My Life as a Machine: Basketball Machine

I never knew what it meant to be a machine. Yes, writing was easy. You do data collection and read and read and write and grab dictionaries like Holy Grails, but being a machine with a writer’s appetite was never easy for me.

I couldn’t write anything seriously. When I did, I returned later–either hours, days or even years later–to find the information I wrote was mostly garbage. I hesitated, and as a machine, that was my downfall.

I think my days as a machine became utterly exposed when I played basketball in high school. I was nothing more than a short pointguard with the ability to pass the ball and play defense. I learned how to time the shots, but I still hesitated. My body knew everything it needed to succeed in basketball, but my brain was just of a different caliber. It never trusted my body, and in all honesty, sometimes, my mind didn’t trust my brain either. I was a star, nonetheless, and I seldomly admitted to being one when people decided to challenge me just for “the props”.

I loved basketball. For a machine, I was disgraceful. I didn’t dance basketball like Candace Parker, or fly like a bird like Michael Jordan. I had skill, but as a machine, I was set apart from everyone else because of who I was. I remained simply, well, a machine, now that I look back at those days.

Somehow, as one of the only machines in the group, I began to see why I was important and what made me special  as a basketball player. My inclination for improvement was faster than the other girls. They played for years before I started, and before I knew it, I was surpassing them in most aspects of efficient basketball playing. It was getting over my brain that made me a liability sometimes.

My senior year in high school, I was finally on varsity, a captain, and the rest of the world seemed to understand that. I had an average team, but our individual talents were far higher than our teamwork. The varsity coach was this man who came from our rival school. He looked like a football player and coached like a football coach. We would spot him scratching his crotch and ambling around with this strut that said everything but basketball. He coached us like a pack of girls, and in the game of basketball, it was a way of coaching that you did not do, girls or guys. The best part of his attitude was that he had an attitude towards us.

Everything we did wasn’t good enough, no matter his fake compliments. I was a machine, so I could see it clearly. It was such a problem not to trust the varsity coach, but I figured that I could help lead the team. After all, basketball was still basketball despite the coaching ability.

My real coach was Coach Ray. He was a father to me. He taught me how to play basketball, or moreso, the basics of basketball, and he gave me the room to learn things on my own. I think he was more of a father to me than my biological father, and so, our relationship was one I cherished even to this day. He put his trust into me, even when I made mistakes. Unlike the varsity coach, he was this impenetrable man of values and understandings. He knew so much, I always knew he would forever be called “Coach” in my book.

Coach Ray normally went to my games if he could, even though he was only the junior varsity coach. He always had something to say to me about my game or my brain. He could always tell when I wasn’t in a good mood because my game became something different. Angered, I was frantic and wild, but I had unending control of the ball and I was at least a fraction faster than my fastest sprint. Unfortunately, at the maddening levels of aggression, I forgot about others, including my teammates, and I passed the ball less, missed the shots, or hurt someone from my pure evil tunnel vision. Somehow, Coach Ray would bring me back to earth and tell me to calm down.

One game in particular, I felt the adrenaline hit me like a round block. It was during a pre-season tournament, and I made a bad pass to one teammate. The opponent intercepted the pass and went up for the lay-up. I tried to redeem myself by going up and trying to block the lay-up, but lo and behold, the shot went in and the referee called a foul on me. I was so angry with myself for making two dumb mistakes in two seconds. The second we were all going back down the court, I wanted out and the varsity coach pulled me onto the bench. I sat the farthest away and sulked. I was just so mad! How did I make two errors like that? What was wrong with me?

I sat out the rest of the game, and when we walked towards the bus to trek home, Coach Ray wouldn’t even talk to me. “I’m disappointed in you,” he told me, and walked ahead of me. I was struck with such shame, I didn’t even bother asking him why.

Later on, when we returned to school, I finally spoke to Coach Ray. He told me that I let the team down. Even if I did make a mistake, I shouldn’t take myself out of the game. My team needed me the most then, and I wasn’t there.

“But I’m not the whole team,” I protested, trying to get him to see my point.

He shook his head. “No, you’re not the whole team,” he began, “but like how a machine works, you are a very important gear. You make a up a special part of the team.”

When he said those words, I felt my mouth go dry and my eyes water. I don’t know what hit home for me when he said that. At that moment, I stopped thinking of myself as a part of the basketball team and started to think of myself as a special part of the team. I never realized that other people thought I was special, and for someone to say that to me so seriously, I was surprised.

Coach Ray placed his hand on my shoulder and smiled. “Why are you crying?” he inquired, his voice softening.

“I just…I never thought of myself as that,” I stammered, trying my best to wipe away the tears. I felt at that time period I was pretty worthless, and every mistake I made was closer to losing something, losing a piece of respect or a morsel of faith in me from others.

“Well, you are,” he reassured me.

I think that conversation gave me a whole different outlook on everything, and made me realize that I’m a better machine than I give myself credit. Did anyone else feel like I did? I didn’t know, and if I wanted to know, I could ask. Somehow, I still felt unable to express what I really thought. In the end, I realized how I expressed myself didn’t always matter, especially on the basketball court. I only needed to believe in myself and hope that everyone on my team would follow suit.

Being a machine already set me apart from people. It was being special that drove me. If I wasn’t special, then who was special and how did they become special? I was on the road to finding out.

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