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Pass the Ball to Me: I'll Pass it to Fame

It is the final game for the NBA’s National Championship: the Phoenix Suns versus the infamous and unbeatable New York Knicks.  I wait in the passage way to enter the court. I hear the crowd go wild as the announcer introduces tonight’s very important game. The fans are clapping in rhythm to the beat of the music to support our hometown team, the Suns. The freshly waxed floors and the smell of sweat awaken me.

My team waits in a line to hear our announcer call out the players. I am looking out toward the court. I can see a bit of the fans cheering, the scoreboard, and camera crews with microphones and reporters. This makes me nervous. I think to myself, "I cannot believe I am here, standing with my professional basketball teammates." I watch the restlessness in our legs. It is too much for us to bear, so we shake our legs. This is my first NBA championship game; in fact, this is my first championship game ever. I am the starting point guard.

I feel so lucky and so blessed to be here. That's the answer I give news reporters and radio hosts. They ask, “So Mr. Paul Fredricks, how do you feel about your upcoming game?”

 I reply, “Well, I'm not sure. A lot of things, I guess. All I can tell you is how lucky and blessed to be here.”

Looking on and waiting for the announcers, I start to daydream and think back on my childhood. I think about how much struggle and strife I went through. If someone were looking at me playing basketball today, how fast I am, how swift and resilient I am, no one would ever guess I was once horrible at basketball.

Growing up in a poor suburb of Chicago, my mom could never afford things. It took a while for me to get a basketball of my own to play with. When I was 16 years old, when my mom would be at work, I would walk to the nearest basketball court. It wasn’t much, just enough tar and a hoop to play a game. I walked to that court every day. There were days when no kids were there. Most of the time, though, kids were there playing. The kids would always heckle me, especially Chaz. Chaz was the town bully. He was a year older than I was and came from a broken family. He would tell me I was too short and too slow to play basketball.

Every time Chaz would be on the court, he would say, “Man, Paul, your shot is so crooked. I think ya might need glasses!” Every time I slipped up, he’d say, “Man, Paul, you belong at home to play with your plastic hoop!” Chaz was no dummy when it came to basketball, though. He was the best I seen in town. He knew every trick play and almost always made a shot–no matter how far away.

Every day, no matter how hard and long I tried, I could not get better at basketball. When my junior year in high school started, I finally gave up on basketball. I was not going to try out for the varsity team. Every year before, I would try but ended up disappointed. Chaz would make the team. He would snicker at me and say, “Better luck next year, crooked eyes!”

It was true. Although my eyes were not crooked, my shots were. My coordination was bad. Chaz and even the coaches would say that I was too short, too slow, and too unbalanced for basketball, especially Chaz. He had a thing for always making me feel two feet tall. It must have been his job agreement before coming to this life.

 Each time Chaz gave me a hard time, I would just ignore him passively. I was too afraid to stand up against him. I guess you could say I did not want to go through all the trouble of fighting with him. It wasn’t worth it.

 After a few years of trying to make the team, I realized they were right. I came to the conclusion that basketball was not for me—no matter how bad I wanted it.

The booming crowd comes hazing into my ears again. My teammate startles me back into the present moment with a nudge. It is time for our appearance. The announcer introduces our team, and the crowd goes nuts! It's so loud that I cannot hear the music. I run out with my team and feel the air against my face. Lights from the cameras are snapping everywhere and see myself on the big screen. I'm anxious and excited to play. The ball in my hands feels like second nature to me while I throw it during warm-up.

 The announcer speaks, and it is time for the National Anthem. The music stops, the crowd hushes, and the entire stadium goes silent. I try not to cry. I force my head up and notice a glint off of someone’s wooded cane. I notice the person right away. It is my old friend, Drew. I cannot believe it! I have't seen Drew since high school.

 Drew got in a terrible car accident when he was 14 years old. The car flipped and broke his neck. He was in a coma for three months and never woke up the same. He suffered a traumatic head injury and had to be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. 

 Drew is the reason why I am here today, holding this basketball. He is the reason for my success. If it were't for Drew, I would have never pursued my basketball dream. I would be somewhere else.  I’ll never forget the day I met him. It was the the exact month before the varsity basketball team tryouts. I was having a bad day. I was eating lunch alone; I didn't feel like making small talk with anyone.

Drew wheeled up to me as I was picking at my lunch. “Got a minute?” he asked. I didn't have one. “No,” I said. “Word has it you're not trying out this year. Is that true?” He bluntly asked. “Well, yeah, I guess,” I said, “What’s it to you?” I usually don't respond like that way to people, but basketball was the least thing I wanted to talk about.

Drew went on, “If it’s true, it would be a terrible mistake.” He continued, “You would regret it for the rest of your life if you give up on this tryout, and if you give up on basketball entirely.” I was appalled at his bold remark. I was getting really irritated with him. I snapped back, “What’s it to you? Why would you care what I give up on?!” Drew looked at me with big, wide eyes. He didn’t say anything for a while. His mouth was set in a hard line and replied, “I would give my whole life to move my arms and legs like you do. Why, I'd give my whole life to be able to move around at all.” Now he had my attention.

Drew followed, “Yeah, big deal if you need more practice. I never had seen anyone love basketball so much like you. All you need is to get your heart back in the game. If you can move your arms, you can catch a rebound. If you have the capability of stretching out your arms, you can steel. If you can bend your legs, you can make a shot. I can't do any of these things and would give my soul to do so.”

 I didn't know what to say. My mouth hung open for a while. I replied, “Well, Chaz can definitely do better than I can." Drew snapped back, “Who cares about Chaz. If anything, you should thank him. He's your blessing in disguise. If it were'nt for him, there would be nothing to challenge you. Take this opportunity to do better than him.”

He did have a point. Talking to Drew that day made me realize many things. It was true that my heart was no longer in the game. It was true that I let a small obstacle like Chaz get me down. And the biggest truth of all was that I should've felt lucky to have the capability to do something I love, when Drew didn’t. I should've felt blessed to have the opportunity to go after my dream, while Drew couldn’t.

I will never forget Drew’s words that day. Those words of wisdom were like money in the bank. I'm forever grateful for Drew to be bold that day and say what he had to say. I did try out for the varsity team that year, and made it. I promised myself the day after I sat with Drew, that I would put my love back into basketball. I trained harder and longer than I ever did before. Chaz tried to razzle me, but I didn’t let that stop me. After trying to distract me a few more times, Chaz finally gave up bantering me.

I see Drew smiling at me from the sidelines. His smile is so big and wide. He is out of his wheelchair and chased a dream of his own. I give him a bigger smile back. He laughs and shakes his head. I know exactly what he is thinking. The buzzer signals and the game is about to begin.

           

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