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Authors: Amar'e Stoudemire

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BOOK: Double Team
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W
e were lined up at midcourt for the opening tip. The kid lined up across from me wasn't as tall as I was, but you never knew what kind of springs someone had until you saw them jump. The ref still wasn't ready, so I reached across and shook the kid's hand.

“Amar'e,” I said.

“Joe,” he said. “Good luck.”

“Yeah, you too,” I said. “But not too much!”

Jammer's team was in the other semifinal game, but these guys must've been good, too, to make it this far. We were about to find out how good. The ref threw the ball straight up and I won it cleanly, tipping it back to Deuce. That was our first highlight of the game, and for
a while, it looked like it might be our last. Joe and his teammates could all shoot, handle the ball, and defend. They were really good at doubling down on whoever had the ball and forcing a turnover.

We got the ball, already down 4–2 in what felt like the blink of an eye. There was a problem with the game clock, and we huddled up while the ref was over at the scorer's table. “Man,” I said, “we have got to stop falling behind early like this.”

“Anyone see any weaknesses?” said Deuce. “Any, I don't know, anything?”

“I think I might have one,” said Mike.

It was surprising because Mike would play until the sun went down, but he wasn't exactly known for breaking down the
X
's and
O
's.

“Yeah?” I said.

“The baseline is wide open,” he said.

It's something we'd worked on at practice. I guess he noticed because he was down low most of the time.

“All right,” I said. “Let's run something.”

We broke the huddle with a plan in mind. We ran a little pick play along the baseline for Deuce, because he
was the fastest and the smallest. He squeezed through the space between Mike and the end line. He had to tiptoe to stay in bounds. But when he came out the other side, he was wide open.

I was out by the free throw line to keep Joe too far away to help out, and in case Deuce needed to kick it out. He didn't. He laid it up and in for the easy score. It felt good to run a play we'd practiced, where we were all involved.

It didn't last. They closed up the baseline on our next possession. And Deuce's man blew by him on theirs. The first time he'd done that, I thought maybe it was a fluke. But, nope, his guy was faster than him. I hated that, because speed was Deuce's thing.

It was a big problem because he scored on him like four or five times. That's no joke when the game is to eleven. And it made Deuce really want the ball. I understood. I mean, if a guy keeps scoring on you, you want to score back. It's, like, a pride thing, and you need to have some pride on the court.

But if a guy is faster than you on offense, you can bet he'll be faster on defense, too. He kept cutting Deuce off
and slapping at the ball and everything else. For a little guy, he was a big pain. Eventually, I had to start bringing the ball up the court as a point forward. And of course Deuce started calling for it right away.

Finally, it looked like he had some space so I gave it to him. Turnover. I tried to at least get Mike involved after that. He scored a few points down low, but it wasn't really enough.

It was a struggle to keep my energy up because I hadn't had any lunch. The more I thought about it, and the hungrier I got, the more that seemed like a dumb prank. And now I had to carry the load on an empty stomach.

I took it strong to the hoop on game point, mostly because I didn't think I had the energy to play much longer. I steamrolled Joe, and the ref probably could've called an offensive foul. He'd swallowed his whistle at about 9–9, though. I think he might've missed lunch, too.

No one shook hands when this one was over. We were in the finals, but I just headed straight off the court
and for the bleachers. I wanted to see if maybe Junior had some food in the car.

I spotted Junior in the second row. He had a good spot to watch the game and was giving me a thumbs-up. And then that dude Omar cut me off.

“Hey, Amar'e,” he said.

“Hey, Omar,” I said. But I was really thinking:
I don't know who you are, and I don't want to be rude, but I think my brother is eating a candy bar, and it won't last long.

“Good game,” said Omar.

“Thanks.” I leaned to the left to look around him — he had some broad shoulders — and saw Junior's mouth moving. It was definitely a candy bar.

“You showed a little edge at the end there,” he said.

“Uh-huh, okay,” I said. I was pretty distracted.

“Even ran some point forward.”

“Yeah. Point. Forward. Right.”

Omar looked over his shoulder to try to see what I was looking at. “I guess I'll let you go,” he said, taking a step to the side.

“Later,” I said, zipping past.

By the time I got to Junior, the candy bar was only a memory and a wrapper.

“Got anything else?” I said.

“Might have half a sandwich left in the car.”

“I'll take it!” I said.

Junior dug in his pocket for his keys. As I reached out to grab them, he said, “I saw you talking to Overtime. Pretty cool.”

“To who?” I said, already picturing that sandwich.

“You know, Omar ‘Overtime' Tanner,” he said.

Holy Finger Roll! That's why Omar looked so familiar! Overtime was a hoops legend around here. I hit rewind on my brain. What had I said to him?

“I can't believe I just said ‘Later' to Overtime Tanner!” I said.

Junior chuckled and said, “What did he want?”

I scanned the crowd but didn't see Overtime.

“You know what? I don't even know.”

I
wolfed down the half sandwich. It was one of those piled-high deli deals, and it definitely hit the spot. Then I caught up with Mike and Deuce on my way back from the parking lot, and we headed over to the scorer's table to find out who we were playing in the championship game. We didn't even have to ask. Jammer's team arrived at the same time, wondering who they were playing.

We exchanged a round of “S'up?” and “Hey” with them. Everyone was trying to act cool. We'd seen them play, and they'd probably seen us play, too. But we didn't want to give anything away with our reactions.

“No surprise there,” I said as soon as we walked away.

“Yeah, I wouldn't want to play a team that had beaten those guys anyway,” said Mike.

“Uh,
we're
supposed to be that team,” said Deuce.

“Oh, yeah.”

“We got 'em,” I said. “No problem.”

What was I supposed to say? “Let's give up now”? But I definitely had my doubts. Jammer was legit, and they'd blown the other team away in the game we watched. And my team, well, we'd kind of battled through our games. Plus, as my dad would say, we weren't exactly firing on all cylinders.

“STAT, get me involved early this time,” said Deuce.

He had a really serious look on his face, and I had to smile. He'd been more harm than help most of the day, but you had to love that confidence. It reminded me why we were friends, dumb pranks and missed shots and all. He must've been thinking the same thing, because he smiled back.

“I'll try, D,” I said.

Some guy with a clipboard walked up to us and said, “Tip-off is in fifteen minutes, Court Number One.”

I headed back over to Junior to let him know. Mike
and Deuce came with me, and it was kind of cool. We were in the finals, and pretty much everyone seemed to know it. People were pointing and whispering and sort of sizing us up as we walked by.

Jammer's team was good, but for the next fifteen minutes it was still 0–0. We had as good a shot as they did. And our chances were a thousand percent better than the teams that had already been eliminated — especially since
we'd
eliminated half of them.

We bumped into Big Man from that second team. He told us they'd made it to the third-place game, and he was on his way to meet up with the twins to get ready.

“Good luck out there,” he said. I could tell he meant it. He wanted us to win because that would mean he'd been eliminated by the best team.

It felt good to know that people were pulling for us. The bad feelings from the last few games were fading away fast. Nothing cures hurt pride like feeling like you own the place, or at least half of it. And just before we reached the bleachers, we ran into someone else who had our back. Dougie had showed up to cheer us on.

“Sorry I'm late, had to do chores,” he said.

“No problem, man,” said Mike. “You're just in time.”

“Yeah?” said Dougie, launching into that complicated handshake of his.

“Yeah,” said Mike, matching him move for move. “We're in the finals!”

“Court One in, like, ten minutes,” said Deuce, and he did the handshake, too.

What the heck?
I thought, extending my hand. I tried to remember the sequence. It was, like, bump, up, down, finger-grab, and maybe a headstand in there somewhere. Dougie slowed it down a little, and I got it. You know, more or less.

“Go get 'em!” he said.

By the time we reached my big brother, we didn't really need to tell him anything. He already had a good view of Court 1, and he'd find out who we were playing once the game started up in five minutes. Dougie grabbed a seat next to him, and Mike and Deuce said hi. They hadn't seen him since before the trip to New York. Then we hustled over to the court to stretch out.

On the way, I saw Omar — I mean Overtime. He was at his usual spot, courtside. He nodded at me, and I
nodded back. I tried to get a little extra in my nod, like:
I know I nodded back before, but this time I know who you are.
But I'm not sure how much of that came through. There's only so much you can ask your chin to say.

Now that I knew who he was, it made me a little nervous to know he was watching. Deuce followed my eyes.

“That guy's back,” he said.

“That's Overtime Tanner,” I said.

“No way!” Deuce and Mike said at the same time.

“Yuh-huh,” I said. “Heard he scored eighty points in a high-school game once.”

“I heard it was a hundred,” said Mike.

Jammer and his teammates were already on the court, just shooting lazy jumpers at one end. We headed down to the other end and shot a few of our own. We looked back over our shoulders and talked about how we'd match up with them. We didn't even need to say who had Jammer. I knew it was me. I swallowed hard and sank a fifteen-footer.

A few minutes later, we heard a whistle at midcourt. I wasn't the only one feeling some nerves, because Deuce just about jumped out of his sneakers on the first
tweet
.

“What? It was loud,” he said.

We'd had this ref a few times already. He called a pretty good game. He was wearing a new ref's outfit that looked like it had just come out of the box. Even his shiny silver whistle looked new.

“That's one official-looking official,” I said as we headed toward center court.

“Should we have changed or something?” said Mike, looking down at his sweaty, smudged T-shirt.

“They gave us these shirts,” said Deuce. “If they wanted us to change, they would've given us new ones.”

“Nah, this is good,” I said. “No one's gonna want to defend you in that thing anyway!”

“All right, let's go,” said the ref.

As soon as the joking stopped, the nerves set in. I lined up across from Jammer for the opening jump. I nodded at him and he nodded at me. This guy was pretty big up close. He bent his knees, and I bent mine. We were both coiled up like snakes ready to strike.

“You ready?” said the ref, the ball in his hand.

We both nodded without taking our eyes off the ball.

He threw it straight up into the afternoon sun.

BOOK: Double Team
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