Sport has a wonderful way of tugging at the heartstrings. Games are played with passion, supporters create an energy that transfers to the players and emotion can take centre-stage. Classic matches can be found in all corners of the world, in all arenas, in all sports. Manchester United, with Sheringham and Solskjaer, creating history in the 1999 Champions League Final. Liverpool coming from 3 goals down to beat AC Milan in the 2005 final. Great games. Heart stopping moments. Raw, unadulterated emotion. Fans of cricket and rugby can include their own examples of these defining moments - Jonny Wilkinson winning the Rugby World Cup for England with a last-gasp drop goal and recently Carlos Brathwaite cementing his place in history with an astonishing match-winning innings in the Cricket World Cup Final.
Why do these events matter today, though? What is the relevance of this walk down memory lane? The answer? Simply put, school under 13 basketball.
Basketball games can change in a second. Matches can be won, or lost, in the blink of an eye. For fans of this sport the roller coaster of emotions is never-ending. Today, in a basement in a school in Hawalli in Kuwait, another one of these memories was born. There was no David versus Goliath contest today. Both teams had serious ambitions and both teams had the players to win the ISACK Boys U13 Basketball Shield. TES v BSK
For some, this was a final game of the season. For some, this was a final game for TES. For one, this was the final game of a 7-year reign. An unbeaten season had given the players confidence but now was the crunch. The final. Would the emotion of the occasion inspire them to victory or lead them down the path of fear?
Think of all the clichéd Hollywood sports films. Think of the heroes that come good right at the end. Think of the fans, with chewed fingernails, with hearts pounding, with sweat pouring, with adrenaline pumping, cheering their team onto victory. Think of those players left empty-handed at the end, the heroes who fell at the last, the isolated figures with no words standing in disbelief. Think. Now think of Thursday 28th April 2016 - a day that will live long in the memory of those sports fans lucky enough to be at FSIS in Hawalli.
What started out as simple game of basketball between two rivals finished as a classic Hollywood Oscar winner. No-one could have written this script.
The game started at a frantic pace with BSK taking the early lead with a couple of smart baskets. TES looked controlled and passed the ball confidently, swinging the ball accurately from player to player and keeping possession well. However, the BSK defence proved strong and the TES players struggled to find their range, with Basil and Evan unfortunate. As the first period progressed BSK took more of the opportunities that came their way and moved into a 7-0 lead. Good defence from both teams kept the score low and the quarter finished with no further change, TES unlucky not to score.
The second quarter started and TES brought on Owain. Although not immediate, this move inspired TES and they finally got themselves on the scoreboard with Owain grabbing a basket from open play. A foul in the process also gave him a free-throw but this was unsuccessful. An energised TES team now started to flow a little more and Basil quickly doubled the TES score with a decisive drive and basket. The confidence was now there and the quarter became an even battle. BSK still looked strong on the break though, and powerful bursts kept them in front of the rejuvenated TES boys. The quarter finished with the score at 16-10, in BSK’s favour. This was a much better 10 minute period from TES but they still had a lot of work to do. Could they stage a comeback and end the season on a high?
The third quarter started and BSK maintained their grip on the game. The foul count started to rise and the TES boys had to be careful as they tried to protect their basket. This was not easy and a number of rebounds lead to nervous times in the TES camp - and on the parents’ bench! Some player rotation saw Evan and Basil take a protective rest but Andreas, Jack and Cameron maintained their work-rates and kept the scoreboard ticking over in TES’s favour. As the quarter progressed, BSK struggled to impose their game and TES clawed their way back to reduce the deficit to only 2 points - 18-20.
The nerves were jangling now on the TES supporters’ bench. Could the boys really turn this game around? Would BSK lose after building up such a lead. The best scriptwriters could be heard in their offices dreaming up possible scenarios. Which Hollywood leading man would play Mr Leaver in the movie? Could 7 years in charge of sport end with his greatest triumph? This was shaping up to be one of the best matches ever seen at TES. What a story this could be!
The final 10 minutes started and both teams came out hard, as expected. TES were only 2 points down and worked hard to find an opening. After some cagey play Owain managed to drive in and lose his marker and TES were level. The roar from the parents was deafening and TES were now in the driving seat. Three more baskets gave TES the lead for the first time in the match, 26-20. TES were heading for glory!
As with any good story there were more twists to come. BSK regained their composure and a combination of lay-ups and free-throws brought them to within striking range. With time running out, and fouls proving crucial, the match was still in the balance. Another basket gave BSK hope. With full-court press making plays difficult the players knew that a mistake or a foul would be critical. Fingernails were worn away and hearts were racing; fans and parents were emotionally drained; minor incidents and decisions were greeted with raucous applause and outraged disbelief. TES had given away 5 fouls during the quarter and BSK were given free-throws every time another foul occurred. As tension grew, BSK went to-the-line again and again. There was now less than a minute to play. TES 28, BSK 27.
Could TES hold on? Could the boys hold their nerve for those final few seconds of the season? No mistakes would mean glory. Ball retention would mean glory and a trophy retained.
A time-out was taken. There were 14 seconds left. It was a TES ball. Surely this was it. Keep the ball safe. Retain the ball. Don’t give it away. 14 seconds from glory. 14 seconds from one of the greatest ISACK comebacks ever seen. The referee summoned the players back onto the court, placing the ball in TES hands.
Sorry scriptwriters...no more twists here. TES were home and dry. Or...were they?
TES restarted and a tight pass didn't quite come off. BSK broke and only a last ditch attempt stopped them from scoring a 2 point lay-up. However, hold on. There was time for more drama. Hollywood grab your pens.
The referee read the situation differently and pointed to the line for free-throws - 2 potential, match-winning, free-throws. 10 seconds were left and fate had dealt TES another blow. The tension was unbearable. TES were on the emotional roller coaster again. Victory was about to be snatched from the TES hands.
The BSK player stepped forward to the line and went through his routine. A few bounces of the ball later and BSK were level. Jubilation on the BSK bench. Their adrenaline was now pumping. Groans were heard from the supporters and some heads were in hands. There was 1 more shot to come. The same ritual followed. Composure. Release…...
Basket! BSK took the lead! With less than 10 seconds left BSK were 1 point ahead. The Hollywood scriptwriters were writing again. BSK had clawed themselves back from the brink of defeat. What a story! What a match! To win a game with 2 free-throws, 2 high-pressure free-throws takes some skill and some nerve. Brilliant!
But hold on. TES were attacking. The clock was ticking. Surely not? There was no time! Basil drove down the right-hand side. BSK were still celebrating. Shirts were being waved...but the game wasn’t over. Basil drove in and released the ball. Time seemed to stand still...but it was not a shot. Cameron had found some space in front of the basket. 2 seconds were left. The ball was now, somehow, in his hands. He had a fraction of a second. Where was the defence? The clock crawled to 1 second and the ball was in flight. There was no more time. There would be no rebound, no foul or free-throw.
In some films you know that the ball drops in. The crowd goes wild. The player with the injury comes out and collects the trophy. The crowd invade the court. Players are carried off court on the shoulders of the fans. This is Kuwait though. Not Hollywood.
Occasionally the ball runs around the rim and doesn’t drop.
Tomorrow, the players will look back and wonder. Or should I say... in wonder!
Hollywood did come calling. Cameron’s last-gasp, buzzer-beating shot dropped sweetly into the basket and broke the hearts of the BSK team. Emotion, disbelief, wonder, shock, amazement...the list goes on. To quote Kenneth Wolstenholme, “Some of the crowd are on the pitch. They think it’s all over. It is now!”
Never have so many people moved so quickly into the centre of the court - fans, parents, players, coaches. This was Hollywood. High School Musical eat your heart out! Jubilation. Pure Joy. Hugs and tears filled the arena. What a game! What a comeback! What a finish! The greatest game played at U13 level!
Andreas, Evan, Jack, Cameron, Basil, Owain, Rami, Orestis, Max, Shareef and Sam -congratulations! Hard work pays off and you have all worked incredibly hard. You deserved this.
TES will not see some of you next year. Your faces and names will not grace any photos or team sheets. You are moving on. But TES doesn't forget. We will never forget this game. What a way to bow out!
You have one more task to do now; one small job before the year ends…...think about who will play you in the film.
Oliver Leaver, your boys did you proud. What a way to end your 7 years. As we have already said...you just couldn't write it.
ISACK Boys U13 Basketball Final
TES 30...BSK 29
Written by Mr. Watts