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Lions Roar and Heroes Cry

By Matthew Woolford

My love affair with the game of basketball started as a 10-year-old student at Western (now Sacred Heart) Boys’ RC School, Richmond Street, Port of Spain.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was that of my classmates who would share stories of men racing across a court, throwing ‘no-look’ passes behind their backs and flying through the air as if leaping over tall buildings in a single bound. I was both fascinated and hooked!

To add to the intrigue, was the actual playing of the game. Being students of little means but much creativity, we would roll a ball out of foil and attempt to shoot it through the vertical wire mesh that panelled the outside wall of the school building. If anyone remembers the old school building, he or she would know what I am writing about. Although the ball could not be bounced, the dribbling action was required to avoid a travelling violation. A three-point line was established for the long-range bombers, and we even had slam-dunk competitions where points were awarded for creativity and execution.

As our interest grew, so did access to equipment, the selection of teams and organisation of games during Physical Education which was usually on a Friday afternoon. My parents, seeing the interest growing among their children, and fuelled by my father’s own spectator interest in the game, bought us a real basketball for Christmas one year, with the Chicago Bulls logo on it. This, I readily took to school on Fridays. Rhys Libert, one of my former classmates had a transportable backboard and rim which he readily brought to school with him on Fridays. Mr Lyndon Lewis, our Common Entrance teacher, effectively played the role of referee. He knew the rules and was keen to support our enthusiasm. He called a fair game and just like the National Basketball Association (NBA), fouls were called for excessive contact and technical fouls were awarded for excessive complaining. We played in the school yard, and we even played on the green grass of Victoria Square where rope was used to tie the hoop to a tree. It was always fun and always interesting, but moreover, I think it also helped us to grow.

If Michael Jordan was the best basketball player I have even seen, then Wardell Stephen Curry is the second best. Both, in my opinion, have changed the way this beautiful game has been played forever and for the better. Neither was seen as a great prospect when drafted by the Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors respectively. In fact, in his biography, A Rocket at Heart, Hall of Fame coach and then basketball scout for the Houston Rockets, Rudy Tomjanovich, recounted that no-one in the Association foresaw the greatness of Michael Jordan coming, which is why he was drafted third overall behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. And until recently, Steph Curry has been lamented for never winning the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award of the NBA Finals even though he previously won three championships and now four, two NBA Regular Season MVP Awards, one unanimously, and two NBA Scoring Titles.

And what did both men do on leading their teams to their fourth NBA championships: they cried!

At the end of Episode 8 of the award-winning documentary, The Last Dance, the world heard the outpouring of emotion from Michael Jordan as he laid on the floor of the locker room, basketball in hand, after defeating the Seattle Supersonics in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in 1996. And the world saw the tears streaming down the face of Steph Curry at the end of Game 6 of the NBA Finals in 2022 in TD Garden after defeating the storied Boston Celtics for his fourth.

Both endured odysseys that would have consumed men of lesser mental strength. Michael lost his father James to violence just days after winning his third championship in 1993. Soon afterwards, he left basketball for baseball, before returning to the Bulls in 1995. Steph had to endure a broken hand, two years of injury to running mate Klay Thompson and a relocation of the team from Oakland to San Francisco, California. In spite of these challenges, both men soldiered on to help rebuild a winning culture within the franchises they represented.

And this is why I believed they cried because winning takes everything out of you, especially when the whole world seems to be against you. They are champions, not because of their accolades, these are mere accidents of success, but because they never made excuses, remained patient with themselves and persevered. Their styles of play have often been criticised: MJ for being too ball dominant and Steph for being too perimeter oriented. Yet everyone wants to be like Mike, and everyone is trying to shoot a basketball like Steph Curry.

After 75 years of the NBA, they are still the only two players to ever lead a title-winning team without the help of a dominant ‘Big Man’. And in a game of giants, that is saying a lot!