Becoming a passer

June 22, 2021 4:06 PM

a crown icon and the words "rising voices award winner"
A group of people playing basketball near Venice Beach, CA. Photo courtesy of Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash.

A group of people playing basketball near Venice Beach, CA. Photo courtesy of Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash.

“Leadership? Being reliable? How long will you be sitting on the back of the bus doing nothing and letting others take over?”

These are a few questions that I’ve asked myself many times before and still didn’t know the answer to. Being a leader has never been my thing, and it shows in a lot of things I do, like playing basketball.

I’ve been in love with this game ever since I was 6 years old, watching people like LeBron, Kobe and others. It was fun seeing those guys leading their teams, willing through pain and injuries to get to a simple goal, an NBA Championship. While all of this was fun to watch, I focused on a specific part of the game — passing. 

Even though it’s not the most influential part of basketball at first glance because one pass can be as simple as a hand-off to a better player, the art of being a passer is more complicated than it seems. The well-known players like Kobe, LeBron and Jordan are known for their greatness and their dominance from the beginning stages of their basketball careers respectively. But I was more invested in people like Rajon Rondo, Manu Ginobili and my favorite passers of all time, Jason Kidd and Jason Williams. These later players might not be as known as the former, but to me, passing is the most important part of basketball. 

And so it started: My love for playing basketball to become a passer. My friends cared more about being “scorers” and being known for being an offensive threat, which would be called a leader in basketball [or real life if you look at it in a different way]. Me, I rather make them shine while making my skills be known as a great passer. It reflected on my personality so much that it felt more comfortable than doing anything else on the court. This was until I went to my first year of high school in Dominican Republic.

In my first year there, we used to play this one team from a program next to the school. At first it was normal. They beat us a few times and so did we. But one day, with the game on the line, I had to make the decisive play to win the game. As I thought, I would pass my friend the ball all the way down the court to get a “free layup” … Or so we thought. 

The game is 20-20, each team one point away from a win to get the edge above the other team. Since this was the one of the last encounters we would have, both teams were going 1000% harder than usual. 

Both teams stood on the free throw line, waiting for the miss of one of the other team’s players. As the free throw went up and the miss rolled to me, I went up without worrying about my opponent — big mistake.

Not knowing that the other guy was going up even more fearlessly than I did, I thought that it was all good. Being careless in a stressful situation was my biggest weakness, both in basketball and in real life. My opponent overpowered me for the ball, and as I fell down I just saw my teammates just as surprised as me.

The other team scored the last point and I could only put my head down in disappointment. As we left the court, all I could do was listen to my teammates rant about the last play and the mistakes everyone made during the game. 

I couldn’t get that play out of my head. I was trying to move on as I was headed to my last class before leaving school, but it was stuck in my head for the whole day.

“Leadership? Being reliable? How long will you be sitting on the back of the bus doing nothing and letting others take over?”

These questions had come back to my head as I tried to watch highlights of my favorite passers to see if I could use more help with my passing, as I tend to think I do everything wrong when I make mistakes. I practiced my passing and the angles of that same court for a week because we played once every two weeks. I analyzed the court, videos and the way my friends played to prepare for that one game.

It was Friday of the week after all the preparations, and as the game started, it was intense. Everyone was prepared to leave it all on the court as neither team wanted to lose. I was just making sure I was prepared to not fall under pressure. Both teams went back and forth for a while. And yet again, the game was down to the wire, oddly enough.

It’s the exact same situation, 20-20, but this time, we had to stop the other team from scoring and not wait for a shot.

I asked to be the one to set the play up. Some of my friends were confident in me to do so … but others didn’t feel like I was “reliable enough.” I ignored everyone and I sent the tallest player on my team to the other side of the court. I placed the fastest three to defend the best scorers on the other team, and I took on the tallest two nearing the basket.

Yes, I played a 4v5 as the last possession to win. To people who actually know the sport this might seem crazy, but based on everyone’s tendencies on the court, it was the best decision.

I didn’t move too much as the play started. As the best scorer on the team shot the ball for the win, I made sure everyone was in position. The other team’s biggest mistake of all was putting the ball on their best scorer. This is because the guy wasn’t ready to have the fastest player on the team guarding him, as I put one of the more balanced players on him the whole game on purpose. As I went up for the rebound, unlike the last time, I went up like a brainless beast. I didn’t care who stood in my path; I was going in straight for my goal.

I got the rebound and as soon as I saw a body move towards me, I cocked the ball all the way down to my torso. The smells and the feel in the air of aggression within that rebound made everyone go quiet. As I threw the basketball with all the force I had left in my arms, two memories played in my head like they were one of my favorite songs. One of my favorite plays I’ve ever seen: Kevin Love throwing a full-court pass to LeBron James for a 3 to tie the game up back in 2017. And all the questions I had in my head, “Leadership? Being reliable? How long will you be sitting on the back of the bus doing nothing and letting others take over?”

They all found one answer as my friend scored the ball to win what would be one of my last games in that school, as I would move to the United States the next month.

I set the most accurate play to make sure my team was victorious at the end of the day.

This answer plays in my head till this day: “I don’t need to be the best on the team; I don’t need to be a leader; I don’t need to take over and be dominant like others do. My ability lies in making others shine, and if that’s what I’m good at … I’ll become the best ‘passer’ I can be.”

Featured articles: