Today was supposed to be like any other summer day: we were going to shoot around, drink from the water hose faucet, and end the evening with multiple games of one-on-one. It was supposed to be like any other summer day. I played Pat one-on-one on several occasions. Each game had its own personality, its own story. The first time I played Pat, I was about four or five years old. My family had just moved into the neighborhood and I was trying to get accustomed to meeting new people. At that point, I had never played an organized game of basketball before.
I learned the game from Pat, his older brother Fred, and their dad after we moved to the neighborhood. Needless to say, Pat showed absolutely no mercy in providing me with my first taste of defeat. I didn’t take defeat too well, because I definitely remember taking my ball and telling Pat “I’m going home! ” By no means was I a crybaby. That was something that I remember my dad telling me never to be. I just wanted to imitate everything related to basketball that I saw on television. At the time, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t able to imitate Michael Jordan’s signature fade-away shot.
I believed I could do it, but why couldn’t I? The only other option I had was to practice. They taught “practice makes perfect” at my school and I took the concept to heart. I practiced and practiced and practiced but I just could not beat Pat in a game of one on one. It got to the point where it wasn’t even about basketball anymore. I was beginning to believe that Pat was better than me at all aspects of life. While I was stuck wearing the same gym shoes every time we played a game, Pat had all of these newest shoes.
While I was stuck with my dad who could only buy me tapes from the 1970s about how to learn to play basketball, Pat’s dad was an expert at basketball (he had played in college) and was able to teach him the skills of the game. While I was stuck with an older sister who only gawked at basketball players, Pat had an older brother who dunked on basketball players. I was beginning to realize that Pat had some sort of God-given advantage over me. It was unfair. As I grew older and became more serious about basketball, my emotions began to take over.
I was obviously getting better at the game because I practiced almost daily. My father noticed my efforts and pushed me to continue to get better. I wasn’t sure if I loved basketball itself or simply the competitive nature that came with it. Regardless, I allowed my father to push me. By the age of thirteen, my friendship with Pat was not nearly as strong as it was when we were younger. I’m not sure if our interests were totally different, because he no longer came to our door and asked if I could come outside to play basketball. On the contrary, I wasn’t doing the same for him either.
However, something in me made me want to go outside when I saw him and one of his basketball teammates, Farrakhan, playing a game of one-on-one during the summer of my thirteenth birthday. I stepped outside into the summer’s heat, walking down the driveway with a blank but confident expression on my face. “Y’all playing a game? ” I asked. “Aw shit, you tryna get in on this ass whooping too? ” Pat said with a smirk on his face. I smiled and chuckled. “Hell nah, you ain’t gone beat me. Bust up for twenty-one. ” The game “twenty-one” was kind of like a game of one-on-one with an extra person, thus making it one-on-one-on-one.
Basically, it was a basketball game that was about “every man for himself” until someone scored twenty-one points. Since I was “the youngest”, they allowed me to shoot the ball first (“Busting up”). Pat rolled the basketball to me as I stood behind the chalk line that indicated the three-point line. I stared at the goal that no longer seemed as intimidating as it was when I was younger. I took a deep breath and jumped off my feet as my eyes focused on the net of the goal. Lifting the ball with my left hand, I flicked my wrist effortlessly as it released from my hand, resulting in a very high arcing shot.
Landing on my feet, I confidently stepped back as I admired the beauty of my shot. All of those years of working hard, physical training, and even learning from those tapes my father bought me, resulted in a sound that I had come to enjoy hearing over the years. Swish. “So you got a jumper now? ” Pat said sarcastically has he retrieved the ball and threw it back my way as the game continued. “Little bit,” I replied sternly. The game continued on for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Despite scoring the game’s first points, I was dreadfully losing to both Pat and Farrakhan.
They had way more points than I had and were definitely better than I was. I had managed to score points here and there, but I had to work my ass off to get them. The entire game seemed like a bullying session because every time I tried to make a move towards scoring, I was crowded by them both resulting in hands swatting at my arms or large Nikes trying to trip me over. I somehow managed to rebound a shot that Pat had missed and took the ball back behind the chalk line. Pat began to defend me as I made a move toward the goal. “You got him Pat. He ain’t gone do shit,” Farrakhan said.
Hearing what he said was like nails scratching against a chalkboard to my ears. It annoyed me to no end that Pat’s friend, who didn’t even know me, was talking trash about me. I was under the impression that Pat had told Farrakhan about me beforehand, which lit a fire inside of my gasoline filled body. I attacked the basket with a full head of steam and attempted to lay the ball up. My unstoppable force was met with an immovable object as Pat jumped in unison with me and blocked my shot. The result sent me hurdling towards the grass behind the basketball goal, causing me to land awkwardly. After a few seconds, I reacted.
I sprang up without words and attacked Pat with the same intent I had when I was trying to lay the ball up. I tackled him to the ground and began to furiously punch him in the face with the intent of beating some respect out of him. This feeling of victory was short lived as Pat managed to flip me over and began to strangle me, holding my arms down at my sides as he tried to calm me down. When he realized I wasn’t, he began his own onslaught of punches. Soon, Farrakhan pulled Pat off me which allowed me to get up. I was embarrassed, to say the least, about the outcome of the game and decided that I would go home.
It’s not unusual for young boys to fight, especially over a game of basketball. It was, however, unusual for me to react that way because I had never been in a fight before. Pat and I eventually reconciled, as most young boys do, over a game of basketball later on that week. We didn’t tell our parents about what happened (fortunately the bruises weren’t too noticeable) and moved on from the situation. There were more games of one-on-one and there were no more fights, but I still was unable to achieve that true feeling of victory. In a way, I had grown accustomed to losing to Pat.
I mean he was older than me, taller than me, stronger than me. He had more and better opportunities for him to learn as well. My emotions were no longer tied to being better than him. I wanted to be better than myself. It was one of those days. Those days where I played basketball with Pat from sun up to sun down. Those days where I would try my hardest to beat him in a game of one-on-one and, not surprisingly, lose every single game. With a basketball in hand and an exasperated expression on my face as I breathed heavily, I took a drink of water from my bottle as I sat on the pavement.
I glanced over at Pat who was walking over to the water hose faucet near the side of his house. Once he was done drinking, I exhaled deeply as he returned to the concrete court. By now, the sun had had disappeared behind the trees and the sky was darkening. It was the beginning of the end of another day without victory. The street lights came on as my body began sending me messages that I should live to fight another day. But something in me wanted one more game. “One more,” I said as I stood. “You wanna run one more? ” “Man this is the last one. I’m tired as hell and hungry,” Pat said. A’ight. This can be the last one. ” In reality, I was just as tired (and hungry, but that didn’t matter) as he was.
But I needed closure for this day. I felt nothing as I passed the ball the Pat. I wanted him to get the ball first just to test how tired I would be on defense. After receiving the ball, Pat squared his feet and took a shot from behind the chalk line was that drawn there every summer. Swish. I didn’t let the fact that he had scored the first points of the game discourage me. In fact, it heightened my sense of urgency to play harder, tougher.
Soon, Pat received the ball again and took another shot. Brick. He missed the shot, which caused me to quickly sprint towards the ball. He ran to defend me, but I had realized that that meant he was going to be ill-prepared to shift his feet in time to stop me from penetrating toward the goal. I flew past him swiftly and laid the ball up, kissing it off the backboard as it swished inside the net. The game was tied. The game carried on for what seemed to be hours. The humidity of the summer air managed to drain our energy, but someone had to emerge from this battle victorious.
I was 15 and he was 16, but at this point, I wasn’t worried about age. I wasn’t worried about height. I wasn’t worried about speed. I wasn’t even worried about winning the game. I had possession of the ball after Pat missed an attempt at a layup on the goal. I took the ball behind the chalk line and gathered myself. I was too tired at this point to try and attack the basket. I was met with Pat’s defense as I stood there, dribbling the ball slowly. I noticed the air space between us that allowed me the freedom of taking an open shot if I wanted to.
It was a dangerous chance for me to take, but at this point, losing by one point, I was desperate for anything. He seemed to dare me to take the shot as he backed away from me. I believed that he thought that if I missed the shot, it would provide him the opportunity to rebound the ball and score easily before I could even recover defensively. I took this thought as a chance to prove Pat and myself wrong by lifting off my feet, flicking my wrist, and releasing a high arcing shot. Swish. Confidence filled my veins as I had tied the game, but I didn’t let that confidence show in my facial expression.
The game was tied, but there was still a chance that I could lose the game. Pat threw the ball my way, harder than usual, and I caught the ball. It was then I knew that he was trying to rile up my emotions in an attempt to throw me off my game. It worked. I thought back to our game of twenty-one where he blocked my shot and I fell into the grass. I remembered the feeling of defeat after I fought with him, which ended with me going home with scrapes and bruises. I wasn’t going to allow that to happen again. I attacked the basket quickly, but my force was met by Pat as he blocked my opportunity to lay the ball.
My back naturally turned to block him in an attempt to protect the ball. He was not going to feel the pleasure of taking this game from me. I thought back to the numerous occasions where Michael Jordan used his signature fade-away shot over defenders and how he made it look so effortless. By this point in my life, I had practiced this move countless times trying to perfect it. I had practiced hitting the shot on numerous occasions and I believed that I could hit the shot. After a few dribbles with my back facing Pat, I immediately pivoted my right foot, jumping off of it.
Pat jumped to block my shot, but was unable to do so since I had faded so far back. I released the shot with a quick flick of my wrist as the ball sailed into the air. I stepped back in admiration of the shot as I watched the ball spiral upward toward the goal before finally descending downward. Swish. “OHHHH! ” I screamed as I took off running towards my home with a finger pointed in the air. I didn’t look back to see Pat’s reaction of finally losing in a game to me, but I didn’t care. All that I knew was that I had won the game and I was going home.