I woke up, got dressed, and walked into the kitchen.
John already washed his dishes, set the coffee on the brewer. The bagel was already in the toaster.
I poured myself a cup of coffee, start toasting the bagel, sat down at the table, started to read the book that was left open.
It’s called The Alchemist. It’s a story about a boy Santiago who longs to travel the world. We move from place to place as well, although rarely intended.
I stopped my car by the almost empty basketball court. I sat down at the bench, took my time to eat my bagel and read a little more of that book.
One boy was there shooting, in complete solitude. He was shooting as if it was the only thing that matters.
I was done with my bagel about a dozen pages later. I walked to John. He passed me the ball so I would pass it back and he could then practice some catch and shoot.
It’s all fundamentals: catch the ball at the right rhythm, prepare the ball to shoot the same shot every time. Split the feet and bend the knees right. Elevate from the ground through the leg and the waist and the back — relax, un-stiff, then release it through the arm, the wrist, the finger tip. Everything in one motion, as if you just jump, and the ball would shoot itself.
We rarely talk during all this. The fundamentals being fundamentals, meaning that you should know when something was incorrect, not through conscious, but through the way body felt.
John spent many early mornings and late nights shooting. He would be in all solitude, the only man among the street lights and the rims. He would shoot the ball as if he was talking to the rim, not through speech, but through shots, much like the way old friends talk. He might be just a boy shooting all alone, but he’s never lonely.
We shot extra forty one jumpers that morning, I threw him the jumper shirt and then drove him to school.
John took very little time for his age to got use to the type of life that involved constantly moving. Having a mechanic job in the air force, moving is part of the job. This is tough for the children. They usually end up moving just about the time they got to know other kids at school.
Therefore, John picked friends to spend time with who will move with him: the rim, and books.
When he got the chance to play with other kids, he always pick the strongest kid that no one else want to guard. He would be thrown on the ground, only just to standing up and keep going.
“He’s a good kid.” The school basketball team’s coach agreed to took him after he saw John play.
“I’ve seen that kind of kid before.” said the coach: “He would do anything to stay on the court, and only the winner got to stay on the court. He’s fearless. I liked that.”
I suppose he’s right, when you can handle all that solitude, there’s not that many things left to fear.
On our way driving to school, I asked: “So the game is today?”
“Yeah.” John answered without moving his eyes away from the book.
“Who are you playing?”
John said a name.
That school had a well known basketball program. Well trained and coached, they might be competing for a championships title.
“No.” He answered without haste.
“Play defense, leave the rest to Joe, we’ll be alright.”
“What kind of sets do you guys run?” I asked.
I saw through the Rear-view mirror that John put both his index fingers on the top his head, as if they are the horns of an ox.
“Draw it to me.”
I park the car by the side of the road.
John took out a pen and a piece of paper, quickly drew some diagrams on it.
I had a quick glance, drew another one and handed it back to him.
John stared at it for a bit.
“But the ball won’t be here.” He pointed at one place on the paper: “Joe will keep the ball.”
“It will be there.” I looked into his eyes: “Joe is a good kid, the ball will be there.”
John never said another word on the way, he wasn’t reading that book either.
We arrived. John jumped off the car.
“You forgot this.” I passed him the paper. He took it, turned and ran into school.
By the time I finished the day’s work, it was almost ten.
All the engines piled up, putting the proper work on them felt like eternity.
By the time I walked into the gym, only couple of minutes were left to the game.
It wouldn’t take anybody much time to realize who everybody was there to watch. Joe was really something special. He would run through the defense and lay the ball into basket from the most unpredictable angles. The way he sprint the court, the way he split into every impossible gap carried a certain elegance that you rarely resembled on teenage boys. It almost as if he was performing a dance while every body else on the court tring to wrestle each other.
The girls would cheer every time Joe catch the ball. What they wouldn’t realize was that their star was very exhausted at this point. This was a game between hunters and deer. Both running out of breath. Consider the number of hunters and there was only one deer, the game was surprisingly close.
The moment every kid ever played basketball dream about is coming close: last minute of the game, the super star dribble the ball over the court, points his finger on a certain spot and tell the defender he would shoot the buzzer beater right there, and deliver ed exactly that.
In that imagination, the star would distinguish himself among every body else with a halo. He would catch the ball the way warrior in the tales taking over the sword to slay the dragon. He would catch it, square up, jump and shoot it with a soft release like a lover’s touch. The ball would draw a beautiful curve, touching nothing but the net, and tear the heart out of every opponent.
I knew none of that would came across John’s mind.
He was facing the best player of the opposing team, sweat flow though his body as if it was gliding through ice. John could not jump high or run fast and he was never be the focus on the court. All he could do was to put his body on the player he was guarding, who had at least 20 pounds on him.
And that was exactly what he did.
John could barely kept his feet on the floor, but he managed to forced the opponent dribbled the ball into a corner, where there would be a trap waiting.
Joe then took him by surprise. He stripped off the ball and started dibbling over half court.
There was less then a minute left. The coach was waving his hand, yelling. His voice immediately devoured by the noise of the crowd. Joe saw the two fingers the coach reached out of his fist, he tried to yell something to his teammate, but none was heard.
He then puts both of his index finger on the top of his head, like the horns of an ox, and John was waiting in the corner already.
Joe cut to the corner, setting a screen for John, who would to cut the other side.
Everybody else was supposed to clear out the floor. Seats would be ready, the stage would be set. Joe would then move back up to the top, taking the enemy one on one, like the old school heroes on TV.
What Joe didn’t realize, was that the hunt has yet finished. It wouldn’t take too much intelligent to know the game would boil down to the discipline of a team versus the talent of one player. Everybody in the gym knew the ball would be back into Joe’s hands. The hunt ends here: the hunters’ attempt to deceive the deer so it believed that it had escape the hunt, while the last trap was just ahead.
When the deer realized what the hunters were doing, he was already surrounded by three people. Joe could feel the breath and the sweat of the hunters. They had been chasing him the whole game and this time they finally trapped him.
The cage forged by six arms was crushing on him. Joe knew he would have to make a decision. Now would be a time for a hero, that might as well be him.
Joe watched the tape of that game many times after that night. He never quite figured out why that quiet transfer student all of a sudden made a different play. By the time he was surrounded, that kid silently move into the spot where he would have all the solitude of the world.
The night after the game, John and I drove to the shore. He talked a lot that night, about that game, about other things as well. He talked about that that moment that he caught the ball, how that he never really thought about the ball or the shooting, how that his mind was clear, how there was no longer the game or the gym or crowd. There was just him and the rim, much like the any other day: a quiet boy, street lamps of the early mornings and the late nights, shooting like talking to an old friend.
“It’s called enlightened.” John said. He read that from a book.
I suppose he was right.