The Sounds Back Home

by William Huang
Art by Joy Song
Issue: Nostos (Winter 2019)

The sound of chopping feet, the pounding of ball, the smooth swish accompanied by the buzzer. He breathes in the harmonies that he called home for years. The game clock, the fancy shoes, the smooth basketball, the annoying double rims, the rivals, the dumb refs, the coach, the teammates. He lets his eyes feast on the art of the jump shot, once again marveling the beauty encapsulated in one, fluid motion. He doesn’t quite know why, but the game is beautiful.


The others doubted him at first. They took a good look at his height, and he immediately became a bench-warmer. In those days, he knew the plastic terrain of the bench better than the back of his hand. But they realized height was just a number, just like one, two, three. He made sure he taught them their numbers. There were one, two, three seconds left in the game. There were one, two, three people guarding him. And count one, two, three, and he was gone, just having scored the game-winner. They understood in time.


In his third year, there was no more need to prove himself. After leading his team to unparalleled heights, there was no need to teach more numbers, no need to embarrass his rival, no need to prove his coach wrong. He had no obligations to his coach, his team, or his opponents; this year was his year, and he could do anything he wanted. This was his year to dance, to fly, to do all the things he had dreamed of.


The first game of the year was his chance to make a statement. Unstoppable, unguardable. This is my year. He shot each shot, passed each pass, and dribbled each dribble ferociously. This is the year legends are made, he thought as he stepped onto the court. He had yearned for this chance to shine more than anything. After this year, his name would send chills down their bones. 


The familiar buzzer signaled the start of the game. His teammate tipped the ball, and with one bounce, the ball landed right in his hands. He dribbled up the court, smiling at that thought.


He was like a fire, ablaze with passion. His flames spread in every direction, and he made sure he burst through the little cracks within the defense. If isolated against just one defender, he torched them with his superior handle of the ball. If others came to help, he fired a pass to the open man, easy bucket. Opposing coaches developed migraines because of his presence.


With almost double the opponents’ points and time dwindling down, his coach wanted to rest him, the star player. Garbage minutes, he said. The team could keep this lead without his help. But after some thought, he realized he had no obligations. This is my year. He would stay out there and pound them relentlessly. Unstoppable, unguardable.


Once more, he dribbled up the court like he’d done countless times before. His opponent, tasked with guarding the unguardable, was understandably beaten and worn out. This is the year legends are made. No obligations.


He dribbled a crossover to see if his opponent would take the bait. His opponent swallowed it, like a clueless fish. He grinned. He dribbled a crossover, and after the set up, added a smooth behind-the-back move to easily get by his defender. He was going to score. Defenders moved in. He whizzed by. A final defender stood between him and the basket. This is the year legends are made. He jumped to score anyway.


They say that time slows down for the skilled player. Time crawled while he was in the air. This was a meaningless possession; the game was in the bag. This is my year. Unstoppable, unguardable. He would score on him anyway. No obligations.


But life had no obligations either.


In one, two, three seconds, he landed on his knee wrong. He clutched his knee, not in agony, but in bitterness and sorrow. One, two, three, life said. Times up. 


A collective gasp escaped from the crowd. With some help, he hobbled off of the floor. In mere moments, he was no longer thinking about what could happen, but what could have been. 


His coach walked up to him. His teammates asked if he was ok. His friends asked if he needed help. Though he appreciated the camaraderie, he wasn’t in the mood. They asked if it hurt, but he shook his head. Nothing hurt as much as regret.


He continued to ponder his life as he hobbled from home to school, school to practice, and practice to home. Why do I still go to practice? he mused.


On the bench once more, he admires the game of basketball. The complexity—the plays, the shooting form, the screens, the help defense. The simplicity—ball in the basket. The beauty—the simple and the complex, a seamless game that brings human beings together.


Feet chopping. Basketballs swishing. Coaches yelling. He appreciates the game more than ever. He awaits eagerly for his return to the game that is so much more than a game.