halt, we walked into the gym, and my legs were wobbling uncontrollably. But I kept moving, one foot after the other, seemingly without any control of my muscles. Nervous thoughts raced through my mind. How will I be able to run up and down the court? I don’t even remember how to shoot. What if I trip and fall? Somehow, we made it to the lobby, where the strong scent of popcorn and hot dogs hit us in the face like the smell of fresh baked cookies after just opening the oven. With a wave of the security guard’s arm, we snaked our way through the crowd and back to the locker room.
Forty-five minutes later, we were waiting in the tunnel and my butterflies, absent in the comfort of the locker room while we had been dressing and stretching, emerged once again. As we sprinted onto the court, I felt like throwing up. I turned and looked up towards the stands. Not a single seat was open. There were even people without a seat standing around the edge of the court. The blend of unfamiliar faces made me even more uneasy than before. Great, now everybody will see if I mess up.
We started warming up and my extra nervous energy began to show. I took my first shot and the ball clanged hard off of the back of the rim. But that clang must have startled the butterflies. With that miss, they vanished at impact. I relaxed a little bit. Hey, this isn’t so bad. This is the same game I’ve played forever. 5 players against 5 players. Us vs. them. Rims 10 feet above the ground. 84 feet from baseline to baseline. There is no reason to be nervous. It’s just another game.
After overcoming those first few minutes on the court, I was completely relaxed. I played well throughout the game and in the end, we won the championship by two points. As I celebrated out on the court with my teammates in front of the sold-out crowd, the nervous moments I experienced earlier were the furthest thing from my mind. Later that night, however, in the comfort of my own home, I looked back on the anxious moments spent on the bus when I momentarily forgot how to shoot and during warm-ups when I could barely run. And all I could do was laugh.
Flash-forward two and a half months later to the end of the season. We were on the bus once again, heading to Manual for the District Championship game against our rival. It was an hour until game time but my butterflies were at full strength. That little voice came back. “This is the District Championship. There’s going to be a million people there tonight.” I knew I had heard this before. Wait, this is the same thing that happened at the King of the Bluegrass Championship. And all that nervousness did me no good. Why should I be nervous now? So I calmed down, sat back, and turned on my music. No bump could bring those butterflies back. After all, it is still the same game.





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