He was setting foot in America for the first time in his life. Although it was only the airport - the excitement of his opportunity was keeping him going despite the physically draining plane journey. As he walked through the airport looking for the exit to catch cab, he enjoyed how he was a stranger to all those around him. Back home, he was a legend who could not go anywhere without being stopped in the street and asked for an autograph. He was always asked for opinion about this and that. It was a reprieve for him to be given a little bit of breathing space. He finally felt like a normal person for the first time since he was in his late teens. He went past a group of young tourists chatting away excitedly and swore that he made eye contact with one of them. He smiled as that one member of the group seemed to recognize him, acknowledged him but did not seek him out. He sped up and walked briskly out through one of the exits. It was close to mid-morning and the place was buzzing already. So this was what America was like; he had always wondered how it would compare to home. He waved his hand out to hail a cab, which stopped and the driver hopped out to help him with his luggage.
"Damn it," he said to the cab driver.
"Sorry?" asked the driver.
"I think I stepped on gum," he replied, lifting his left foot and trying to peek under his new shoe.
"Welcome to America," the driver stated, "You're not from here. Where are you from? Australia?"
"No, no," he responded to the query, "England."
They got in the cab and the driver asked where he was going. He ruffled through his wallet and found the address for the hotel.
The driver was onto it, "Yeah, that's downtown. So what are you doing here?"
* * *
The crowd was on its feet as the game clock for the Euroleague Grand Final trickled into its final 60 seconds. He had been here before for the two previous seasons and the pressure was at the greatest for this third consecutive grand final. The score was tied and the ball was in his safe hands. He was regarded as the best floor general in Europe for his acute decision making, awareness, ball handling skills and sharp shooting. He knew that there was realistically two more possessions in this game and had to get the clock down by dribbling it out. If he could get the ball to one of his big men, the game would be over as long as he didn't give the other side enough time to try and tie the game again or even pull ahead. The next 10 seconds seemed to be more like 10 minutes. The photographers on the sideline were furiously snapping away; they knew that this was history in the making. One of his big men flashed across the baseline and cut to open space. One beautiful pass later and the finesse big man layed the ball in with ease and uncontested. It was a sweet feeling as his team took a 2 point lead. The other side called for a timeout.
"Stay back and make them shoot from outside," Coach told them all.
They came out of the timeout and did just that. The other side were lucky though as they missed a long range shot but grabbed the offensive rebound and converted a second chance opportunity. Less than 20 second left in the game. He knew that if he got the ball then he would likely be sent to the line. This time though, the foul never came.
"Make a move!" Coach yelled from the sideline.
He dribbled up the floor and the other team had sent their best defender on him. The other team either wanted to force timeout or ensure that it wasn't him who went to the free throw line. The much more athletic defender did bother him. The long arms and quick, nimble feet were there in front of him at his every move. He turned his back to the hoop and quickly glanced at the game clock. It was ticking down. 10, 9, 8 seconds. It was the time to make a move.
"Foul ref come on!" yelled a teammate as he spun and dribbled around his defender, who had caught a bit of his non-dribbling hand.
He caught his defender off guard and had a small window of opportunity for the shot. He hesitated for too long and missed it. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another of the opposition running towards him. At that moment he 'knew' where one of his own would be open for the shot. With one hand and with all of his might, he bounce passed the ball to 'where' his teammates would be. He didn't know - he only 'felt' where he would be. That was why he was the best point guard in the game. The ball made it into his teammate's hands. The ball left those hands quickly and the ball swished through for 3 points as the buzzer sounded.
"We did it! We did it!" Coach shouted out as the bench ran onto the floor to huddle around the shooter.
The next moment was hysteria as everyone celebrated the 89-86 win. It was hard fought and it was a tense moment. He high fived his coach before acknowledging the guys that they had just beaten. He raised his arms in the air to acknowledge the fans who were in song and dance in the stands. The atmosphere rivalled that of football and he felt that it was even sweeter. He knew that it was sweeter because he had a few friends in the English Premier League; these fans were more loyal and passionate than most football fans he had seen.
"Yes..." he muttered out-of-breathe.
He raised one fist in the air. He was a three-time champion, the king of Europe and one the best team in the Euroleague. Life was sweet.