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The Kid and the Legend


The kid was in his glory playing basketball in the rain with his friends oblivious to the man standing across the street who was following his every move.  A few of the kids noticed the man, but they had grown accustomed to seeing strangers in their neighborhood all the time, and just took him for another wacko getting his rocks off by watching young boys. And besides, if he tried anything there were about ten of them and they would undoubtedly kick his ass up and down Anthony Street.
The man stood motionless almost like a statue, and concentrated his gaze on the kid. The kid was about fourteen; his body filled out for his age and was a man among boys.  Every time he bounced the basketball a splatter of rain would splash in every direction, but he was single minded in his pursuit of making his shot and nothing could distract his focus.  A quiet smile of confidence danced across his face streaked with sweat and rain, but he played on. His talent was superior to that of his friends and recognition of their inevitable defeat at his hands hung in the air as effortlessly as he did on his way to another basket.  One by one his friends left and before long he was there alone.  He didn’t seem to mind the solace of the basketball court. The rain had slowed down to a quiet drizzle, and that’s when his eyes found mine.  He nodded silently at the basket, and I shook my head up and down confidently to answer his challenge.  They had all watched me on television in my heyday and now long past my prime; I still had to answer the challenge every time I came near a court. Some things never change. My ball…time to go to work.
 Playing basketball came as naturally to me as breathing, and only when I was on the court did I ever feel as if no one could touch me. I was like Al Capone-untouchable. He made a move to my left as if he was reading a scouting report and had watched too many highlights of me on ESPN. I went right and he was left to guard my shadow. He was quick and cocky. He had the enthusiasm of youth on his side, but I had something he hadn’t yet acquired-a mind that saw the next dribble, pass or even what he might attempt to do before he did. Every spin he made, I was right there to block his path. He was now experiencing what all his friends had felt just a little while ago frustration at being second best. When frustration sets in, a young mind tries to overcompensate by playing harder and faster instead of letting the game come to him. In time, he would learn this lesson, but on this night I was again the king of the court and he was my pupil. One last lesson before the lights were turned off would be administered to the cocky almost King by the Legend of the air. I whispered something in his ear, and he laughed. His laughter was another invitation to bring it on. One day they will learn to stop challenging me.  The rain started falling again this time at a faster rate than before. Without hesitation I started dribbling and every move brought back a memory of a game winning shot. The mind is funny how it allows you a peak into your history to help you along when time has started robbing you of your abilities.  I remember the old folks saying that the mind is always willing, but there would come a time when the body will have had enough. That time came to visit me a  few years ago, but I still needed the game. She was my air and when she wasn’t around I couldn’t breathe.
And now having a basketball in my hands was like a body part I couldn’t live without.  I remember when the kid was born; there I was child in one hand and basketball in the next. The two loves of my life.  The baby had grown into this kid now wanting to challenge me on a court I had made famous as a teenager. Respect on the basketball court is earned every day, and past accomplishments are quickly forgotten. In this age of MTV and ESPN, new memories are created every day and the life cycle of a sports memory can sometimes last only a week until it’s replaced by the next highlight.  The adrenaline was pumping through me faster than I could process the rush.  I had to take my own best advice, and slow the moment down and allow the game to come to me.  This is how it felt like to be Jordan not knowing what you were about to do, but knowing it would be something spectacular. 

The kid picked me up at half court, and I was wearing him like a tight t-shirt I couldn’t get off.  He had matured and realized that defense was just as important as offense.  Our eyes were locked in combat, and we looked for clues for what the next move might be.  On the outside my face was a mask of stone, emotionless but inside my heart was smiling with joy at watching my son’s determination to beat me. One day he would beat me but not on this day.  With a burst of speed reminiscent of my younger days I went by him with nothing in sight but the basket. Four steps away from the basket I began my 
ascent, and it was as if I was scaling stairs two and three at a time.  At the apex of my ascent the joy of being blessed with a talent few possessed made me immediately sad that I wouldn’t be young forever but it was quickly replaced by gratitude that at an early age I found my passion and heeded its call to excellence.  The kid hadn’t given up on catching me, and I felt his presence a fraction of a second behind me as the ball slammed through the hoop. The impact of the dunk resounded through the court, and soon after I was earth bound again.  That one act of defiance would cost me some aches and pains in the next few days, but all the pain would be worth the trade off for the rush of excitement I had just experienced.

The kid strode towards me and with each stride he was becoming a man I would be proud to call my son. “Good game old man,” his cocky swagger still shone brightly.  We both knew that with each passing day his talent was growing and would soon eclipse mine.  I had gotten a lucky step on him which allowed me to beat him to the basket. “Still got a little game left in these old knees to take you anytime.”

He laughed again. It was the laugh of a young with his whole future in front of him.  All he had to do was grab it and steer it in the right direction.  My hands would be firmly on that steering wheel until I’m no longer needed, and he could take it on his own.

 
Dean Jean-Pierre
7:39pm 11/6/2005 (Date posted)

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