Jawo’s Last Game

- Advertisement -

He sat on the bench at the Coliseum, feeling a bit cold, so different from the times he would preside in the center of the huddle, saying “this is you,” as he manhandled the round colored magnets on the coach’s board. He sat alone now, the other players would no longer congregate to him like before.  Just one of the old towel boys still stayed close, to minister to whatever need he had, who still remembered the old championships, the barreling lay-up drives, the three-point shots made with that expression of almost disdain on his face, and the games that were all but lost but were still won.

    They said it was just a publicity stunt to hire him again at this stage, when he was so old, so as to add some luster to this new team to the league.  It didn’t matter to him, he wanted that one more chance to take the stage, to get to the hardcourt and to hear his name chanted by the crowd. The days saw him riding the bench but to him just getting there seemed to be privilege enough.  He had never regretted playing this game and at least he was still close to it.  As legend had it, your name had to have just three syllables to really belong to the teams he led.  He had such a stocky build before, but age has a way of thinning your chest, making your arms smaller and revealing your narrow shoulders.  His flowing hair was now thin and cut short, his uniform was no longer tight against muscles but stood loose against his skin. They were still short, though, he could not bring himself to wear the loose-fitting ones everyone wore now. For some reason, he shivered a bit and stretched his limbs, not looking at anywhere or anything in particular, seemingly just looking inwards and thinking, just quiet. It was so different just watching games now from the sidelines, no longer directing the flow of the game or any players. They had come to the last play with barely three seconds left and with the other team still leading by a point.  His teammates’ shooting hands were arctic cold or butterfingers-clumsy, with all their plays seemingly read in advance by their opponents, with obvious fumbles, loose balls and avoidable steals. The newbie Coach’s eyes were desperate with the desire to get a win and he had to think of some way to do so. He stole a quick glance at his oldest player and dug deep to craft a play, thinking to make use of the old collective memories these young cagers had on what the aged warrior could do, and gestured for him to come to the huddle.   He drew the diagram of the play on the board and saw the disbelief on his players’ faces.

    The buzzer rang announcing a substitution and he came in to the hardwood. He had to stretch again, coming from the bench and his muscles felt all stiff.  He took a look at the hoop and made its measure, confidently standing near the three-point line, with his arms at his waist, betraying his intentions.  The crowd which would chant his name before, was suddenly silent, not knowing what to expect, not daring to hope he could still do anything now and not wanting to be ashamed of their childhood hero.  He remembered the huddle and the lack of faith in his teammates’ expressions, how they shuffled their feet, how their voices were so weak when they joined hands before leaving the huddle, barely mouthing their fighting cheer, and how the Coach held his shoulder, pressing it once before he left the bench. And with no words exchanged, they just had to look into each other’s eyes in order to read the final play as devised between them.

    The inbound pass came in and everyone was surprised that he still had some quickness left to lose his man and receive it.  And then he stopped just short of the three-point line, near the top of the key, his arms with a young man’s quickness bringing up the ball to draw aim at the basket.  As the opposing team saw him take his familiar pose to shoot, to a man, they left their positions to stop him from being a hero one more time, as they had seen him do so often in the past.

    As they rushed at him pell-mell, arms reaching up and out, he paused with his shot then suddenly rifled a pass to a teammate underneath the basket, who almost fumbled it, not expecting the assist, also believing a three-point shot was really on the way, and it was all he could do to clumsily hoist the ball up in order to make an ugly but good basket just in time.

Jawo2

    As the buzzer sounded, the oldest player in the league heard his name being chanted again, starting  from the seats that were almost in the rafters, his crowd of adoring and roaring fans from the sweaty masses, who could only see him as a small figure from afar but adored him nonetheless,  drowning the sound of everything else, and moving all the way down to the expensive seats at the front row, the voices merging, no longer distinguishable between rich or poor, and people watching at their television sets, at home and in barangay halls,  jumped and also delivered  communal shouts, as his name also rang out through the dark streets of the city. 

    He had only seen it done before but he now put his hands below his ears in order to make them raise the roof gesture, he would see the young ones with the cheering growing even louder. He had engineered his usual miracle and won the game again for his team. As he basked in the glory of the moment, he knew in his heart that it would not last, but inwardly rejoiced that an old man still got to have his day one more time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Esmeraldo C. Amistad
Esmeraldo C. Amistad

Esmer Amistad is a retired corporate lawyer.  He is 57 years old with a wife and four children. For now, he bides his time reading, sleeping, and watching the world go by.

JUST IN

More Stories