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Overtime

1

The Last Shot

7

Once nimble fingers grazed the silk sheets as an old man slowly opened his eyes, struggling against the weight of time that burdened his weary body. The morning light pierced through the half-drawn curtains, illuminating the room where the echoes of his past resided. This old man was once a basketball player, now forgotten by the world that once celebrated his every move.

 

As he lay in bed, he found solace in the recesses of his mind, traversing the memories of a glorious past. There was a time when his name resonated in every corner of the basketball world, when his dazzling skills and unmatched charisma made him a global sensation. Crowds would roar, fans would chant, and the world would witness the artistry that flowed through his veins.

 

But hubris, the bane of his existence, had cast a dark shadow over his illustrious career. Driven by an insatiable thirst for titles and recognition, he hopped from team to team, his ambitions eclipsing the value of loyalty. He used his charisma and charm to manipulate his way into favorable situations, and left burned bridges in his wake as he did so.

 

Those who had once called themselves his friends and family had grown distant, their hearts hardened by how he alienated them through his constant and single-minded pursuit of fleeting basketball glory. Even the need for marriage and family was swept by the wayside as he lived, ate, and breathed basketball way more than his inner circle could do or withstand. The Machiavellian tactics that had propelled him to the top had exacted a hefty toll on his personal life. As long as he succeeded, the adoration continued, but the fans did not forget his cutthroat ways, and whenever he lost, the resentment that had bubbled under resurfaced in the form of the fans piling immeasurable amounts of ridicule and scorn onto him and his legacy.

 

It wasn’t long until he was left stranded on a desolate island of regret, his joints long since gone, his body worn out, and his wealth of basketball knowledge deemed unnecessary by others around him due to the baggage he carried along with it.

 

In his prime, he had believed that his relentless pursuit of glory would secure him a place in the hallowed halls of the Basketball Hall of Fame. But fate had conspired against him, as those whose throats he metaphorically slit still had their voices, and used them to speak their stories towards those with the power to immortalize his name.

 

Standing at the gates of greatness and forever denied entry was the price he knew that he had to pay for his ambition, but there was yet an even bigger toll he had to carry for the rest of his life.

 

Several years after his final game, he sought to carry his basketball knowledge, experience and talents wherever he could: whether it was training, broadcasting, or coaching, he approached everyone he could.

 

Because of his reputation, his offers were declined.

 

It was as if he was chewed up and spit out by the basketball world, all for the crime for wanting more.

 

And thus, the years piled upon him. Now, confined to the sprawling mansion that stood as a monument to his former glory, he spent his days in solitude. The opulence that once brought him joy now served as a hollow reminder of the price he had paid for his ambition. The walls echoed with the laughter of past victories and the tears of broken relationships, serving as constant companions in his solitary existence.

 

No longer surrounded by the throngs of adoring fans, he had become a forgotten relic, relegated to the annals of a bygone era. The world had moved on, leaving him behind to bear the weight of his mistakes and the consequences of his hubris.

 

As he rose from his bed, the creaking of weary bones filled the room. He shuffled towards the window, peering out at the vast expanse of his estate. A single tear traced its way down his weathered cheek, carrying with it the weight of a thousand shattered dreams.

 

The old basketball player stood alone, forever confined to the shadows of his past, lost amidst the ruins of a career tainted by his own vices. The cheers had long faded, the glories had turned to dust, and all that remained was the bitter taste of regret. And so, he wandered through the empty corridors of his grand mansion, a forgotten star in a universe that had moved on without him.

 

***

 

One day, the old basketball player woke up, feeling surprisingly spry – the aches and pains he had become accustomed to had faded away to a memory.

 

He had long since grown tired of everything, wanting to be left alone in this desolate mansion filled with unfulfilled promises and the pieces of dreams broken by his reckless ambitions.

 

The aches and pains grew, the days grew harder and harder to get through…

 

…and now, he woke up feeling like this.

 

If this had happened before, he would be fearful – but it had been so long, and he had regretted so much that he would welcome his mortality like one would an old friend.

 

That was why he was now sitting on the edge of the bench, a bittersweet smile curving upon his weathered lips as he looked at the fresh pair sneakers beside him. Thoughts of gymnasiums past, once alive with the echoes of roaring crowds, echoed in his head as he stood solemnly in the midst of the basketball court in his spacious home. It had been a long time since he had stepped foot in this building, so long he had wallowed in the knowledge that for all the blood, sweat and tears he had given to the game, the game could also take it away.

 

He had expected there to be feelings of sorrow, regret, despair… but it seemed that the passage of time had washed even all of that away.

 

And now that he was here at the very end, ball in hand, there was only one thing he felt.

 

Being here felt right… it almost felt poetic.

 

Even if the only ones to witness him were ghosts and shadows of his tainted legacy, it didn’t matter to him.

 

Indeed, his attention now was focused onto his trembling hands even as he slowly laced up his shoes, each tug evoking a pang of pain that shot through his tired limbs. His body, once a well-oiled machine of athleticism, had been ravaged by time and the countless battles fought on the court. Yet, his love for the game burned bright within him, an eternal flame that refused to be extinguished.

 

The old player rose from the bench, his movements slow and deliberate. Each step felt like an arduous journey, but his determination did not waver. The ghosts of his former teammates seemed to whisper encouragement, replicas of their jerseys hanging on the walls like specters of a bygone era.

 

As he made his way towards the center of the court, the hardwood greeted him with a familiar embrace. The sound of his footsteps reverberated through the gymnasium, filling the void with echoes of past glories. Memories flooded his mind, transporting him back to the time when his body was agile, his reflexes razor-sharp, and his spirit unbreakable.

 

With a deep breath, he began to dribble the basketball, the rhythmic bounce filling the air like a familiar melody. The sound reminded him of the incident that brought him to national attention: a bullying scandal that forced his high school to throw out all but the tenth-grade students from their senior high sports teams.

 

And spearheading this initiative was the coach who brought his game to the next level in high school.

 

Nostalgia filled his mind as he recalled the man who molded him into the basketball superstar of his heyday – the man was single-minded in his pursuit of his ideal: to make the game of basketball as easy to play for his players as possible.

 

“Always remember that your goal in the game isn’t just to win, but to emerge from it better than you went in.”

 

He remembered his old coach’s words of wisdom, and his steadfastness as he refused to let the second and third years onto the team, not just to make a statement about bullying within athletic teams, but to make a statement about bullying in general.

 

His old coach had been scorned, ostracized, and condemned for it, but he stood firm with his decision. Funnily enough, it paid off in the strangest of ways: with tournament victories, and a berth in the nation’s most prestigious high school game, all with a team of freshmen.

 

The young man who had been his school’s basketball coach had lived under the motto that basketball wasn’t like life, it was life itself. Back then, when he was but a young man who wanted to prove himself and make a mark on the world with this sport, he had never truly understood what his old coach meant, and it was for this reason that not long after turning pro, he had a falling-out with his old coach.

 

He said a silent prayer for the man, who had been gone… how long ago had he been gone, now? He didn’t really know.

 

Even then, it wasn’t that important right now. Besides, there was still a game to play. Even at this age, he was sure his coach would have his hide if he didn’t treat this game properly and pay his due respects.

 

The ball danced between his weathered fingers, a testament to the skill that had once dazzled audiences worldwide. He weaved through imaginary defenders, executing moves that had once left his opponents in awe.

 

He welcomed every ache and pain his body gave him with every jump, every pivot, and every shot. But the pain was merely a backdrop to the symphony of his passion. As he spun and twisted, his aging muscles strained to recreate the artistry of his youth.

 

In his solitude, the pain in his body brought back the pain in his heart that he had to endure if he had to walk upon the path of the sport he loved.

 

As he sought to better himself on the court, so did he cut out parts that he deemed extraneous to the ultimate goal of winning a championship: first in the collegiate level, then at the professional level.

 

Indeed, success came to him, but it came with what a famous actor had once called ‘the fine print of fame’: not only was he paid ludicrous amounts of money to play and win championships for various professional teams, but he also earned just as much from endorsing products and wearing shoes designed for him by various companies.

 

He thought of the attendant tasks that came with the wealth and success as a small inconvenience that he had to withstand to stay on his course towards basketball immortality, and as such, he ended up disregarding the warning about the attendant price of fame.

 

The old player could not help it; back then, he was young, reckless, and the taste of success had proven too intoxicating that he had been resolute in tasting it once more, by any means necessary.

 

The ghosts and shadows, once mere spectators, seemed to come alive, their ethereal presence urging him on, and when he saw the sideline, he was momentarily struck with sorrow as he had paid for his single-minded pursuit of glory with the loss of the ultimate recognition of his talents and accomplishments – not the Hall of Fame, but rather, his career after professional basketball.

 

He continued to play, a flurry of memories played out in his mind's eye, a montage of triumphs and defeats. He recalled the exhilaration of hitting buzzer-beaters, the camaraderie of victory celebrations, and the heartache of missed opportunities. The court became a stage upon which he relived every emotion, pouring his heart and soul into each movement.

 

During that moment, the old player felt himself slowly but surely being emptied of every regret he had in his life. His broken body may have betrayed him, but his love for the game endured. With every fading jump shot and fading dribble, he honored the passion that had driven him all those years. He was no longer the star of the world's stage… but within the confines of the empty gymnasium, he was the center of his own universe, putting on a show for each of those regrets even as they slowly vanished into the ether.

 

The pain throughout his body slowly became unbearable even as he continued to play, completely uncaring about what happened to him afterward, even as his thoughts wandered towards his first love in high school, who had passed away before a pivotal game…

 

He could remember those games like it was yesterday.

 

The first one was shortly after when he had first kissed her, and he played in such a dominating fashion that scouts everywhere had begun to sing his praises.

 

However, it was at the final game where he felt her presence, even though she had already gone… it was as if her spirit had embraced him from behind, whispering honeyed words in his ear, about how she would never leave him, even as he sought to make his final performance a tribute to her life, and the relationship they shared that he had never made public, due to some things that were out of anyone’s control…

 

Although he had dedicated that game and the game after that towards her memory, the regret at never truly being able to bid her farewell still rankled at him, to the point where even if he had already made his peace with the world, there was still one thing left for him to do.

 

He needed to take that last shot, just to make his farewell to her well and final, beyond the shadow of any doubt.

 

The squeak of his sneakers echoed in the gym as he pivoted, spun on aching joints, and took a leap with aching legs.

 

As his feet left the ground, he felt his chest explode from within him as he forced his very last reserves of willpower to set his arms properly and shoot with proper form.

 

As he took his final shot, the ball arced gracefully through the air, sailing towards the basket with a whisper of hope.

 

The old player never got a chance to see the ball go through the net, because as soon as the ball left his hands, so did his soul leave his body.

 

He collapsed lifelessly onto the wooden floor.

 

It would take a few minutes before one of the caretakers saw him in that state and called for help, but by that time, it didn’t matter.

 

The young man in charge of maintaining the estate, who was born decades after this player’s final game, could not help but wonder why the old man had such a beatific expression on his face, even as he lay lifeless on the court that he had once graced many years ago.

 

***

 

The very next moment, he opened his eyes.

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