A was a machine, a beast of physicality unmoved by fatigue and excursion. At 15 years of age I could play basketball all day in the summer sun, feet beating to the concrete. To top it all off, my diet consisted of consistent fries, chips, and mountain dew. In the gym. I elevated from the floor. The ball was in my hand until I neared the rim, where I slammed it in. Superstar.
Somewhere in between then and now, I became shameless. The sweat of the mind replaced that of my pores. Words got better as reflexes weakened. There was much success, but the machine went unattended. Now, it creaks with rust and memories of past efficiency.
I have been drafted into Real Palestra, a club futsal team. My friend Dado plays for the squad and was able to score a spot for tonight's tournament. I step unto the futsal pitch Real Palestra, in a small Croatia town of only 150 people who all come to watch. This town is not so used to foreigners, especially those of darkened complexions, so eyes are constantly on me. I must perform.
Warm ups begin and I quickly see that the machine is a phantom. My mind is as slick as a can of oil, but months of work will be needed to get me physically ready. Every strike of the ball simply hurts. My feet drag across the concrete, and I can feel the injuries past activate in the knees. Ankles. And hip.
If I come off the bench tonight, I may die.
Real Palestra has some tough competition. Match after match I pace along the boundaries of the field as a concerned member of the team. It is the best I can do. It is the most I will do. I, thankfully, will not be playing tonight.
In between games we sit watching the other matches. Even this is tiring. It's cold and my shorts are short. I began to dose off when something pokes me in the back. Behind me is a curious little child who laughs and runs away when I turn to meet him. It looks like the town's children have taken a grand curiosity to me. One toddler will not take her eyes from me, but is too uncertain to come near. To her, I am a, "Chocolate Man". Gelato Ciocolato.
"My man, you are probably the first black person they have ever seen," says Dado. "You're making history here."
It's a good thing I didn't play a single game, otherwise they would have believed all black people to be flabby shadows of their formersevles. Real Palestra, no thanks to me, does not make it to the next round of tournament. A dream is gone, but just in time for food and drinks. The pain fades with every bite, and we began to share a laugh or two. I notice to my right that Petar, one of the team members, has started to speak with a group at the next table. The man keeps looking at me. He turns and says something to a woman, and everyone begins to laugh.
"What was that all about?!"
"Oh! It is nothing bad. Basically, this girl here has said that her dream is to sleep with a black guy. So he told her that, now may be her only chance!"
I didn't know people dreamed of such things.
I am an athletic allusion.
I walk unto the basketball court in Porec with a strut and demeanour of a true baller. A swagger of sorts. Tonight there is a 3 on 3 basketball tournament for Istria Porec, and although this is no small town, I am still uncommon to all. They ask where I am from, and I say Texas, USA, as if to strike fear of an ever dominate global presence of American basketball. Kobe. LeBron. DreamTeam. And now, Shameless.
I stretch, just like coach said all those years ago. The ball is in my hands. I dribble it on the ground thinking of those old days in the sun. I conjour every memory of a time when all I did was destroy competitors. I pose to shoot. I completely miss the basket. Air Ball. This is going to be a long night.
My mind remembers every technique. Guard the passing lane. Close our on the shooter. Box out for the rebound. Never have your back to the ball. Yet none of this matters. My body is 2 steps behind my thoughts, and sometimes 4 steps behind everyone else. The first game wasn't so bad, but as competition became harder I could no longer live the lie. I am an athletic allusion.
I fall to the floor again in a mad hustle for position, only to knock the ball out. My puffy underbelly gyrates as I shuffle defensively, but it's no good. Swish. Swish. These guys came to play, and they come to play all the time. Not every 3 years. It became clear that I'm out of shape. My body simply is not conditioned for this anymore. But my mind never leaves. Even with legs of led, I endure. I never give up. Not even in a battle for 5th place.
We finish 6th out of 10 teams, and I couldn't be happier. Getting knocked around, almost fighting with the other team just so you can hug it out and say "good game" at the end. Perhaps, It's not so much about being a superstar, but just about being who you are.