A bead of sweat trickled down his face, but it did not bother him. 1 hour 47 minutes ago he had entered the arena. 57minutes and 57 seconds of putting his body on the line had passed tonight. But it didn't bother him in the least. He had been doing this almost every alternate night for 9 whole months. His legs felt like they would fall out from under him. But playing through pain was something he had learnt when he was a child.
Standing at a height of barely six feet he was amongst the shortest players on the battlefield. And now hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath, he appeared even smaller in comparison. He looked up at his opponents and then his team-mates. All of them were tired, yet more determined than ever before, because this was it. This was the final showdown. As he looked up, the season flashed before his eyes.
It had started badly for them, losing thirteen of their first seventeen games. But a firing from the coach turned it all around. He remembered it like it was yesterday. The reigning champions had arrived, and slaughtered them. It was a brutal loss, one that would be etched in his memory forever. He had been in this league for almost six years now and yet he had never been beaten so badly. He remember the coach's quiet look of anger that day, and when he went home he watched on the telly as one expert after another told him their team was finished. The next morning the coach lambasted the team for the lack of effort. But that wasn't all. After practise he had been pulled aside. He was told that he was a disgrace, that he was a pathetic leader, that he would never ever win the championship. He remembered every single word, each one that had pierced his heart like a dagger. That night before he slept he promised himself that he would never ever let his coach or his team down again.
Then came the revival. Experts were looking for a hand of God. Suddenly, he had picked up his game. His numbers were up by almost double, and he began playing like a man possessed. And as they began winning game after game, his confidence began rubbing off on his team-mates. But while his team-mates celebrated every shot, every win, he would not. All he could think abouth those six words - "you will never win the championship".
The season went past and what was initially a 4-13 record ended 56-26. The world was talking about him. The number six on his back was adorning many young children's backs as well. Tens of thousands of fans' happiness ebbed and flowed with the points he scored. The time for the "Most Valuable Player" award came. To absolutely no one's surprise, he won unanimously. He still remembered the words he spoke when he was handed the award. "I'd like to thank everybody in my team, my family and my fans for their support. But I promise you, that I'm not done yet. I will not rest, until we have the championshiop in our hands in front of you." Those words were played and relayed all across the world.
The playoffs began and they swept past the first two opponents with ease. And while, his team-mates celebrated he just waited. He knew the next two weeks of his life was what he had lived for. All his life he had wanted to be in the Conference finals, and then the finals. Here was his chance. But then, disaster struck. Two minutes into the first game of the conference finals, a hard foul had forced him to land on his knee. Badly twisted, doctors had told him he was done for the season. He had spent that night, alone in the hospital room, crying himself to sleep. He watched his team lose the first three games of the series and looked likely to be swept. Without him, the team was lost and bereft of the energy that had brought them thus far. His doctor had warned him that playing in the next two weeks could ruin his knee for the rest of his career. He could walk, but had not tried running at his doctor's orders. But the night of the third loss he made a decision. He would man up and play through every ounce of pain. He decided that he could not lie there and leave his team-mates high and dry. He would be able to live with not playing again. But he would not be able to live with coming so close and ending so far. His coach was shocked to see him at practise, but saw the passion and desire in his eyes. He knew there would be no convincing him. The comeback that followed was one of epic proportions, one that will be talked of for all eternity. No team had ever come back from 3 games down, but with him and his bad knee inspiring him and his team they fought hard and fulled off victory after victory. Soon the conference title was theirs and yet, he would not celebrate. His mind was focussed on only one thing. And nothing could shake his focus.
The first six games of the finals came and went. The home team in each game clinching the win. The series was very close. All games being won by a combined 12 points. Thw world was watching in awe. Their opponents were the reigning champions, the team that had humiliated them at the season's beginning. But he would not be denied. The three games they had won had been unbelievable. They kept coming back from ridiculously bad positions and kept fighting their way to victory. Tonight was no different. They had been 30 points down at half-time. The commentators insisted the game was dead and buried. The dressing room had been quiet when he entered. The coach looked mournfully up at him. What followed was something that had never happened before. Before his coach could utter a word, he began talking. He spoke to each team-mate about how important he was. He reminded them of how they had made a habit of beating the odds. And then he said, "You are my team. I refuse to let you down. When we step out, I want you to be the most confident set of people there can be. We are not leaving this arena without that trophy." His coach was stunned. Normally he was a very quiet player who kept to himself focussing on the task at hand. But he had evolved. He couldn't keep the smile from emerging. Six years, and finally this young man had become the leader. Shot after shot fell in as the commentators were beside themselves in shock and awe. Steal after steal, block after block and suddenly they had tied the game. Overtime led to another tie. And now 4 minutes and 57 seconds later, there they were. Scores tied. They had the inbound. There was only time for one shot this period. Everyone knew who would take it. But would he make it? If he didn't they would be out there for five more minutes. If he did he would have what he had wanted so badly.
The whistles of the referees sounded. He knew the play like the back of his hand. His team-mates, his coach, the fans were all nervous, but not he. He knew he would make it. This would be his moment. Those three seconds felt like an eternity. He ran, caught the ball and shot. An audible gasp echoed around him as the crowd held their breath. And like bomb the crowd went from silence to hysteria. He had made it. His team-mates were all over him. And finally, after a long long season, he smiled as a tear rolled down his cheek. His coach was watching, smiling proudly, like a father would at his son. As he lifted the trophy with his coach, he felt a huge weight slide off his shoulders, and he enjoyed every last second of it.
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