The tired old ballplayer turned his back to the basket and nudged his posterior into his opponent. He raised his hand to demand the ball. The point guard lobbed it up high and he reached for it. One dribble. Two dribble. He picked up the ball, took a step back and faked up. He got his opponent from his feet. His man was in the air. He leaned into him and released the ball. Whistle. The ball arched through the air and nicked the front of the rim. He was going to the line to shoot two. He lumbered to the line, hanging his arms at his sides. He had been there before. He stood at the line anticipating the ball. The referee gave him a slow bounce pass. He spun the ball in his hands three times, muttered something to himself, took two dribbles with both hands and lined the ball up, and released. Swish. He stepped forward and prefunctorily slapped the hands of his teammates positioned to either side of the line. Same routine. Bounce pass. Spin. Dribble. Align. Shoot. The ball hit the front of the rim. It hit the back of the rim. Bodies were banging in the post, jockeying for rebounding position. The ball spun forward. One more tap on the front of the rim and down through the net.
An opposing player picked up the ball and scurried quickly to the baseline. He hurled the ball to midcourt where it was batted down. Screams and yells of delight echoed throughout the arena. Players, media and team executives stormed the court. The players were jumping up and down, waving towels and already donning their championship caps. Everyone was caught up in the moment. As pandamonium was breaking loose, the point guard turned and looked at the old ballplayer. He was kneeling on the ground, crumpled up in a ball, one hand clutching his chest. The point guard wanted to go share in the moment of overwhelming joy for the old veteran who had waited so long for his title. He figured the old ballplayer was beside himself and didn’t know how to handle the emotion of the moment after so many years of futile struggle. He approached him and put his arm over the old ballplayer’s back. He then realized that it wasn’t joy. The old ballplayer wasn’t moving. His hand then dropped to his side and he completely collapsed onto the free throw line. The point guard was stunned. He screamed for paramedics. They came rushing to the line with the gurney. It was too late. The old ballplayer wasn’t going to make it. Yet, as the gurney left the court, the point guard believed he could see the old ballplayer’s lips slightly turned up at the corners.