Friendship Through Basketball
Ron Thornby started each and every day by waking up twenty minutes earlier than he had to. He would lace up his favorite pair of basketball shoes that used to be his older brother’s, and go out into the crisp fall air of his family’s house just outside Detroit. He’d start with a few layups, followed by a few monster dunks, being that he was a whopping 6’ 11” as a senior in high school. Then he’d move out to work on his jumpshot. Ron loved the sound that could only be heard by the “swish” of a jump shot. After about twenty minutes, he’d go inside and get ready for his school day. His mother Donna and his father Paul both had jobs in the city, just down the road in the city. Paul was a window washer, and Donna was a receptionist for a construction company. They brought in a fair amount of money, but not enough to move out of the city and into a safer environment and town.
“Honey! Better come in and get ready for school!” hollered his mother out into the front yard.
“I’ll be right there,” Ron replied, before sinking his final two midrange jumpers before going inside.
He rode to school in his dad’s car, arriving in about ten minutes. Ron wore a pair of beat up Jordans, a baggy pair of basketball shorts, and a blue Detroit Tigers shirt. He walked into school and searched for his best friend, Duke Lemark, a black boy with dreadlocks and a fierce attitude. Duke was the point guard for their basketball team. They spent a lot of their time together, either at school playing basketball, or just hanging around downtown Detroit. Ron found Duke, and they approach one another.
“What’s crackin’ my homie?” Duke said, leaning in for a “bro hug.”
“Oh, you know same ol’ life, ya know?”
“Yeah, I feel you, man. Ready for this math test today?” Duke replied.
“Yeah, I was up really late studying for it. I think I got it down though,” said Ron.
“I’m screwed. Straight up screwed,” Duke replied with a disappointed look on his face.
“Not with that attitude, man!”
The first bell rang and they had to get to class.
“Ugh, it’s that time again,” said Ron with an irritated tone.
“Yeah, see ya’, man.”
That day was the first day of tryouts for the varsity basketball team. All of the boys, hopeful to make the team, flooded down to the locker rooms and get changed.
“You ready to get cut, fool?” Duke jokingly asked Ron, knowing their spots on the team were on lock.
“Shut up man, don’t be so sure,” Ron replied with a chuckle. “There are gonna be a ton of kids looking to take you down off of your throne, better be careful.”
They hit the gym with intensity, showing that they wanted to be a part of the team. Ron showed off his monster dunks and his much improved jumper, thanks to the early mornings. Duke showed off his flashy layups and crafty dribble moves he had been working on. They both knew they would make the team with ease, and most likely start.
Both of them made the team as expected. One night, Ron got home from basketball practice. He ate, and retired to his room to his his homework.
“Hey Ron! Could you come down here?!” his dad yelled up to his room.
“Yeah, I’ll be right down!” he yelled back. He got up and walked down to his father.
“So, I got good news and bad news. The good news is that I got a great new job, so we are able to move finally!”
“That’s great dad! Congrats!”
“The bad news is that it is in Ann Arbor, and we’ll have to move to Ann Arbor,” he said.
“But what about my basketball season? You know we’re ranked number three in the state right now. I think we have a good shot at winning the title!”
“I’m sorry, bud, but we’re moving next month. You’ll have to do some research and see what team you will want to join.”
“Ugh, that’s going to be a tough one to tell the team.”
“Yeah, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Sorry son, it will be the best for our family in the long run. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime offer.”
That night was Ron’s birthday, and he was having dinner with Duke. When Duke arrived, he gave Ron a basketball signed by his favorite player of all-time: Rasheed Wallace.
“A basketball? That’s it?” said a disappointed Ron.
“Look on the other side,” Duke replied. Ron flipped the ball around in his hands to see the black Sharpie signature glowing on the orange basketball.
“Signed by Sheed?! Oh my goodness, you have no idea how cool this is! Thank you so much!”
“Ah, no problem man,” said Duke playing it off. Then Ron realized that he had to tell Duke how his family was moving in the next month, at some point.
“Hey, so listen, Duke. I’ve got some bad news. My dad just got a new job in Ann Arbor and I have to move there next month, so I can’t come with you on the road to that state title. I’m very upset, but hey, that’s life.”
“Oh god. That’s terrible. I’m not sure if we’re gonna be able to even compete without you anchoring our offense and defense. Not to mention that I’ll miss you as a homie. We’ve been through so much. I hate to see ya’ go.”
“Yeah man, we’ll keep in touch. I’ll just be down the road in Ann Arbor,” added Ron.
“Yeah, for sure, man. Keep it tight. I’ll see you later.”
One month went by, and before Ron even knew it, he was attending Huron High School as a brand new student. The Huron basketball coach, Coach Eisenhower, was ecstatic to hear that they would be getting a 6’ 11” senior to add to his already solid squad of players. Ron showed up to his first practice.
“Hey everyone, this is Ron. He just moved to Ann Arbor, from Detroit and is now playing for us, so everybody be friendly to him,” addressed Coach Eisenhower. “All right now, let’s get warmed up and have a good practice.”
Ron showed off his dunks, and surprising jumper once again, and got some “oohhs and ahhs” from his new teammates. After practice, one of his new teammates came up and introduced himself to him.
“Hey, man, I’m the starting point guard. Mitchell Flankerton,” said Mitchell, holding out a fist for a fist bump.
This is what they do here? thought Ron as he bumped his fist back.
“What up, man? So I hear you guys are having a great season so far. I’m excited to hopefully help,” suggested Ron.
“Hell yeah, man. We’re doing great. 8-1 with our only loss to Pioneer in double overtime. Oh, and you’ll help us out so much. Our post play has been weak as of late, and I’ve never played alongside anyone over 6’5” so that’ll be fun. We gotta get on the same page so we can have some sick alley oops!” replied Mitchell.
“For sure, man. I’ll see you later. I gotta go.”
“A’ight, see you tomorrow, man!”
After his first week in Ann Arbor, Ron realized how much different life was outside of Detroit. His teammates didn’t like the same old school rap music that he lived for in Detroit. All of the kids dressed preppy, while he still wore his baggy shorts and Jordans. He didn’t know whether to stick with his roots from Detroit or convert into a common, white, Ann Arbor kid.
A month passed by and it was time for high-school postseason basketball in Michigan. Ron’s River Rats had finished the season on a 10-0 run and found themselves as the #1 seed in the state tournament. That set them up into a first round game with none other than his former high school: Detroit Central High School, who was the #4 seed. The night that the team figured out that they would match up with Detroit in the first round of the state playoffs, Ron got a call from Duke.
“Yo Duke, how’s it been?” asked Ron.
“Ugh, we’ve been in a slump ever since you betrayed us and left for Ann Arbor. But you’re as good as done when we play. We’re coming for you and you’re going down,” said Duke very seriously.
“Haha, we’ll see man. We’ve got a pretty good group of guys here in Ann Arbor and we accept your challenge,” said Ron with a little chuckle in his voice.
“See, you’re saying it like it is a joke. I’m actually gonna knock your ass out if you’re not careful. Come ready to play, little brother.”
Duke hung up the phone. Is he actually serious? How come he’s so pissed at me thought Ron. I wish we could have stayed in Detroit for just one more year. Everything would’ve been so much easier. No leaving Duke. No changing my personality to fit in here. And no tension between my best friend and me.
Ron thought a lot about what Duke had said that week in preparing for the state tournament. Finally, it was time to make the trip to the Breslin Center in East Lansing to square off against his old friends and school. Ron took the floor and began to do his warmups when he saw Duke make his way out of the tunnel. Ron gave him a nod, no response. Jeez, he is serious. He’s gonna play really dirty tonight. I can’t let that change how I play. The jitters and nerves grew as the pre-game clock moves closer to zero.
Five minutes before game-time, Coach Eisenhower pulled the team in and gave them some final words before game time.
“All right guys, you ready? We’ve put in all this hard work and now it’s time to let it show. These guys are from Detroit, so they’re going to be playing a physical brand of basketball. All we need to do is execute, and keep our cool, and we’ll come out on top! Let’s go, boys!”
Eisenhower gave Ron a little motion to come talk. “Are you gonna be okay going up against your former school?”
“Oh yeah, Coach, shouldn’t be a problem. I know they’re going to try to get to me. I’m not going to let it affect me,” replied Ron.
“All right, good. Now, go get it, son.”
The clock read 0:00. Game time. Detroit won the tip. The ball went back to Duke. Duke weaved around a screen and popped a midrange jumper through the cup. 2-0. First play of the game for Huron. Play 2: an isolation for Ron in the post. He got the ball and went to work. He put up a hook shot, and was fouled hard.
“C’mon man we don’t wanna play like that already? Do we?” Ron said his former backup. No response.
Ron calmly went to the line and sunk two free throws through all of his old friends boos.
At halftime, the score was 24-23, Huron. Ron had 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He had been fouled hard multiple times by his former teammates, including an “accidental” elbow to the face by Duke.
Huron came out of the locker room scorching hot, going on a half opening 10-0 run, with 7 points coming from Ron. Next touch Ron got, he knew a double team was coming. He turned baseline and went for a monster dunk. Next thing he knew, he was knocked to the ground by Duke. Ron had had enough at this point; he got up and ran towards Duke, who was talking smack to him. Duke approached, too. When they met, punches were thrown and curse words were yelled. This resulted in both of them being benched for the rest of the game.
“C’mon, son! We need you out there. You said you’d be fine!”
“Sorry, Coach, I guess I was wrong.”
Huron got exposed in the post for the rest of the game. Detroit trimmed the lead down to just two points with 30 seconds left. Ron’s newfound friend, Mitch, was at the line, with three foul shots, after getting hit on a three-point attempt. He calmly sank all three, sealing the game for the Rats. Ron let out a sigh of relief seeing that his team had pulled through.
Huron ended up winning the state title. He met with his dad after the game.
“Congratulations, Ron. Great season!” said his dad, going in for a hug.
“Thank you so much for helping me get through all of this, Dad. It means a lot!” replied Ron through all of the emotions going through his head.
“You’re welcome! Now it’s on to college, then the pros, eh?”
“That’s the plan. I can’t wait to see what my future holds, and I wish you could be there with me for it.”
“Don’t worry, son. We’ll always be rooting for you and you’re always welcome at home!”
“Thank you so much, Dad!” They embraced once again, and a few, little tears were shed. Ron always remembered his loving, and kind father and all that he did for him growing up.
Ron won Mr. Basketball of Michigan and later committed to The University of Duke to play basketball for Coach K. About a week after that, Ron saw that Duke Lemark would also be heading to The University of Duke to play college ball.
After a lot of debating, Ron had an idea to try and get Duke to be his friend again. It would take a gift, like his Sheed signed basketball, Ron was going to give him a basketball signed by his favorite player: Magic Johnson. He gave Duke a call to apologize for everything that had happened.
“Hey, Ron. I’ve been thinking, and now that we’re gonna be playing ball together again, I want to apologize for our fight and all the harsh words,” said Duke.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, too. I was stupid to come after you like that. Homies?”
“Hey, I also got a gift that I got on my recruiting trip to Michigan State.”
“Oooo, what could that be?” asked Duke.
“Oh, you know just a ball signed by your favorite player.”
“Dude, are you serious?! No way! Thanks!”
“It’s the least I can do, man. Ready to tear it up in Chapel Hill next fall?”
“Oh, you already know, we ‘bout to tear shit up down there. I can’t wait.”
The signed basketballs signified their friendship throughout his years and united them as friends. Duke and Ron went on to win two titles for Duke and both made it to the NBA. Ron’s career was shortened due to a leg injury, and Duke enjoyed great success, winning two national championships. Ron and Duke remained close friends throughout their careers. (2530)