As cool as coaching is...there is still nothing that can equal the high of lacin' em up and going at it versus some fierce competition. A few months ago, my boy Dylan asked me to join his Santa Cruz City League team in attempt to accomplish just that.
As it turned out, competition was lacking, as we blew through the league undefeated. Only once playing a game with a 10 point differential.
This landed us the #1 seed in the playoffs. An honor which allowed us to play the 7PM game and rest one going into the 9PM championship.
In the semi's we rolled the team by nearly 40 points, clicking on all cylinders as we'd done all season long.
And as the finals tipped off, we jumped down the oppositions throats', taking a 20-4 lead at the end of the 1st quarter. At this point, the championship seemed to be unquestionably ours. But then it happened...
This wiry, light-skinned kid with an unkempt afro took over the game. Not only did he hit 3 straight 3-pointers, but he mixed in mid range jumpers and pick-and-roll assists to boot, sparking his team to just a 29-27 deficit at halftime.
In the 2nd half they came out overly aggressive, at one point slapping our leading scoring in the face, instantly ending his game with a bloody nose. Moments later they delivered another hard foul on our big man, all of which were called regular, NOT intentional fouls, much to our dismay.
With a little less than a minute left, we held a one point lead. That's when our big got his hands on a ball and tipped it forward, my man Karl got the steal and lofted the ball forward to me as I streaked up the court toward the basket. As I elevated for the lay-up, I was all but tackled by the trailing defender. A blow that drew a few choice words from me and was so blatant that it led one of our players to walk out of the gym as to avoid starting a fight. This too was whistled as a normal foul. Resulting in two shots.
Unable to put pressure on my right leg, I stepped to the line and missed the 1st free throw before sinking the 2nd. With 40 or so seconds left we were up 2. Their main man (who finished with 44 points) dribbled down the floor and waited at the top of the key, allowing the clock to tick inside of 10 seconds before he attacked. I stepped up to double team and he kicked the ball to one of his fellow teammates who had not made a shot all game. He pulled up for 3 and hit nothing but the bottom of the net! Unbelievable.
3 seconds left in the game, and we go down by 1. A position we had not been in the entire season. How could this be happening?
We called timeout. My man Ian drew up a play for me to go long and get the pass from him. As I sprinted up court two men saw to it that didn't happen. Leading Ian to toss the pass to our 6-4 power forward, Dylan. He caught the ball near half court, took one dribble and let it fly....
I watched from beneath the basket as the ball bounced off the glass and INTO THE HOOP!! It's good! It's good! Oooooh MY GOD! I can't believe it! We lost our minds!! Jumping around, hugging and screaming like 10 year olds! It was the greatest feeling I can remember in my adult life. Absolutely exhilarating!
And to add to the magic, not only had Dylan lost his brother Teddy late last year in November, but almost all of his family was in attendance to witness the shot that brought us the title! Truly a compelling story, and an absolutely breath-taking experience. Life is good.