Sucker Punch By: Ethan Stern

Thanks Michael. “Thanks for everything you have done for me,” I quietly mention before breaking away from the huddle.

*** On June 1st (five days before the NBA finals), I went to my team practice. The practice facility was well-preserved. The floor was made of polished hardwood, the walls were as white as snowflakes, and their banners of the years the Chicago Bulls have won the NBA championship were inspiring to me. It smelled like sweat and burning rubber. The ball was as soft as a dog.

As I put up some threes, the coach calls us over and tells us that we need to begin practice. “Okay, the bench and the starters are going to play each other in a scrimmage, and the reserves will be working out in the gym. Got it?” coach explained. “Yes coach!” the team yelled.

We break up into our teams and the centers are waiting for the ball to be thrown into the air. Once the assistant coach tosses the ball, the two men jump as high as they can to tip the ball to their team.

Fortunately, we got the ball. As I take the ball up, I am face to face with Michael Jordan. I make a quick dribble to the left and strike to the right. He is still right in front of me, so I kick it out to Joseph for the three-pointer. He bangs the shot and now, we got 3 points on the board.

After 30 minutes of playing, the score is 40 to 35, we are winning. I get the ball once again at the three-point line and instead of passing it, I shoot the ball in Michael’s face. Swish! The ball splashes into the net.

I am unstoppable from every corner. I am the king of this court! Then, all of a sudden, my mouth automatically speaks the words, “Hey Michael, where’s Air Jordan?” I snickered.

At that point, I knew I messed up big time. When I get back on defense, I see Michael Jordan’s eyes filled with anger and determination.

He calls for and isolation so it is just a one-on-one. He first does a speedy crossover and I reach in to steal the ball from him. Then, he magically dribbles the ball behind his back and between the legs.

I embarrassedly stumbled to the floor, knowing that I had made a huge mistake. But he was not done yet. He sprints to the basket and throws down a 360, between the legs dunk.

Everybody was frozen in place, dumbfounded. I took a glance over my shoulder, just to see Michael Jordan walking over to me while sticking his tongue out and celebrating.

“You shouldn't have done that,” he scolded. Out of nowhere, I see a flying fist coming right at me.

*** That was the last time I would ever trash talked Michael Jordan.

Thanks Michael. “Thanks for the support,” I quietly note before Michael calls me over.

“Hey Steve, instead of me shooting the game-winning three-pointer, I want you to shoot it. So, I'm going to pass it to you once I get the ball, got it?” Michael explained. “Got it!” I agreed.

I run over to my spot and wait for the game to resume with 5.8 seconds remaining. Once the referee blows the whistle, I see Michael cut to the ball and snatch it from the inbound pass.

I then sprint over to the three-point line, trying to beat the man guarding me. Michael passes the basketball to me. The crowd starts counting down. “3! 2! 1!” they chant.

I catch the basketball and turn my body. I lock onto the basket and shoot up a prayer. Buzzzzzzzzz! The sound is loud enough for the world to hear. The time expires and the ball becomes an airplane, arriving to its destination.

Swoosh! It hits nothing but net.

“The Chicago Bulls are your 1997 NBA champions!” the announcer yells.

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