Tonight, I walked off the court after practice as a high school ball player for what could be the last time. Ever. Some of you know what I mean. Walking off the court your senior year, not knowing whether or not you will ever be back in your practice jersey. It is shooting twenty five shots to make that last three before leaving. It is that sense of victory as you envision that trophy in your hands. It is all that hard work you put in for eighteen years of your life, all the late nights and early mornings in the empty gym–just you, the ball, and a rim–and it is all defined in one moment.
As I sit here tonight contemplating the game before me, I cannot help but reminisce of all the games in the past. I distinctly remember part of every tournament game I have ever played in, many by each one of Alexa Van Laecken’s broken bones. As a young girl watching back to back state tournaments in 2002 and 2003, I fell in love with the game. Making the girls state tournament for the first time in school history in 2006 will never be forgotten, and being able to witness two state titles is the best feeling in the world. Some days, I just want the court. But other days, I just take a step back to refocus, to remember why I play the game I love. Who do I play for?
Let me tell you a quick story. Last night I walked out of the locker room after district semi-final victory to see a familiar face. I stopped short, almost surprised to see him standing there. I grinned to myself, then went to join my teammates and fans as we took a small amount of time to celebrate our victory. There are a lot of things I won’t forget about that moment, but the most memorable to me will be the joy on his face. You see, this kid’s name is Conrad. He is a member of Pierre’s basketball team, a senior. His sophomore year, he walked off the court with a win, taking the bronze at the state tournament. Many thought he could have been an all-state selection. He walked off determined to take it all the following year, and worked every day throughout the summer in preparation to do so. But in August 2012 his life changed drastically when he was diagnosed with Stage IV Osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. After radiation and forms of chemotherapy in Sioux Falls, Rochester, and Houston, Conrad chose to have his leg amputated.
The support for this kid has been incredible. This 6’5″ senior from Pierre, South Dakota has been supported by thousands of people, including Coach Greg McDermott from Creighton University and Coach Mike Krzyzewski from Duke University. Teams from all around the state have worn the Pierre Green “Conrad’s Clan” t-shirts in awareness of Conrad, showing that there are more important things in life than winning a basketball game. And in mid-March, in a boisterous arena full of screams of joy and tears of happiness, thousands of people erupted into cheers as Conrad Adam, wearing #5 and his Packers snapback (which automatically makes him a winner), cut down the net in celebration of winning the 2013 State AA Championship. Because to some people on that court, basketball may be just a game. But to Conrad, that state title meant victory. And on June 13, 2013, Conrad Adam was declared cancer free.
These are the people you play for. You play for God, who gave you the ability and opportunity to play the game. You play for the twenty year old college student who would give anything to redo his senior year on the court. You play for the cancer patients, the Conrad Adam’s who got their chance taken from them. You play for the parent or grandparent who wants to relive their high school memories through you. You play for the child whose parent can’t be there for them. You play for the brother who taught you to love the game. You play for those senior teammates who will not have another chance. You don’t play for yourself. You play for the love of the game.
These are the people you play for. Because like you, these people know that basketball is more than a game.