Stranded at 35,000 feet above ground, moving farther and farther away from home, a basketball player recollects his journey. A new life is ahead of him.
The situation presented in this short story is purely fictional. Most of the names and the facts however are based on reality.
Alan was on the bench again…Behind him, thousands of fans were screaming furiously, at top of their lungs one word that meant everything to him: Gauchos!
With sweaty palms and a high heart rate, Alan waved the towel around supporting his teammates on the floor. He wasn’t playing although his college team needed some fresh players to energize the offense. It was already the second extra period the Gauchos played that evening after two long 20-minute halves. But it didn’t matter anymore: Alan was pumped up, cheerleading his team from the sidelines, jumping out of his seat every time a teammate scored a basket.
“Go Eric…GO!” Alan screamed suddenly as a small 19-year-old boy was trying to make his way through the bodies of giants in front of him. Somehow, the boy managed to fool them all and score a crucial two-pointer that tied the game once more. “YEAHHHHHHH” Alan yelled. “That’s right little man, this is how you scoooore,” the bench player said to the guard extending his arm for a high-five. He never got it but that didn’t matter also. He turned to the crowd and made a command: “Louder, louder!” He sensed familiarity in his movements, in his gestures, in his speech. Everything was a perpetual deja-vu. “Have I done this before? Is this even real?” Alan wondered facing the wild crowd. “Maybe in a different reality,” a voice whispered to him gently. In front of him, the fans were chanting:
He looked behind him and saw his team on the other side of the court. For a moment, he even saw himself playing, forcing the other team’s big man to play the mid-range, outside his comfort zone.
“You know coach, maybe you won’t let me play tonight but someday you will be forced to put me on the starting five. I’m gonna work my butt off and I won’t stop till I’m on that basketball court,” Alan said to his coach smiling.
The coach smiled back: “You already are on that court, fool. Look at you.” The six-foot-eight player turned and realized his coach was right. He was indeed defending the other team’s big man who had the ball. The opponent saw Alan fazed, spun around him and went for the basket. The clock was ticking and the team’s announcer was preparing to call it a night. The ground below Alan was shaking.
Ladies and gentlemen, keep you seatbelts fastened. We are flying through a turbulent area.
The captain announced through the plane’s speakers.
Alan opened his eyes and looked through the small window on his left. His seat was trembling and outside giants white clouds were covering the horizon. He wasn’t in college anymore. He was 22 and a new chapter in his life was about to unfold, far away from his mother’s tacos, into the unknown. His NBA dream was on hold but like in his freshman year, when he barely caught the first team, he wasn’t willing to give up just yet. “
“I will work my butt of to get noticed,” Alan whispered at the clouds as if they were his witnesses. Like many college players, he went undrafted; nobody called his name on Draft night. Too small, too slow, too fat, the scouts said and dismissed him. How can a six-foot-eight play four or five? Everybody asked him that. And 260 pounds? Ha…
He weighed 293 as a NCAA sophomore before he had a discussion with his coach. “You’re a tremendous player and you’re killing right now and you’re weighing 293 pounds. Imagine how good you could be at 260,” the coach said to him. Alan thought of that and made a decision: no more tacos, just healthy food and cardio. The result? 17.6 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game averaged in his college career.
The trembling stopped. Time seemed frozen and Alan closed his eyes… again. It was almost as space and time had contracted: he could smell his mother’s tacos and he could see himself as a child playing with a basketball.
Hey, don’t dribble the basketball, they have signatures on them. You can’t dribble these.
A tall man with a moustache yelled at Alan.
It was his father and he was in his office, trying to tame that oval, orange ball.
“Hey, hey,” his father caught him trying to get the basketball off his small hands. That ball was special: it was signed by the Phoenix Suns and several other organizations.
“Look at what I’ve got,” the tall man said showing to his son another basketball without signatures. This time, the father was prepared.
The boy quickly snatched it out of his big hands and started dribbling. He got out of the office into a giant hall that wasn’t lighted properly. He could hear a faint cry coming from a distance. As he dribbled more and more, he could hear the cry clearer and louder. Little Alan stopped. In front of him, a giant man in a dark suit and sneakers rested his head low in the palm of his hands. He was sitting on a fancy chair and didn’t notice the boy. Alan asked him:
Why are you crying?
Suddenly, a loud voice filled the entire hall. “We’ve already started our descent procedure into Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. If you want to adjust your watch, it is 10:22 AM in Shanghai now. The weather is sunny and the temperature is 77 degrees Fahrenheit. We wish you a pleasant stay in Shanghai and we hope to see you again very soon. On behalf of all our crew, we thank you for choosing our company as your airline today.”
Alan opened his eyes and took a quick glance. He could see the city and his new life in China. He remembered his dream and the man in the dark suit crying. That man remind him of Christian Wood, the basketball player who cried after his name went uncalled in Brooklyn.
“No time to cry,” he whispered to the city of Shanghai through the small window. “
Time to move on and keep grinding…
Alan Williams is the real-life inspiration behind the main character of this story. He played for the Charlotte Hornets and Houston Rockets during the 2015 Summer League. He signed his first professional contract afterwards with the Qingdao DoubleStar of the CBA.
* CBS New York was the main source behind the real facts of this story.