Already, I'm hyped. Bass-thumping hip hop music, huge crowd screaming and seemingly on top of us--the hated rival school and visiting team. Our starting power forward sneaks in a dunk before the refs make their way onto the court (an often-ignored rule stated that any team dunking in warmups would earn a technical foul), much to our delight. Proud of my previous example of "slapping," I approach the basket, hoping to place it through the hoop like Wilt The Stilt did when the dunk was outlawed. My weak attempt, hindered greatly by my need to jump off two feet due to my inability to palm the ball, draws snickers from my teammates, but it's all good.
The place is just alive, and all ballplayers know this feeling. It's all good. I know I'll have no trouble with energy tonight. The floor feels extra springy, like a trampoline, and each catcall from the opponent's fans just feeds the fire.
As the customary second or third man off the bench, I'm used to playing with mostly second team guys like myself, but tonight is different. Coach puts me in immediately with the simple instructions, "Keep your man off the boards." I join the four starters and when the night is over, I play a hefty thirty-plus minutes of what is to be a three-overtime thriller.
I score three straight baskets in the second quarter, satisfying because I create my own offense with a one-dribble pullup jumper, a steal and layup, and an offensive rebound putback.
In the third quarter, my adrenaline is up like I am a scared fourth-grader in his first fight. Isolated on defense at the top of the key, I poke the ball away from the wannabe Allen Iverson. As the ball bounds into the backcourt, I leap and dive parallel to the floor as I save the ball on a twisting Hail Mary to my streaking teammate for an easy layup.
With the crowd going crazy and my teammates cheering me on, my bounce is evident as I sprint back on defense. On our next offense possession, I cut backdoor at the same time as my teammate shoots a midrange jumper. Feeling like Jordan, with the cursive Bulls uniform and patch of hair, stalking a missed free throw, I leap for the rebound, time it perfectly, and tip the ball in at what seems like rim level.
In the post-victory exuberation, I talk excitedly with my friend JP. "Dude," he says, "you coulda dunked that one!"
Little did I know that night that it may have been my best (and last?) chance to dunk...