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Article:Apostrophe (06/11/08)

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A best of three series. Games to twenty-one, scoring by ones and twos (as opposed to the standard twos and threes). The battles are hard-fought. Each possession is a struggle. To this point, both sides have had their own runs, each time the opposition answers. The clashing in the first two games experienced tight scoring, and this final game has been closer than both prior...

The sunlight rains down. It is feeling like the calm of a summer storm. Silence almost completely smolders the park, with the exception of heavy breathing and shoes squeaking. Thermometers reads ninety-seven, although it feels much worse. Humidity is death. The weather channel says with all factors taken into place the one-hundred four degree heat engulfs the county of Burlington...

Everyone is their own personal waterfall. Sweat pours down uncontrollably, rushing down the face and body. Attire no longer absorbs the perspiration. Each shirt and short are soaked to the max. There is nothing left to wipe water off the body. Eyes grow tired; the heat, sun, and sweat have all taken their toll...

Muscles ache. Heart-rates are jacked. Adrenaline. Everybody is running on this unexplainable X-Factor. The question is, who will tire out first? Push on, through the pain, through the heat, through the fire because soreness, the state of being tired, it is only temporary. Victory, my friends, lasts a lifetime...

Nineteen-twenty. Down by one. Standing at the top of the key, Kevin thrusts the ball from behind the net. He struggled physically while retrieving the ball. It is obvious he is worn out. Still standing, but worn to the brink of collapse. No choice but to score here, otherwise game point for the opposition, and Lars has the hot hand to end it all...

Check the ball over and it is handed back into the gut. Tight defense, but it won't matter. Big Kev tries to post up down low. He is just too burnt out and the slimmer, smaller Seamier is taking advantage on defense. Swing the ball out to Biddle. He looks to take a quick shot, but the defense and the lack of energy make a decent shot almost impossible. Set a pick in front of him. Jake and Lars bite on the pick, so roll away...

Undoubtedly with the most stamina of anyone on the court, muster up a burst of speed as Kevin sets a pick in front of the basket. Squeezing between the baseline and the big man, Biddle finds a passing lane and power-bounces the ball down low. Lars get back on defense. Even though the basket is behind, position has been established. Now, how to finish? The right hand is the strong side. He knows that. Use that as an advantage...

A shoulder fake and the ball hits the blacktop with thunderous hop. A spin and up with the left hand. The block alters the shot just a tad, but with a hand sliding across the cheek, the shot falls. Tie game.

"Tie game... Win by two," Lars announces. Everyone already knew the situation. He is just clarifying the point, most likely to motivate Jake and Seamier. He knows he was burned on the last play, but he is trying to pass it off on his teammates. A true "dick" move. He deserves to lose at this point...

Biddle checks the ball at the point. A two pointer wins the game. They are playing tight along the arch. Run a play from the football handbook. A hand-off at the point. The ball slides away and rolls on the blacktop. With a quick little half-spin move, possession is retained...

Biddle drags himself off to the corner. Kevin floats back to the three point line. Isolation. Deep breath. Take what is given. Get to the basket. A fake to the right and a quick cut back to the left. He took the bait! Nothing but a clear lane at this point, just fin...

A thud, a slide, and a scrape. Lars was beat, he knew it and in a split second reaction he threw his leg out. Hook line and sinker. Now blood rushes from the left palm. "Fack. Timeout."

"Why the fack are you calling a timeout? Get your ass up and play!"

"First off, you fouled me. Second, I am bleeding and I'm nobody wants blood all over the ball. So let me tape this up." Lars starts back, but after turning away and walking, he stops because he knows he is being ignored. An ace bandage and some tape will stop the bleeding, but the top layer of skin is about gone. It is painful, but not unbearable. Kevin and Biddle join as this quick breather is what is needed to regain some energy, some rehydration...

Now, basically with one hand and a short rest. The ball is handed back at the point. Kevin has regained some strength. He backs down Seamier and has position. A lob pass inside. He throws a pump fake, spins, and finishes near the rim. Now, up by one, it is game point...

This time the check is thrown back into the gut. The opposition is angry. Will they be able to channel that aggression? Any advantage anybody can get could result in the game. A swing pass to Biddle. From five feet behind the arch, he chucks up a long shot...

The ball is in the air and hearts are sinking, but the shot didn't go down. Why take a two point shot when we only need one? No time to think, there is a loose ball. It gets bounces over Kevin's grasp and Jake is able to feed it out to Lars at the point. Lars knows about the cut on the left palm. He cuts to that side. There is no way to stop him at this point. A tear-drop floater over the outstretched hand of Kevin falls. Tie game...

With this stupid little grin, Lars gets the ball back at the point. That cocky sunovabitch. He floats a pass down under the basket to Seamier. Right before he can get his sky-hook off, the double team arrives. He is forced to get rid of the ball. Biddle had floated over to cover a wide open Lars at the point, leaving Jake out in the middle of nowhere. He begins towards the net, moving to his left... but the pass is to his right! Outta play!

Seamier cries about being fouled, but it was a clean defense, he just threw the ball away. After fishing the ball from the bushes, the offense gets set up once again. Biddle at the top of the key will take the check. Set up along the baseline on the left side of the net, Kevin whispers "pick" as he slowly moves around the court...

After wiping off some sweat on by rubbing a shoulder along the forehead, a nod to Biddle is all that needs to be said. Play begins. A pick underneath, but the defense acts too quickly as a quick step by the pick happens and a bounce pass is caught at the arch...

Turn around and there is that asshole stepping up to play tight defense. A two pointer will win the game, but any score is necessary here. Everyone is tired. For a short rest, just stand here to protect the ball. Regain some of that energy. There is no shot clock, take all the time in the world... A poll of sweat forms on the ground beneath. Time has passed, now go. A deep breath. Then dribbling with only the right hand, begin to slash inside... wait, drop step. Lars is headed towards the basket! An open shot!

All the strength from the body that remains is used to fight through one last heave off the ground. A flick of the wrist and an short grunt as the ball is released over the outstretched hand of a defender trying to get back on defense...


Basketball Net
Sunlight and sweat pour into the eyes as the ball is watched floating through the clear blue sky. The world slows down. Everyone holds their breath. Silence once again surrounds the court. Through all the heat, the pain, the anguish, resilience prevails as the chain-metal net strikes a beautiful sound...

Victory. A fist pump and a couple of high-fives to celebrate. Battling through tough opposition as well as the grueling elements, the clinching game. A down to the wire performance...

There was no audience, no reward, or championship title. No endorsement deals or scouts looking for a big sign. It was just a group of kids playing hard for the feeling of winning. Through the heat, blood, sweat, hard work, resilience, dedication, and perseverance, I was able to feel what it is like to overcome an adversary, to strive for a goal and reach it, to fight for glory, to live up to personal expectations, and to feel some sort of success, all if only for a few moments. Most importantly, walking away side by side with my two best friends, off into the sunlight and grueling heat, feeling that even though we are in a small town in Jersey, we were on top of the world...


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