Saturday, January 21, 2012

Push and punch, fresh and free

What it comes down to sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, is what William noted on Thursday night, in the midst of pulsing seven-and-oh energy as friends raised honey-colored pints: There is nearly always going to be a time within those forty minutes when the other team is better. 

Or maybe better is not the right adjective -- on point? Suddenly luckier, or more awake? Basketball is made up of stints, up the court and down again, push pull push pull. Swapping tired for alert, sluggish for polished, swapping the dropped pass for the reverse layup (they're called points-off-turnovers, and they sure can be a bitch). The tempo of a moment is always up for debate. Sometimes, in the blink of an eye, you feel yourself being pulled. 

What kind of team are you going to be? Are you going to be a team that is pulled, or pushes back? The team that watches, or rises? 

Questions like these are not answered with words, but with action. It's kind of funny to me that the action so often ends up being remembered and recalled as numbers and stats, when it begins as body movement and control, how ten people interact with an orange ball. Funnier still when there are visions you can't shake. A beauty from beyond the arc, cool Cohen brilliance. The daring dive for a reverse layup -- or two, if you like, Tom. Taking charge and charging in, whistle waiting. Nik is all about pushing, and pushing is all about Nik -- until he gets to the line and transforms, steady lungs, heady aim. Shooting, and missing, and wrenching your own miss back into your arms, transforming it into a make -- and when he does this, De'Mon's movements slip so simply from his elbows to his fingers until the net is sliced. Two blocked shots in a row, and Frank's slaps and wingspan and fiery eyes grow with every roar of the crowd, and in those moments the crowd is all his -- his years of work, his country's flag, his purpose and his power. Jumping from the bench to cheer a basket or a stop; everyone in this uniform is filled with push and punch, and pride that comes from knowing the bigger story, claiming and creating it. 

In the minutes that make up the halves, in the halves that grow a season, teams find and tell and become their stories.

Last January around this time, I wrote a post entitled "Who Are We Going To Be?" I don't think it was capitalized like that, but it may as well have been, because it was that question that I felt hanging in the air, the air you get when a couple thousand people show up in the same place for something they care about. It was a title, a question that wanted an answer, and a specific answer at that. Who we wanted to be was who we used to be, and who we used to be was the only thing we couldn't be, not in the same way, at least. 

And so it's been a great privilege to watch this season forming, and see the answer to that question start to be something that, in its own way, has never happened before, not for these boys, nor for these current students. It feels fresh and free, like it could be anything. The best thing is that it's happening because of these boys, not because of a memory or a pressure cooker suddenly switched on HIGH. The fizz and pop of my heart reminds me what I've seen throughout these five years, and knows what it all meant -- even in the sense that it drove these players to play for this school. But at the same time, all of that is so far from my mind. I am proud of now, I am joyful now

"Frank the Tank! Frank the Tank! Frank the Tank!" Over and over and over D Block bellowed in the lull after the Charleston win, before Killer came on the radio with Coach. Belk was largely cleared out, and their voices tore through the rafters, pummeling their fists up high and awaiting their champion. The noise grew, peaking as Frank made his way to center court to receive his impromptu ovation. D Block bowed. He bowed back, beaming. We hollered and whooped. Nigeria's flag flew like mad, and I thought of the hot, crowded basketball courts of Benin City, and I thought how even in the frenetic movement of blocking a shot (or two), there is a certain transforming grace that goes beyond. 

A story within a story within a story. That's what life is. Always mixed with a little bit of different, newfound magic. This one feels fresh, and free. 

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