The Present Time
5 seconds left on the game clock.
Baltimore Barrage 140 – Houston Spacewalkers 139.
Lokesh Kumar’s vision was a blur. It was now that his team’s situation felt more like a predicament than ever. He was barely aware of his surroundings, courtesy of his exhausted senses refusing to overwork themselves into oblivion. But the game was not over yet. He had to play in the last five seconds of the game…
Five seconds left in the NBA Finals.
Five seconds separating eternal glory and an eternal walk of shame.
Five seconds left with the championship at stake!
Lokesh started to take deep, calming breaths. His senses slowly started to return to him. He was now aware of the crowd. The home crowd was now praying. It had to end. Eighty long years of the Houston Spacewalkers. Eighty long years of continuous disappointment. Regular season failures. Playoffs disasters. Players quitting on the team. Every time a promising player showed up, he’d force his way out. The Houston Spacewalkers were a joke of a basketball team. If one team was built for failure, it was the Houston Spacewalkers. No team had faced more ridicule, or more hate.
But tonight, the fans dared to hope. They dared to hope that eighty years of catastrophe would finally end. Tonight would be the end of their championship drought.
They dared to hope.
They dared to put their faith in one man.
The Indian Basketball God.
They stared longingly at Lokesh Kumar.
Lokesh was dimly aware of this. His ears slowly started to work. He could hear the commentators from their cubicle next to the court.
“Eighty years, ladies and gentlemen. Eighty years of debauched history. Will the Spacewalkers triumph over history tonight? Or will history repeat itself? Will the Gods smile on the…..”
“They just had to mention the history, didn’t they?” cursed Lokesh.
He could now hear the coach. “We’ve got to control the jump-ball at any cost! If Keon loses, go for the steal! If you can’t steal, then foul the opponent! It’s a one-point differential! They take the free throws! We then go in for a three-pointer! Listen, no inbound will be a stupid half-court throw! We start quickly from the other half!”
“Oh yeah, we don’t get to start from our half if we lose the jump ball and foul them” thought Lokesh. “Oh God…”
In the previous play, his teammate, Keon Jordan Jr, had tried to steal the ball from the opponents’ big man, Deandre Washington. Unfortunately, Washington held on tightly. The referees stopped play and called a jump-ball, but neither player wanted to let go of the ball. This led to a small pushing match between the two centers. The referees had quickly dispersed the fighters. They were now verifying if the actions of any player warranted an ejection, or simple technical fouls for both men.
“Keon will win the jump-ball. If not, Ichikawa, Beckham, or Reynolds will steal the ball!” yelled the coach.
He then turned towards Lokesh.
“You’ll be taking the last shot, Kumar.”
Somewhere, Lokesh knew this was coming. But then, the nerves hit him. The pressure of taking the last, potentially championship winning shot in the dying seconds of the NBA finals was starting to mess with Lokesh. He felt disoriented and could feel everything spinning around him.
He could hear the crowd’s voices. Imploring him. Pleading with him. Encouraging him…
“Come on, kid!”
“You’ve got this!”
His team got up and walked onto the court slowly. They knew the odds. They were feeling the terror of a close, tense game. The crowd cheered loudly.
Amidst the daze of the crowd’s noise, his coach’s voice, and the commentators’ voice, stressing about unnecessary history and games long gone, Lokesh thought he heard something else.
The voices of his past.
His entire life and all the people who doubted him flashed into his eyes and their voices resounded in his ears.
Sitting on his bench, in front of his home crowd, with his teammates, coach, and the fans relying on him and the championship at stake, Lokesh felt like he was being trampled. Like he was being bedraggled and harassed by the expectations.
“Oh God…” he thought. “Oh good God…”
As he was about to be completely overwhelmed and give in to the insanity, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
It was Keon Jordan Jr.
“I just got to win this jump, right?” he said. “Count on me, dude. Make it count”
Lokesh stared at Keon. He understood the unimaginable pressure Keon must be facing. His opponent was seven-foot two, and a vastly skilled, battle-hardened, veteran of a center.
He felt his own fears and insecurities melt away. His teammates had his back. They’d built themselves into a powerful team with a combination of hard work, talent, and team spirit.
“That’s right,” he thought. “This is a championship-caliber squad.”
“We’re a championship-caliber squad.”
“We made it to the NBA final because we’re a championship-caliber squad!”
Lokesh Kumar rose up from his seat to a deafening roar from the crowd. He saw his teammates grinning at him. He knew he was headed into the final battle, and he couldn’t be happier that he was going in with them.
What more did he need?
The opponents glared at them menacingly, talking trash. Each of them was a highly talented, all-star caliber player who left their old teams and joined each other. With one goal.
To win a championship.
They were a stacked super-team, the likes of which had never been seen in eighty years of the NBA.
Each of Lokesh’s teammates felt a jolt of inspiration as they saw him walk past them. They felt a rise in their intensity, energy and desire to win.
All by looking at his name and jersey
The crowd’s roar further exited Lokesh. He finally felt like himself again, ready to play basketball.
Ready to win.
“Our path to the NBA finals might have been an epitome of hell. That was beyond our control,” thought Lokesh.
“But our path out of this arena can’t be an epitome of hell was well.”
“This, is within our control.”
Both Keon and Deandre Washington ended up with technical fouls. Thankfully, and unfortunately, neither of them were ejected.
The referee walked up to both the big men with the ball. In his entire career as a referee, Drew Wilkins had never seen such a thrilling, closely contested finals game. He thanked all his lucky stars that he was officiating what was, in his opinion, one of the greatest games in NBA history.
“May the better team win!” he thought.
He then threw the ball up, and both the centers leapt up for the jump-ball.
Deandre’s lazy style had done nothing to build his vertical jump, and it was evident. Keon won the tip and tapped the ball to Kobayashi, who tapped it to Kobayashi. In the blink of an eye, Kobayashi slapped the ball to Lokesh, who caught the pass.
Lokesh’s eyes widened in pure terror as Josh Okongo poked the ball out of his massive hands.
He wasn’t giving up that easily!
“YES!” he bellowed, as the game clock went to 3 seconds and the NBA championship finally reached within his grasp.
At that moment, he was sure that they had won.
But, Lokesh wasn’t giving up either.
He ran after the ball at full throttle, jumped into the air, and caught it in his massive hands. But, the momentum had him flying out of the court, and into the crowd.
“YES! THAT’S OUT OF BOUNDS! WE’VE WON!” thought the Baltimore Barrage.
But, Josh saw that something was wrong. Suddenly, his blood turned cold.
“HOW IS HE STILL IN THE AIR?”
Lokesh seemed to levitate a few feet above the crowd. He got into his shooting form and took aim.
Josh ran towards Lokesh to stop the shot. As he ran, he remembered what Keon Jordan Jr had said about Lokesh in his press conference.
“Gravity, and the laws of physics. They just don’t work the same way on him!”
Lokesh was under the most pressure that could be thought up by human imagination, but surprisingly, his head was calm. As he took aim, he realized something.
“This angle, distance, and position. It’s exactly like shooting three pointers from the entry door!”
His muscle memory kicked in. he shot the ball with exactly the same angle, power, arc, and spin as he used while shooting from the door.
The punishment had turned out to be a blessing.
The ball sailed in the air like a projectile heading towards its destination. It seemed to move in slow motion as it blocked every light that was in its path to the basket like an eclipse, reflecting like an orb.
But then, the unimaginable happened.
The ball hit the rim, and it ricocheted off the hoop. It flew up in the air and hit the top of the backboard, and it flew up again.
Lokesh collapsed to his knees.
The spectators watched with bated breath, pounding hearts, and dry mouths.
Millions of eyes watched the ball as it seemed to hang in the air, making the moment seem like an eternity.