My heart was beating so hard I could feel it in my throat. Blood pounding in rushes so strong my ears flared red from the pulse. The clock was ticking down and the ball was moving through out stretched hands faster than the eye could follow. Bodies weaving in a dance set in motion by muscle memory and endless hours of practice.
I glanced at the scoreboard. It was going to be close. Up by five with under two minutes to play.
My team defending well but the ball is just moving too fast. Passed back to the outside. A shot goes up. Damn. Three pointer from the corner baseline. Only up by two.
March has always been the beginning of a season of renewal. The shackles of winter cast off by the warmth of a forgotten sun. Renewal of the trees as the leaves burst forth, renewal of the flowers as their buds scent the air, renewal of the taste of lawnmower emissions on steaks left beside the grill for a half a second too long and an over zealous neighbour.
Renewal of old rivalries.
It had started almost as a joke. My son, the Captain has always had a love for basketball. From his very first Fisher-Price plastic basketball net to the Reebok all black street hoop currently buried under a mountain of snow beside the driveway. He loves it in a way that baffles me.
I could have easily been one of those parents that drilled the things they loved into my kids. Instead, I let them find the things they love and just let them run with it. It might explain why my eleven year old daughter’s hair is turquoise after it was almost black with blonde highlights.
Back up the court and a turnover just past half. My team scrambling back to defend but a step too slow and inches behind as the easy lay up drops. Tie game.
The Captain and I were in the driveway shooting baskets for what felt like hours as he laid out the entire March Madness bracket system. I was really only half paying attention. I was much more focused on the fact I think I had dropped two of the three thousand shots it felt like I had taken through the mesh hoop.
“Who do you think will win?” The Captain asked as he rebounded yet another shot I had missed.
“Who is projected to go first overall in the NBA draft?” I asked as I watched him lay the ball up easily and catch his own rebound.
“Kemba Walker from the university of Connecticut.” The Captain answered in the same matter of fact tone he usually reserves for sports statistics. His knowledge of them baffles me at times. He can tell me the name of the kicker that kicked the winning field goal in the 1996 Grey Cup but can’t remember to put deodorant on after gym class.
“That’s my pick to win the whole thing.” I said with a half a smile. My knowledge of college basketball was limited to the sports highlights I watched over the top of a coffee mug walking out the door on the way to work in the morning.
“Wanna bet?” The Captain asked.
Inbound ball slips through the point guards hands and is shuttled to a streaking power forward who rockets into the air and slams the ball through the hoop. My team looks at each other in search of support and finds it lacking. Thirty-five seconds to play and down by a basket.
“Absolutely,” I answered “What are the stakes?”
“You picked a team so I will do the same. Whoever’s team makes it the farthest wins.” The Captain replied as he drained another long shot. The ball skipped out of my reach and rolled into the street. I stepped toward the ball but the Captain had already picked it up and was launching it toward the rim. It slipped through the hoop and whispered through the mesh.
“What are we playing for?” I asked.
“If I win, you have to clean my room,” The Captain replied with a sardonic smile “If you win, I will clean any room you want.”
“Deal,” I laughed as I plucked the ball from him and lofted it toward the net. It missed by a mile.
The clock ticks can be heard over the hushed crowd. Bodies fly up the court. Open hands are outstretched. Less than twenty seconds now. The defence seems impenetrable. The point guard dribbles hard to his left around a pick and sees the open lane. He drives his foot forward but glances at the time. He pulls back outside the three-point line. Pulls up. Shoots.
It was a tense few days of watching box scores and the non stop barrage of basketball on the television. I could have cared less who won.
The truth is, it was nice to bond with my son over something. As parents , we spend so much time working or doing laundry or getting groceries or worrying over bills that we forget that our kids see us doing everything but paying attention to them. The time they are kids is so fleeting that it slips by in a half a heartbeat. For those couple of weeks in March it was a constant conversation about who and what was happening in the tournament. A barrage of insults and jibes at each other that parents often forget bond you to your kids in ways we long for when they move on in their lives.
The Captain’s team, Duke University lost in the Final Four negating the chance of our teams playing each other in the final game but by that point neither of us cared. We watched the final game together as Kemba Walker led UConn to a national title on his path to being picked first overall in the draft.
Nothing but net.
I can’t say I am proud of it but I sat outside on the step laughing the entire time my son cleaned my truck. It’s always referred to as my office so I figured it was as good a room as any. I wasn’t laughing because he was cleaning out rancid coffee cups or sweaty clothes.
I was laughing because I had already cleaned his room.