Sometimes a great deal often begins with a perfectly ordinary moment, a perfectly whimsical idea. It can be a miscellaneous office conversation during lunch break, or an offhand remark made in class. Or it could be an ordinary afternoon. As when after the training session a few months ago, Luke carefully presented to everyone for the first time, the idea of a 24-hour basketball tournament and the social significance behind it. Some expressed doubts, but many more showed interest. It hadn’t been proven to be feasible, and even fewer had faith in it, but the curiosity towards the unknown matters and the mere passion drove dozens of young athletes to give it a go. It wasn’t just a love of a sport, it was a way of helping the ones who were hungry and cold but still had high aspirations. And before anyone realises history is coming, it will be hidden quietly under the hardwood floor.
Greatness often begins with the ordinary.
People in the midst of an intense event often find it hard to realise the significance of the game itself. Many simply get on the court, play the game, defend well, make a quick exit at the sound of the buzzer, and then do it all over again. That’s the basketball everyone remembers and the only form I perceive it to exist in.
If someone said to you that he was going to play basketball for 24 hours, you would think he was crazy.
It wasn’t until at 1:55am the following morning, 12 hours and 55 minutes after the first jump ball, that the noise of the GDFR broke the characteristic quiet of the night. The timer on the big screen went into the final six minutes and we cut the deficit from 14 points to five.
The moment I turned my head to confirm the scoreboard, I realised that everything had entered a whole new realm.
Before then, 28 consecutive games had been played on this court with the SCIE logo in the centre, including a game between teachers and students, a skill challenge and a three-point contest. For close to 13 more hours, basketball has never been absent from that court. Over a hundred students and dozens of teachers were listening to Luke’s favourite 2010 pop music skewers while
inadvertently carrying out a great cause. My team had won two and lost two up to that point, and if we lost to Zhang Bokai’s team again, we would be at high risk of being knocked out.
That was the last thing we wanted.
And only four minutes into the game, everything seemed to be going in the wrong direction. Our whole team had only scored eight points and everyone’s feet were as heavy as lead. On the opposite side, a huge 14-point deficit seemed to be unbridgeable. At two o’clock, it was all too easy for a man to be over-tempered. The game’s blowouts also left both sides grumbling. On a successful defensive possession, I collected the rebound and was ready to advance with the ball when I was stopped dead in my tracks by two men. A block that was visible to the naked eye was blown as a walk by the offense, which ultimately led to one of my biggest emotional outbursts.
I yelled, frustrated by the poor refereeing, frustrated at being down by a large margin, and frustrated with my own performance.
But what followed was a scene that dropped everyone’s jaws. Zhang Bokai an outstanding basketball player, the varsity starting power forward and a big man who can cause problems for any defender, slammed his hairband off his head in anger and walked off the court because of an even more outrageous call. The game was forced into a timeout as a result. The outburst was more of a microcosm of exhaustion: after 13 hours, sleep deprivation and body aches were eating away at the will of the men. The high spirits and anticipation of midday were gone, and everywhere you looked there were only bloodshot eyes.
I know all too well how exhausting that can be.
The game eventually went ahead with a more prestigious referee. Fortunately for us, Zhang Bokai was still left on the field. The absence of the captain messed up the whole team a lot. They went into a scoring drought and had to rely on some sporadic play to keep the attack going. We got a breather like a gazelle from a tiger’s mouth, holding on to a solid defensive position little by little and hoping that it would turn the tide for us.
With a few successful defensive plays, we were able to get some fast break opportunities with more than a few hits. After further adjustments and a rebound in the offensive end, a huge deficit of 14 points was reduced to 5 points. Zhang Bokai returned to the court, his keen basketball IQ making him fear that the game was spiralling out of control. It was at that moment that I had that feeling I mentioned
earlier. It felt like the blood instantly began to boil inside the veins of my body, and while my heart was racing, my thinking began to slow down. It was an unparalleled feeling, the feeling of breathing again after a long dive underwater.
The return of Zhang Bokai did not change the situation on the field in any way. The momentum of the game was reversing in our favour. The brick wall of the twin towers inside couldn’t stop our onslaught. The game was over. By the time the ear-splitting but long-awaited buzzer sounded again, my teammates and I had managed to dominate a 14-point comeback. The slim one-point lead looked thrilling, but we no longer had any fear.
The seeds of a championship may have been planted from then on, as if a great cause had crept in. We no longer played as five men, but as a team, as one man.
After snatching that win from the hands of a formidable opponent, the whole team was at ease. Our next opponent, Kang Ka Chun, had a star-studded squad that was plagued by injuries. In the end, they had to play with an all-G1 team for the next game. And after a hard-fought battle, our captain Zeng Zexin decided to field a full rotation to fulfill his schoolboy’s dream of playing against his classmate.
The game started well, with the juniors doing their best on the field. However, towards the end of the game, G1 star Mei Hengrui hit a series of difficult threes to raise the suspense. The starting line-up immediately returned to the court and the game was eventually wrapped up in overtime with no danger.
There was passion, there was chagrin, there was pain and there was the joy of victory. It was a perfect reflection of the last 15 hours. As the first rays of morning light hit the floor, the group stage drew to a close. The 12 teams, boys and girls together, had been ranked and what awaited us next was a brutal and fierce elimination round.
I drifted off to sleep to the constant tapping of balls outside the door, hoping to relax on my hard yoga mat. It was the first time I had closed my eyes in the last 21 hours. Before that, I had taken four classes, played six games, eaten three meals and drank countless bottles of water. My lower lip was smashed open and then healed, and the twitching in my calf reminded me time and time again not to try to jump again. But I knew it was far from over, that this was far from the end. only 15 of the 24 hours had passed and there were nine more hours of fighting, pain and hissing.
The morning sun on the floor had turned into a sea of gold by the time I was back in the visibly worn pair of Currie 8s. The silhouettes on the court were stretched thin in the sunlight. What I saw in this moment was basketball at its most poetic. Like the feeling of renewal at one o’clock in the middle of the night, the bright golden light once again fills the sleeping dugout with energy. After all, then again, who wouldn’t love playing in the morning light?
With the energy restored by the short sleep, we blew away Varsity captain Zhuang Yiheng and his team in the semi-finals. In the end, after seven games, five wins and two losses, and 22 hours of perseverance, we would face our old rivals Zhang Bokai in the highly anticipated final match.
Great things always start with the ordinary. You don’t see it until it comes, but its presence has awakened every one of your senses. And when it’s close enough to you, it’s enough to send shivers down your spine.
We stepped onto the final stage with an immense amount of apprehension.
At the end of the day, the last game against them was still fresh in our minds. Even though we were the ones who came out on top, the intimidation of the twin towers was still enough to give us the willies. This tension continued until the moment of the jump ball. Luke Walker tossed the basketball high and uneven with both hands, and the uneven leather surface was instantly cut in half by light and shadow. The moment the ball touched the jumper, all sensation ceased to exist. From now on, it was just basketball and the game.
It was the best game I had ever played in my career so far. Although winning or losing is given more significance, that’s long since not why we’re here. Five guys standing on the court, playing with understanding, relying on trust and brains. Total commitment and absolute focus turned the positional battle into a positional battle in the true sense of the word: running, covering around, shifting, shaking off defenders, adjusting your footing, steadying your weight, receiving a direct pass, cushioning the pass, then stomping, jumping and waiting for the ball to fly into the basket. Basketball was like a poem and we enjoyed it. At some point in that game, I thought I couldn’t possibly be defended. As soon as I took a shot the ball was bound to go where it was supposed to go. I didn’t think there was anything, anyone, anything that could stop us at that moment. The five men on the floor were so absorbed in the rhythm of the game that everything went by fast and slow. The score and the time no longer mattered, all that mattered was that we were playing together and we were still playing together.
At the final whistle, to the thunderous cheers of the crowd, we took the title. I walked straight to the middle of the court with the NCCC logo on it, stroked the floor and laid down on the ground. My eyes had long since lost sight of the faces in the distance, and the aches and pains in my body had been temporarily removed by the burning body heat. I lay there, thinking to myself: if this doesn’t qualify as athletics, what else does?
There is so much I want to write and say about this unprecedented game. Due to space constraints, I won’t go into the four group games before the first game mentioned in the article. At the prize-giving ceremony, the duty teacher informed us that the race had raised $16,000 for the girls in the mountains. Luke had told us before the 24 hour clock started that he knew this tournament would be hard, that there would be many injuries and clashes, but asked us not to forget what we were here to do on this course and what we were playing for. And when I saw the tears clearly welling up in his red eyes, I realised that he was really proud of what we had achieved. I was also proud of myself, proud of my teammates, proud of all the students who participated, proud of all the teachers, staff, medical staff and all the spectators who went out of their way to support us. Because we have never forgotten our mission and we never will.
When Luke came up with the idea that afternoon, who would have thought it would grow into the feat it is today. 24 Hours of Basketball is about camaraderie, willpower, sportsmanship, never-say-die drive, faith, hope, and a beautiful vision to make the world a better place.
Greatness often begins with the ordinary. It will arrive unannounced, resting somewhere. On the day when the ordinary finally becomes great, it will emerge and then leave an indelible mark on each and every one of them.