The Stoning of Stephan

Striding through the hushed corridors, his agile legs­ glided on the newly polished linoleum. Every step towards the locker room brought with it a rush of memories and excitement from the good ol’ days. The days when nothing else mattered but the practices, the drills and the game. At six foot two inches, he was a force to be reckoned with. And though some might consider him intimidating at first, his size always brought on challenges by lesser men who dreamt of “slaying a giant”. For all of his brute strength, when he opened his mouth a stream of gentleness and inspiration flowed.

He was a quiet anomaly aware of his self-worth; he knew he possessed the gift. He’d spent countless hours and years grinding through the politics of basketball, annihilating stereotypes assigned to him. An African American male from a not-so-upscale neighborhood, playing basketball was cliché. He was aware that the battle was far from over when it came to changing people’s perceptions…but for now, he was on his way to do the impossible. As his lengthy steps brought him to the portal where light was seeping beneath the crack in the doorway, a new chapter was beginning to unfold.

It was a challenging year filled with the press, over-ambitious parents and an administration anxious to hold on to their newly acquired fame. The team dominated the league in superhuman fashion. Parents had already signed their kids’multi-million dollar contracts to the NBA, while reality was still catching up to their momentum. 30 wins and 3 losses would have been a fantastic year for any rookie head coach but with the loss of the championship game, the defeated cries drowned out the gratitude of a successful year. His name, synonymous with failure, was brought up to the school board as the mob demanded a sacrifice. At first administration stood with him offering support, however, as the influential mob leader’s voice grew louder they began to cower.

When he was called to the stand, the board was nothing like he expected, white collar men armed with cell phones and an agenda. Members questioned his judgement, and every call made was challenged by short-sighted spectators. Men who could not hold a candle to the rim were quick in blowing out any flicker that illuminated great coaching. He was caught between a rock and a hard place; either hold firm to his principles or satisfy the demands of bloated expectations. Inflated postulations had already begin creating rifts in the foundation of good high school basketball. Like a sheep, he stood in silence before his accusers having the prudence that  once he made clear his principles, the inevitable was bound to happen.

He felt the first stone; it came swiftly. And although it was expected, a soft uncontrolled grunt escaped his lips. Disciplined reflex kicked in and he clenched his teeth waiting for the second rock. Number two left him doubled-over in agony, inwardly wrenching like an earthworm on the sidewalk. He had hoped to be  given enough time to catch his breath but Lady Luck had long escaped through the backdoor and Father Time was running at her heels. He was left standing alone, striped to the bare bone of his character. His reputation hung in the balance, and his good name spoken like acid on the tongue. The third and final blow rocked him to his knees, as a bleating cry came from the deepest part of his soul; everything faded to black. His lifeless body, stepped over by reporters moving on to their next breaking story, laid strewn across the floor. For all of his dreams and hard-work, he had become just another casualty of the game.

He laid cold for a long time, lost in translation, hovering between what use to be and what went wrong. Fuzzy images of the inner city concrete courts with broken rims floated through his unconscious mind. He heard a light chuckle, and his eyelids fluttered lazily searching the darkness to find the source. The silhouette of a little boy missing two point shots wafted behind his lids. The kid didn’t seem to mind the ball orbiting the rim and rolling off to the side; he took pure joy in chasing down the runaway planet. He was loving the game simply because he could play it. With the ball lifted above his head, the child took another shot aiming at all of the possibilities. Shifting his aching form, squinting at the lit room he slowly exhaled . . . to be continue.