The impossible atlete

By Andrea Tuzio
Artwork by Diego Soprana

Week 02


impossible adj.

1. Cannot exist or be done; not possible, almost/virtually impossible 2. Very difficult to deal with 3. The impossible noun [singular] a thing that is or seems impossible

(Source – Oxford dictionary)

Ok, I shall start by focusing on the extensive meaning and hyperbolic term, “very difficult”, but not impossible. Think about it… we too easily and too often use the word ‘impossible’. It is a term that deserves respect, and we do not give it enough. Human beings are capable of impossible feats, but we often find it hard to give them the proper weight and consideration.
The Game, with a capital G, is full of impossible stories on and off the field. I have chosen to recount four: two “off the hardwood” and two on the court.

 Jimmy Butler

The first story is that of Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls guard, who the other night, precisely on January 3rd, put 40 on the scoresheet in the second half by beating the record held by His Airness (Michael Jordan) with 39. But that’s not the reason why it makes the impossible story list.
It all begins in the suburbs of Tomball, Texas, where Jimmy, after his father had already left the marital home, sees his mother drive him out of the house at age 13 with the words: “I do not like your face. Go away!” He slept where he could; he lived with the money lent to him by his friends and teammates. Given the situation his coach decides to take him home and give him a bed, hot food every day and above all, hope.
With determination, perseverance, strength and dedication, he climbed and conquered all the steps. First Tomball High School, then Marquette University, then he gets chosen out of 30 in the 2011 draft by the Bulls, and finally he wins the title for most improved player in the league last season. He is currently the player of reference for the point threshold with all due respect to Derrick Rose. In the words of NBA general manger: “His story is one of the strongest I’ve heard in many years in the NBA. There have been so many occasions when it might collapse, never to rise again. When you talk to him, and he is very reluctant to do so, you must always keep in mind what has passed in order to really understand how much strength he has within himself. ”

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The other story off the hardwood is about a “small” player on the wing (211 cm tall and wingspan of a pterodactyl) from the coolest team in the NBA: Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Γιάννης Αντετοκούνμπο in Greek. Born in Athens on December 6th 1994 of Nigerian origins, The Greek Freak (his nickname across the ocean) arrived in the United States after a challenging childhood.
His parents, Nigerian immigrants, tried to make ends meet by working as street vendors in Athens. Giannis together with his brothers, there are four in total, (his little brother Kostas actually plays at the Dominican High School) did his best to help out mum and dad, and in the meantime literally flew in the playground and inside the gyms throughout the suburbs of Athens.
Luck starts to turn for Antetokounmpo, when he gets selected to play in the Greek A2 series with Filathlitikos B.C. At the age of 18 he signed a four-year contract with CAI Zaragoza in the Spanish league. But he never goes on to play in Spain. Instead he remains close to family in Greece, and on the 28th of April 2013 his name was officially entered in the NBA draft. The Milwaukee Bucks chose him in the first round. He plays the All Star game in 2015 and is selected for the dunking championship. Now think back to the Greek A2 league for a moment. Done? Good. Do you understand what it means for this guy to be suddenly catapulted to the NBA? Every penny earned, every shower taken in the Bucks’ locker room, every hamburger eaten, every second of his life is a gift itself.
A year ago on his twitter profile he wrote that he tasted a strawberry smoothie for the first time. He thanked God for that smoothie because he had never tried something so good. A boy who cam from nothing is now one of the strongest wings in the league. If you happen to see him play, make sure you keep in mind that you are only watching the tip of a really big iceberg. Incredible athleticism and endless limbs, he has had the right attitude and instincts for the game from the start. Remember his name, even if it’s difficult, Giannis Antetokounmpo, because you will hear it being spoken about over the next ten years.

 Reggie Miller

Ok, let’s move on to the stories on the court. Yes, I suppose I should write about Game 5 of the NBA Finals in 1997, The Flu Game. Jordan who, after being practically poisoned by a pizza the night before, spent all day in bed with an IV drip, he threw up everything he could manage, and then ends up putting 38 points on the board against the Jazz dominating and winning the game, only to be carried on the shoulders off the court by Pippen. I don’t think these superhuman feats need my blessing. Instead, I would like to recount an undertaking that took place in nine seconds.
Madison Square Garden, New York City, 1995, Game 1 of the conference semi-finals between the New York Knicks, coached by Pat Riley and the Indiana Pacers with Reggie Miller. Reggie is the protagonist of the story. There are 18 seconds and 7 milliseconds left on the clock, Indiana under 6 are back in their attacking zone. Ball to Reggie, who comes out of a 3-way block, puts his feet outside the 3-point line (as per usual) and shoots a triple. Boom 102-105 Knicks.
16 seconds and 4 milliseconds till the end, suffocating pressure, the Knicks are struggling to find a free man, Miller is a lion in a cage and the ball is his prey.
New York puts the ball back in play with too much haste and Reggie steals, backs out of the 3-point line and sticks his second consecutive triple. Each fan in the front row has their hands glued to their heads. Crazy. 105 tied, with 13 seconds and 2 milliseconds until the siren wails. The Knicks commence play and are fouled by the Pacers, Starks at the semicircle, 0 out of 2! Rebound by Pat Ewing missed from a meter and a half, Reggie pounces on the ball and Starks fouls him. Two free throws, 7 seconds and 5 milliseconds until the end, and still tied at 105.
Pat Riley is as still as a statue on the bench. Back to Miller on the other side of the court. First basket goes in, 106-105 Indiana. The second basket goes in too, 107-105 Pacers. The Knicks have no more timeouts and commence with haste, ball to Greg Anthony who runs the entire court, makes it till the end, and then slips unexpectedly, Ewing tries to catch the ball and shoot but there is no time. The Pacers clean out Madison Square Garden with 8 points in 9 seconds thanks to Reggie “Killer” Miller.

Tracy McGrady

The last “quarter” of the story is dedicated to someone who made me fall with his movement about the court, The Big Sleep a.k.a Tracy McGrady.
Let’s set the context of the story, the Toyota Center in Houston, Tracy wears number 1 for the Rockets, regular season game against the Spurs of coach Gregg Popovich. The score is 76-68 Spurs, with only 35 seconds left until the siren wails, when McGrady gets a triple, making it 76 – 71. San Antonio plays and there is an immediate foul on David Brown. He gets two free throws. 78-71 and 30 seconds till the end. Tracy gets the ball and throws long, pick and roll before the three-point line with Yao Ming, goes right, during the exchange Duncan comes out too strong on number 1 who finished the throw, Tim jumps, McGrady seeks contact and shoots. In! 4 points are gained by an additional free throw and 3-pointer: 78-75 Spurs, 24 seconds and 3 milliseconds till the game ends. Popovich calls a timeout to stop the game, hoping to cool down the cousin of Vince Carter who has warmed up. San Antonio plays, the ball gets to Duncan who is then fouled. Two free throws for the Caribbean who never had the knack for shooting from the foul line, but this time makes no mistakes and sends them to target.
16 seconds and 2 milliseconds remaining. Timeout Houston called by Van Gundy to advance the play. It’s their last timeout, they can no longer stop the game, and they play till the end.
The ball finds the hands of T-Mac who shoots in the face of Bruce Bowen, who is probably one of the strongest defenders in the league, he gets the third consecutive triple, 80-78 Spurs. We look at the clock, 11 seconds and 2 milliseconds until the siren. San Antonio plays, Duncan has to call a timeout because the Rockets defence is suffocating. The Spurs call the ball into play in the frontcourt; Barry passes the ball to David Brown, who slips unexpectedly. The ball is recovered by McGrady who knows what do. He crosses the court to the three-point line and against four defenders shoots and scores, 81-80.
San Antonio has no more timeouts and missing a second and 7 milliseconds Parker shoots badly from midfield but nothing. Tracy McGrady delivering 13 points in 35 seconds, beating the San Antonio Spurs for what is, without doubt, the most amazing individual performances in the last 30 seconds of a basketball game.
After all this, I beg you, when you find yourself using the word impossible, be careful and do it sparingly.