Fifteen Years Ago
Bangalore City, Karnataka State
Mrs Sujata Kumar was incredulous.
“Isn’t it cool, Mom?” asked Lokesh.
Mrs Kumar sighed. “It’s nice, son. But please, let’s try not to do this from next time. For your mom’s sake.”
She was holding her son’s school uniform. Only it wasn’t the wonderfully smooth, clean, perfectly washed white shirt she’d given him at the beginning of the day. It was now dirty, soiled, and had something written on the back in big, bold letters.
“Great,” she thought. “I can officially give up on meeting my friends today. I have to wash this cursed shirt now.”
Mrs. Kumar was perfectly aware of why her son was so obsessed with the game of basketball. It was four years ago. Mr. Rakesh Kumar, her husband, and Lokesh’s father, used to live with his family in Houston, Texas. He had received NBA game tickets from a friend, and decided to take his family along. Six year old Lokesh was absolutely mesmerized by the game. It was a playoffs match. The Houston Spacewalkers were facing elimination. NBA legend Terry Parker, who had been a loyal player to the franchise, had to face a humiliating defeat in the hands of the Las Vegas Decks. The Spacewalkers were eliminated. Everyone was furious with Parker for his failure. Except for Lokesh.
Terry Parker walked behind all his teammates out of the venue. His team refused to have anything to do with him. They were contemplating which team to join and maximize their chances at a championship. Houston clearly wasn’t the place. Nobody noticed that Parker had posted 40 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists (1) in the loss. Nobody acknowledged the effort. The defeat was that painful.
Lokesh ran up to Parker. “Sir! Sir! Can we take a picture? Please?”
Parker, who was distraught by the loss, felt a warm feeling in his heart for this kid. “Of course, kid. Let’s do it.”
The picture still lay in the albums of the family. Lokesh, grinning widely, was wearing a tiny NASA T-Shirt. Parker’s jersey was visible. The back of his jersey could be seen reflected in the glass windows of the arena behind them.
Unknown to anyone, Parker had been contemplating suicide until that moment. A small act of admiration and innocence of the child had removed such thoughts. Parker spent his remaining career in Houston. But, he could never win a championship. People widely accepted Parker as an NBA legend. He was a great scorer, defender, and playmaker. He was a real franchise talent, very competitive, intense, and confident. He radiated the pride and charisma of being the team’s best player. But, his name was etched in history as a legend who could never, ever, win it all.
Mrs. Kumar spent hours scrubbing the shirt. The mark would never leave! The blasted, stubborn little thing!
“LOKESH!” she screamed. “WHY IN THE BLAZES DID YOU USE A PERMANENT MARKER!?”
Eventually, she gave up. There were plenty of white shirts available in the market. They’d have to do. The make-believe jersey of her son could not be worn to school anymore, unless she wanted a free ticket to the principal’s office.
Suddenly, her phone rang. It was her friend Mrs. Reddy. They chatted for a long time about work, husbands, vegetable prices and finally, the topic reached their kids.
“This Lokesh…” sighed Mrs. Kumar. “I don’t know how to handle the boy. He does nothing but watch and research basketball all day! His books are sitting in a corner gathering dust! Now he wants us to buy him a ball so he can practice!”
“Listen here, Sujata,” said Mrs. Reddy. “I’m scared for Lokesh. I’m scared that someday, he’s going to rebel against you saying he wants to be a basketball player or something!”
“My husband worries about that too. Sports have their importance in life. But at the end of the day, it’s just entertainment. You can’t expect sports to get you three square meals a day…”
“Exactly,” said Mrs. Reddy.
“Listen, she went on. “All this talk that kids should follow their passion is humbug. It’s a stupid notion conceived by foreigners. Kids are supposed to study, excel, compete, and succeed! They must create a future! Even our reputations as parents are at stake! Imagine we end up raising failures! We’ll lose all respect!”
Mrs. Kumar was silent.
“Tell your husband,” said Mrs. Reddy. “Tell him. My brother’s son used to keep rambling about how he was passionate about writing and wanted to be a famous author. You know what my brother did? He beat him every day! With a long stick! How would writing earn money and respect! What nonsense! We want the best for our kids. We want them to succeed! Finally, you know what happened to the boy? He’s now a successful I.T Professional with a software job in a multi-national company! Without the stick, the boy would never be happy and successful!”
“So what should we do?” asked Mrs. Kumar.
“You must shut his stupid blathering and get him into academics,” answered Mrs Reddy.
“You must absolutely dissociate him from basketball!”
1. Points, rebounds, and assists are three of the many statistics in basketball. Rebounds are how many missed shots off the rim/backboard you’ve caught. Assists are how many times you’ve helped a teammate score.