A bit of our own March Madness – March 28, 2007

I had one of those weekends I may never forget. Not because Lis and I did our first real house shopping with a realtor, but because of the two basketball games that we played on Sunday. Games that were determined with last minute dramatics.

First a backdrop to the amazing story that I will tell but nobody – except the 10 guys that are on the team – will truly understand or think is that amazing.

I play in an adult men’s league on Sundays with Josh, Aaron, Mike, Graham, Chris and a couple other guys, who I haven’t mentioned before in my blog. We stumbled throughout the season posting one victory in six tries (yes, that’s a 1-5 record). We never seemed to get into a rhythm as a team. We had stretches where the people on the floor clicked but throw someone else in the rotation and the team was a disaster.

It was disappointing because we knew talent wise we were a good team. We had bulk and strength in rebounding (Jake, Lans and Josh). We had a strong shot-blocker in the middle (Chris), we had quickness and defensive pressure (Graham), players that could step in and play a guard or forward position (Aaron, Kevin – me – and Greg), and we had a guy who could score at will, and often had to (Mike).

Nothing seemed to work. Luckily for us the tournament is double-elimination, which means to end our season we have to lose twice. And after our first playoff game it looked like we were right on track with that. The other team jumped out to a 21-1 lead. We failed to make a field goal for nearly 10 minutes. We sucked! Late in the first half though things began to come together and against their subs we climbed back into the game and cut their lead to 13. That’s as close as we’d get.

After the game we had a team pow-wow at Graham’s pad. We had hamburgers, drank some suds and just spent some QT (quality time) with the guys. That evening we played our second game of the night and won. Graham’s steal and a lay-in with about 20 seconds left turned a three-point lead into a five-point lead and just like that we had won a game.

That brings us to this past Sunday.

We got up quickly by nine points before we let the other team climb back into the game. After trading baskets a bit I threw a crappy pass that lead to two more points and with 30 seconds remaining we trailed 38-37. Earlier I told Mike that a rather large and hefty (aka fat) dude was guarding me and that even with my turtle-like speed, I could still lose him by cutting through the key and ending up on the other side of the court. Mike’s a good listener because with 17 seconds remaining I did just that, cutting through the defense and Mike found me in the corner for a wide-open 3-point attempt. I caught the ball, got the right feel of it and swished it in for a 40-38 lead. It was the greatest shot I ever made. Of course, I never played high school, college or professional and have been pretty much stuck playing in men’s leagues the past few years, but still I had never made a basket that had put us ahead so late in a game.

I kept cool for a bit but after looking at the score and realizing what just happened, I looked the other way and cracked a smile from ear to ear.

Chris would block a shot the next time the other team came down court and one of the dude’s would lose his cool and kick a chair resulting in a technical foul and an automatic two points for us. Just like that we had our first winning streak of the season and lived to play another game.

An hour later we started our second game.

The other team jumped ahead and at one point led by nine before we began to make our ascent.

Behind the amazing play by Graham and tough baskets by Josh, we were able to climb back into the game and tie the score at 50-50 with less than a minute remaining. Graham had to have scored about 10 or 12 points just from out-leaping the opposition and putting offensive rebounds back into the basket. The dude, who stands about 5-foot-9, was about equal with the rim half of those times and made the rest of us 6-footers look silly. The bench erupted every time the Canadian scored. Graham had been silent the entire season but had reached his comfort zone just in the right time. As Mike was being hounded by defenders, Graham was busy cleaning up the misses with offensive put backs.

The other team had two opportunities to take the lead. But with about 10 seconds remaining Chris once again put his hand in the way of a shot and Josh saved it and ended up kicking the ball back to Mike. With 5.5 seconds remaining Mike wisely called a timeout and we went to the bench trying to think of a play.

Being the 3-point specialist I am (I had made two earlier in the game but won’t mention how many I failed to make) I checked into the game and got myself prepared for a possible chance at another game-winning shot. I came up with a play where Josh and I would set a double screen for Mike at the top of the key. If the screens work Mike would turn away and take a shot. I would set a screen on the opposite side of Josh and then peel away for a possible shot attempt.

Of course we didn’t design a play to inbound the ball to Mike. Mike thought I was going to get the ball. Aaron thought I was supposed to get the ball. But I thought Mike should get the ball and make it work.

We were still able to get the ball into Mike. He stumbled near mid-court but didn’t stop his dribble. Josh and I moved into position but the play didn’t even come close to working. Mike was double-teamed and as I ran over to set a screen he let fly a shot with two defenders on him and one pursuing him. I watched as he released the ball over the defenders and watched as the ball swished through the basket as the buzzer went off.

At these times, no matter what level of play you’re playing in, NBA, NCAA whatever, you go to your top player in a situation like this. We went to Mike and he delivered.

I lifted my hands in the air and screamed like a girl. I then turned to Mike who had his hands up and was running my way. He leapt up and I grabbed him and hugged him. The other eight players on our team came running up to us. The next two minutes were an emotional blur. I had never been part of a game that ended on a buzzer-beater.

The other team congratulated us on a great game and said that though they weren’t happy that they lost, it made them feel better to lose on a play like that. We were the only game going on at that moment so people had congregated to our court. When the shot fell you heard a loud roar of the crowd. It was the greatest game I had ever been a part of. Later I would joke that Mike stole my thunder from my first game dramatics.

It was an amazing end to two thrilling games. Back-to-back last minute game-winners. A team that came in ranked 14 out of 16 teams had now won three straight and made it into the “Super Six”. It was the top five teams in our division and us.

Three days later the shot and those games still bring a smile to my face. Nobody on this planet can fully understand the emotion that we felt after Mike hit that shot. But from that moment until the rest of our lives, those nine guys and me shared a special moment that just us can totally understand – a moment that we can look back on and smile.

Mike, Josh and I hung out after the game and talked about those two games. Three hours after the game ended Lis finally told Josh and I to shut up. Graham talked about how he laid in bed thinking of the game-winning basket. Our wives, girlfriends, friends, goats, anyone will never understand the emotion that we felt that Sunday evening, man it was awesome!

That evening Mike, Josh and I watched as the team that I picked to win the NCAA tournament, Georgetown, rallied againstNorth Carolina and kept their season alive. It was icing on the cake.

The next morning I woke up and got the morning newspaper. As I opened the paper I noticed that the story I had worked hard on the last month and a half was on the front page. I had never had a story on A1. It just continued my streak of good fortune.

The story, which you can read here, is about a 16-year-old boy who is diagnosed with cancer and is granted a wish from the Make-A-Wish foundation. His wish is so selfless…he decides that he wants to redo the baseball field at his high school. It’s an amazing story about an amazing kid. It’s also a story that includes two very different things that I hold close to my heart for two entirely different reasons: cancer and baseball.

I received emails from people congratulating me on a job well done. Most importantly from the boy’s mom who said she was touched by the story and his coach who said he could tell I wrote it from my heart. I have included a photo of the front page on this entry.

So that’s my weekend in a nutshell. It was a great weekend with two different things that I will never forget. Our wild Sunday of basketball and my first big story reaching the cover of the newspaper.

                                           

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