Concrete is most definitely the superior surface for basketball. The thumping noise that it makes is a lot more mellow than on hardwood, where it echoes angrily. When a basketball bounces on concrete, it almost sounds as if it's a heartbeat.
Dwayne Lawrence laughs as he weaves his way around defenders. Everyone knows he loves streetball. He loves every aspect of it. The wind, the sun, the sense of community, even the concrete.
His friends once asked him why he laughs all the time when he plays. He replied that he just enjoyed the sport. His friends then joked that they could call him the Smiling Center. Dwayne told them that the name was already reserved. No one understood what he meant, but why argue with the biggest man on the basketball court?
It's been about five years since he graduated, and all Dwayne has been doing was working part-time and playing basketball.
Every time Dwayne hears that resounding beat, he just feels like smiling. He has no idea if it's even legal to be this happy.
Dwayne loves basketball. He loves everything about it. There is no aspect of basketball that he dislikes. But the best part?
No matter which direction he looks, whether it's up, down, left, or right, he can see the sky. The wide, wide sky. The endless, beautiful blue sky. No ceiling, no roof, nothing blocking his vision. Nothing looking down at him.
Dwayne knows he won't stop smiling any time soon.
. . .
The bouncing of the basketball on a hardwood floor is quite loud, but Alexander Song has gotten used to it. Instead of letting it echo around in his head, building pressure and nervousness, he lets it bounce off of him, energizing him.
After getting a sports scholarship to his favorite college basketball team, Alex basketball-ed his way through his life. He was drafted into the NBA on a moderately strong team, and after quite a bit of hard work, he was quickly onto the starting lineup.
Surprisingly, Alex had a hard time becoming a starter. Pro basketball had so many strong players, and Alex was very discouraged. It was nothing like in college, high school, and middle school.
The thought of middle school sends a shiver through Alex and he nearly loses the ball. He wonders if his old teammates have forgotten him. He knows he'll never forget that year. Chris, Dwayne, Colin, Spencer. They were all unforgettable.
Alex dashes back and forth, unable to swing the defenders. When he began his professional basketball career, Alex was unsettled. Everyone was so fast and agile. It felt like he was playing against a team of muscular, extra-fast Copelands.
He even recognized some players from middle school, like Fernando, who had unsurprisingly continued playing.
Even Fernando is so much stronger, thinks Alex, then he shakes his head, ridding himself of negativity. He's come to accept this. He now plays on equal footing with everyone. Basketball has not failed Alex, and he doubts it ever will.
After all, as long as Alex still plays basketball, he'll still forever be the King of the Court.
. . .
Christopher Miller wasn't sure why he signed up for this job. He's one of the most well-known mechanics at the NASA Glenn Research Center, so he was destined to be hunted down and dragged all the way down to Florida to help out.
Maybe I could have pretended to be sick? Yeah right. What kind of illness makes you unable to work for a whole month? Black death? COVID-19?
"Christopher, come over here for a second!" shouts one of the mechanics, the steam muffling his voice.
Chris gives him the stink eye, and the mechanic quickly fixes his mistake.
"Fine, Chris, can you come over here for a second?" the mechanic shouts more politely, although still very loud.
Chris jogs over and asks, "What's going on?"
"Oh . . . nothing much, just maintaining a spaceship. What about you?" the mechanic replies dryly.
"Alright, alright, I get it. What did you need me for?" Chris smirks.
"Well, one of the guys up top gave us the details for the launch. Y'know, the astronauts and stuff," the mechanic replies.
Chris is sure that the 'stuff' is probably something interesting, but for now, he's more interested in working on his project near the bottom of the left engine.
"Just take the paper," the mechanic groans, probably noticing Chris' bored attitude.
Chris grabs it and skims over the paper quickly, but something catches his eye. He glances back at the paper again and examines it carefully.
Something about the name of one of the astronauts is familiar, but Chris just can't figure out why.
. . .
"Mr. Richards," a kid asks, "Since we're all done with our work, can we watch the spaceship?"
Another kid joins in, "Spaceship! Spaceship!"
Colin Richards sighs dramatically and finally gives in. For the past ten minutes, the kids were asking him if he could show them the spaceship, and it was true that they did finish their classwork quickly.
Back in middle school, Colin would have never expected that he would become a Kindergarten teacher, but it wasn't a terrible job. The kids were nice, and the pay wasn't terrible. After breaking free from a very stressful middle school, Colin led a very unfulfilling high school life and majored in literature.
He wanted to do something cool but settled on a nicer, quieter lifestyle.
At least . . . it was quiet when the TV wasn't playing the launch of a space shuttle.
To the kids' anguish, Colin turns down the volume of the TV.
"Who are the astronauts?" asks one kid.
Colin replies, "I can search it up for you."
Colin doubts the names of the astronauts will interest him, but he googles it anyways.
. . .
"You can do it, Spence. Stop being nervous!" Gordon chuckles, throwing an arm around Spencer, "We're pioneers! We're the cream of the crop! We're the conquistadors!"
Spencer doubts that Gordon even understood anything that just came out of his mouth, considering Spencer doesn’t either.
"That's the third time you've said that in the past five minutes," Spencer responds, crossing his arms. The seat is moderately comfortable. Not the kind of soft that you could sleep in, but not as extremely hard either.
"All passengers, please place your seat belts on. We are experiencing some turbulence," Gabriel calls from the back, mimicking the voice of a flight attendant.
Spencer latches the seat belt on. He has no idea what it's called, but he's sure it's not a seat belt. After all, it basically latches him completely onto the chair.
"Ready for launch," says an actual robotic voice.
"T-minus 30 seconds until launch."
"T-minus five seconds until launch," Gabriel calls from the back again, and Spencer nearly freaks out.
"Shut up! I'm gonna get a heart attack!" Spencer growls. Spencer remembers preparing for this. I shouldn't be nervous. I can do this.
"T-minus 10 seconds until launch."
Spencer closes his eyes, mentally counting down the timer with the robotic voice, like a basketball scoreboard countdown.
Basketball? That's probably my favorite sport.
I wonder if my old teammates from middle school can see me.
Alex, the prodigy who helped shape the team.
Chris, the tall and skinny shooting guard.
Colin, the awesome, but nervous point guard.
Coach Jacob Miller, the wonderful coach.
The one who taught me . . .
. . . that anything is possible, as long as you're ready put in all the effort you have!
The room begins to vibrate, and Spencer feels the immense force already, slamming him into the chair. Gordon is screaming, but Spencer can’t tell if it’s a joke. Spencer wants to scream, too. It scares him. The launch scares him more than anything else in his life.
But after he thinks about all the amazing things and people that have pushed him to this point in time, he manages a smile.
I’m going to keep jumping higher and higher!
I could dunk yesterday . . . what’s next?