When I first saw you, I was looking for 23.
You wore number 8 and it was game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
Like the ghost of Christmas Past,
The figure on the Lakers bench was all too recognizable, and the black #33 all too foreign.
As you lobbed to the big man, the highlight reels would show 34 throwing it down.
While everyone watched the Diesel, I watched the Kid who passed the ball.
It’s been nearly 16 years.
And, in those 16 years, as I sought the memories that He gave me,
I found a new idol,
And you found a new number.
Maybe he did destroy basketball for me.
Maybe he led me to believe that it was easy;
that basketball was a God given gift.
The shots on Ehlo and Russell are fairy tale start and ends to the 1990s as I knew them.
Just as two shots book end His career for me, two shots define you.
For me, your highlights start at the free throw line.
And as you passed Him in scoring, shooting free throws just as He did His last two points,
The arc, the rotation, the swish, reminded me of 2013.
8th seed in the west, with more talent on paper than what your record reflected.
An 8th seed won by clawing and fighting and pushing your way through the last few games of the season.
As you limped up to the line, the 15 feet felt farther than it should’ve.
Rather than fly and dunk, you gave us two textbook free throws.
Swish and swish.
You limped off the court, no help.
No flash, all fire.
I saw you fail and I saw you in pain,
And, each time, I saw you come back, more motivated than before.
It’s what created that stone cold glare, the dedication to achieving perfection, and the will to stand back up
After every fall, after the multiple knee procedures, after the torn Achilles, and after the torn rotator cuff.
Basketball asked for your hustle but you gave it so much more.
Your love for the game was pure, unadulterated, and uninterrupted.
Basketball was something you worked for, every single day of your life.
And while I saw what greatness was before you came,
You showed me what it took to get there.
Often times at the end of things, we look to the beginning.
I’d like to think you would’ve chosen Duke in 1996, as you had said before.
But Charlotte drafted you and traded you to the Purple and Gold.
You shined brightly, but nothing gold can stay.
Thank you for the last 20 years.
This season may be all that you have left to give,
But know that you taught me more than just the game.
And though comparisons between you and Him will never end,
There are differences between you two.
The Challenge called Him, while Basketball called you.
It called your passion, your drive, your refusal to accept failure.
And, just like Duke vs. UNC, for me,
It’s Basic Math: 24 > 23.
With much respect,