Players Start; Teams Finish

December 17, 2008
My blood was pumping, heart racing, and body on edge. I was aggravated but focused on only one goal: win. My legs were on fire. I searched deeply for more energy and set my heart on winning. My vision was on the ball. I was up and down the floor watching, stealing, touching that ball. This was my turn. This time I would make a difference.

As a kid I always loved basketball. It has been my favorite sport since I was six. I loved every aspect of the game--the contact, the speed, the aggression--it just pulled me in. Although I have never been considered the worst player on a team, I have never been seen as the best either. I was always the one who did the little things: got rebounds, stopped my man on defense, made the assist to a shooter, and took a couple short shots. Important things, but I was never the one whose name was heard through the crowd, never the one to get slapped on the back and hear, “What would we do without you?” or even just “Way to go!” I was almost jealous of my teammates who were 3-point shooters, did all kinds of fancy lay-ups and tried to show off every moment they possibly could. It worked for them and for the team. It frustrated me that what I did was hardly noticed, much less talked about. Others goofed off and showed off while I worked hard. They were the heroes, the stars; I was just the fifth player, a nobody.

Last year, I played in the Dobson league at Jr. High. Our team had not lost a game, but today we were about to play another undefeated team, the Roadrunners. They were tall, fast, and strong. They were frightening just to look at. We were shrimps. We were scared, but we were determined to win no matter how monstrous they were. The game started out slowly; we came out strong and lead in the first quarter, but they caught up and took the lead by two at the half.

We continued to battle, trading leads throughout the second half of the game. By fourth quarter we were down by two with twenty seconds left. Adrianne stole the ball and raced down the court. I could hear my own heartbeat pounding as I raced alongside her. I expected her to make a hard jab, fake her defender out and shoot the three or pass it out to one of our other three-point heroes. I was more nervous then I had ever been. My palms were sweating, my vision almost hazy with the rain-like sweat pouring down my face. The clock was ticking, the seconds going by quickly. I looked at my teammates faces; they were identical to mine: fearful yet hopeful, waiting for a hero to make the three that would determine this game. But then the unexpected happened. Adrianne was trapped and had to pass the ball. I was open.

The ball was suddenly in my hands. At first I couldn’t think. I couldn’t look at the clock but I knew there was less than ten seconds left. I had an open shot. Who was I kidding though? A 3-pointer from me?! No way! I had to look to pass. My thoughts were interrupted by one of my teammates screaming, “SHOOT, ALI!!” I had no choice. I bent my knees, set my arms and pulled the trigger. The ball flew through the air. Halfway to the basket, the buzzer sounded. It was like slow motion; no one moved an inch. The ball was spinning through space, floating on a rainbow towards the hoop. I prayed it would go in. It kissed the back of the rim and tilted to the side. “NO! Go in, go in!” It balanced on the rim for what seemed like eternity and then as if an angel had blown on the ball, it miraculously went through the net. The crowd went crazy!

Yeah, being the star for a night was an awesome feeling that I will never forget. I realized though that winning does not just depend on one person; it is a team effort. Every single one of the players counted and contributed to that game, no matter how small the contribution may have seemed at the time. Every point, blocked shot, stolen ball, and rebound mattered. Although the person who scores the most or does what the crowd cheers for gets all the glory, without the team they would be nothing. No one to pass them the ball, no one to rebound and get the ball, and no one to stop the other team from scoring--they would not be able to score or entertain the audience without their team. As Dwight Howard once said, “Players start, teams finish.” I learned that I didn’t have to be the hero to be a part of the team and help win. We ended up winning the championship that season, as a team. Each individual player was a part of every win, including me.

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