Break Free

Sweat inches down my forehead as I concentrate solely on the orange ball bouncing a few meters away. I am playing in a basketball league match, single elimination, as part of a larger tournament that encompasses all the schools in the district. I spare a quick glance at my jersey. Emblazoned on the front are the words "Sunrise High". Sunrise, our team's school, and I, our team's captain.

45-14.

Tch. We're down thirty. Things aren't looking good.

I turn my attention back to the game. Our point guard dribbles a second longer before passing to me. Catching the ball, I sprint for the net, only to be double-teamed by two of the opposing players. I think fast and fake a shot before passing to an open teammate. Just as he prepares for a shot himself, the other team's tall center jumps to block. Reacting with expert timing, my teammate jumps backwards, giving him the angle he needs to go for a 3-pointer. He releases in midair and falls to the ground. However, he gets up smiling, for the ball fell cleanly through the hoop.

What an incredible fadeaway. And a three at that. I hear the usual "nice teamwork" from someone near me.

...

As if any of it matters. We're all doomed regardless.

Eclipse High. That is the team of players, or rather, monsters, our guys are up against. Each of them ranges from 6' 0'' to 6' 7'' in height. Their shadows alone are enough to intimidate a team. As if that weren't enough, they have the strength to jump up to dunking level, and the power to jam the ball in ferociously. There is nothing our defense can do in retaliation. Time and time again we're rendered powerless. Despite this, we kept playing the game, as is proper.

Running at a thundering pace, a member of Eclipse easily breaks past three of our guys, and, nearing the hoop, jumps into the air. I jump after him, but realize gravity is pulling me back down, whereas my adversary continues to rise. How? Is he a bird? Compared to him, I feel shackled to the ground. A slight shake emanates from the ground as the ball is slammed through the goal.

Pointless. Truly, basketball is a sport that favors the tall. Diligence can only get one so far.

47-17.

Why?

53-17.

If we practice so hard, why do we keep losing?

58-19.

It's not fair. I...my team is sick of this. We don't want to lose anymore. I don't want to lose anymore.

66-19.

No more.

69-19.

NO. MORE.

71-19.

"NO MORE!" I yell, suddenly. "No more losing! Do ya hear me team? We are going to win if it takes every last ounce of our energy! These guys are nothing! We can beat them, easy! GOT IT?" Slowly, I realize just how loud my outburst was. Everyone, including the audience, stopped and stared at me, completely silent. Just as I was about to apologize, however, I hear a "Yeah!" from one of my teammates. Then another. Soon, all of my team, a second ago disheartened, are shouting their approval. Even some of the quieter ones on the bench give me a thumbs up.

I smile, full of life. My team also seems re-energized. Cool and confident, I ready myself to continue playing. We are going to win.

76-25.

That day, we all played our hardest.

84-27.

We shared our love for the game of basketball.

100-35.

We never backed down.

105-41.

That day, none of us had any regrets.

I hear the referee's whistle blow, and look up at the scoreboard in anticipation, the first time I had checked it since my little speech.

"Final score: 114-43!" The announcement is made, it echoes across the stadium. Team Sunrise and Team Eclipse proceed to shake hands, and leave soon afterward. Sure, Team Sunrise had lost the game, fair and square, but for some reason, they left feeling as if they had won. Indeed, we left, ready for practice the very next day.

...

I left, a changed person.