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Losing Like A Champion - With A Free Essay Review
(italics) Up by one, the seconds tumbling off the clock. Both sides of the massive football dome—turned basketball court—hold our breath, pushing it back, telling it to wait for our team’s next great play. Then, steal. Dribble. The player in blue propels the ball down the court, droplets of sweat flinging themselves off his tattooed arms as he throws it across to a nearby teammate. Pass. Pass. Shoot. The crowd pulls in its breath as one. The players feel the milliseconds agonizingly stretching to hours, days even. They hold their breath too. The blue-clad shooter’s feet meet the ground once again and soon after, he hears a familiar sound. Swish. (end italics)
There’s no better feeling than that of being a champion. But this Kansas basketball team has taught me that sometimes losing makes you as much of a champion as winning does.
I am an avid KU basketball fan. Ever since I was little, the Jayhawk has been my bird species of choice, and Allen Fieldhouse my second home. I grew up chanting “rock chalk” as other children chanted nursery rhymes, often mispronouncing it but doing so with vigor. Forget the evil step-sisters and Captain Hook; tigers and wildcats were the villains of my childhood. It’s safe to say that nothing at all has changed. In fact, my enthusiasm for all things crimson and blue has grown over the years to the status of an obsession, but even more than that, it has become a way of life.
So when the Jayhawks started tangoing their way through the “big dance” of the NCAA Tournament, I was more than ecstatic. My family traveled to Omaha to witness their first round game, a pretty easy victory. We couldn’t attend their second game, a nail-biter against Purdue in which they trailed by six at the half, but we were all there on the couch of our living room, craning our necks to watch and flying to our feet in unison whenever the Jayhawks scored. Immediately following, however, I would always have to sit down right away, due to my superstitions that the game would take a turn for the worse if I didn’t. When it comes to KU basketball, we are quite a superstitious family.
(italics) A missed free throw by Tyshawn Taylor, and North Carolina gets the defensive rebound. But wait, Taylor steals it back from Bullock and starts on a fast break toward KU’s basket. Pass to Thomas Robinson. He goes up strong and slams it in, tying the game. (end italics)
The next couple weeks went speeding by like the smooth bullet of a train, every now and then teetering off the tracks a bit but moving all the while. We were on our way to Saint Louis to watch KU’s next tournament game, when all of a sudden our journey changed direction. Topeka. Through the windows, all we could see was the blurred landscape, swirling dizzyingly around us, punctuated by several wins but also by two losses. One for the Jayhawks and one for us. But right now, there was no time for losing.
Grandpa Eilert sat slumped in his weathered overalls, his eyes twinkling with each reminiscent farm story he told us. His Farmway baseball cap was slightly crooked, but he didn’t seem to mind. The oxygen tubes sneaking out from under his nose intertwined like little snakes. Those he did seem to mind. My dad asked him a question about his many brothers and sisters, and Grandpa’s face lit up instantly as he began to animatedly tell a childhood tale, one of his favorites. He sat up slowly in his chair and smiled. He looked happy and at peace with the world. There was no way to notice the cancer that ravaged his body.
“Did you watch the game today, Grandpa?”
“You bet I did. That team of yours survived another round, huh? They’re fighters.”
“Yes, yes they are.” Just like you, Grandpa, I almost added.
The next day we left Topeka and headed once again in the direction of the St. Edwards Dome in Saint Louis, and this time we didn’t turn back around. Kansas played North Carolina, somewhat of a rival school and a highly anticipated game. The dome was bursting to the seams with the cheers of both fan bases, enveloped in an array of blues. The opening tipoff began a close, intense game where it seemed as if both teams were trying to score as many points as possible in forty minutes. The Jayhawks ended up winning, moving on to the much coveted Final Four. With tears blurring my vision, I looked around after the game at the thousands of screaming KU fans and realized at that moment I couldn’t have been happier. It may seem dramatic to cry over a basketball game, but it’s not unusual to cry over something like your family members, is it? KU was my family. It’s where I felt at home, where I felt pure and unblemished happiness.
(italics) The game clock runs out, and the Jayhawks can finally claim their victory over North Carolina and their 14th Final Four appearance. Coach Bill Self smiles quietly on the sidelines, as his players—and the whole Jayhawk nation—celebrate together. KU is headed to New Orleans to face the Ohio State Buckeyes! (end italics)
I could block out everything else going on in my life at that very moment. Nothing else mattered; but then again, that’s not exactly true. It was all still there, waiting outside the dome for me to hoist up and carry its weight on my shoulders once again, but the way I viewed all my little problems had changed. The players chest-bumping and grinning from ear to ear, the crimson and blue rippling across the stands in excitement, the Midwest regional final trophy being held up for the crowd to see—all these things contributed to my epiphany that day, the realization that it didn’t matter. We could lose the next game and I wouldn’t feel any less proud of my team and what they accomplished. They could lose and still be champions. It’s the fight, their unbelievable drive and determination, their growth as players, and how they stuck together as a team. It’s the journey they made there that matters.
“Grandpa, did you watch the KU game?”
“You bet I did.”
Another week went by, and as KU’s next game grew closer and closer, my Grandpa grew sicker and sicker. We called several times a day to check in and prayed for him every spare minute we had, planning to visit him that Sunday. On Saturday night, we drove to Allen Fieldhouse, KU’s home court, to watch their next and quite possibly last tournament game, Grandpa still on all of our minds. But somehow it all still felt right. Once the game started, we were all sucked in instantly, jumping up on our feet and quickly losing our voices as well as our hearing. It didn’t look good at first, down 13 for awhile in the first half. But in the second half, the Jayhawks did what they did best—fought back. And they fought back hard. Ten thousand KU fans screamed together in Allen Fieldhouse, storming the empty court when the Jayhawks pulled it out by two to win the game. Once again I felt part of something bigger than myself, an enormous family that welcomed you with open arms and cheered you on through whatever hardships you endured.
The Championship game was that Monday against a much more individually talented Kentucky team, the clear favorite. It was a classic David vs. Goliath matchup. But David can’t always win. The Jayhawks were down by a large margin for most of the game, scrapping hard the second half and in the final minutes, getting the lead down to six. It looked like they could actually do it, but in the end they just couldn’t keep up.
“I don’t think we lost tonight. We just got beat,” Bill Self calmly stated at the post-game press conference.
The Jayhawks may have been beaten in the end, but after their journey we all still left feeling like true champions. Sure I was disappointed (yes, I did cry a little bit), but there’s no question I was prouder of this team than of any other I’d seen. They fought and fought, and they journeyed the farthest they possibly could.
The same is true for my Grandpa, and this Jayhawk team helped me realize that. He passed away one week later, on Easter night—“following the leader”, as he called it—but it was a very calm experience for all of us. He had gotten as much out of his life that he could have, and it was time to let go. An Air Force pilot, air traffic controller, cow farmer, alcoholics anonymous mentor, and father of six, my Grandpa had truly lived his life. He had journeyed through eight decades to get where he was now, and he was proud of it. We were all proud for him. He may have lost his life, but that doesn’t mean my Grandpa wasn’t a champion in his death. And it only took a couple bounces of a basketball for me to figure that out.
I enjoyed reading this essay because it is generally very well written, but I'm not sure that I learned a whole lot from it. The idea of heroic failure, or victory in defeat, is as old as the hills; but your story of course is also about you, about your coming to understand the possibility of such a victory, and that is probably the fact that saves the essay. Moreover, you have found a very interesting way of bringing that theme to life again; I really was impressed by your ability to weave the two threads of this narrative, the story about your basketball team and the story of your grandfather, together.
There is one point where I think you stumble a little: the paragraph beginning "The next couple weeks." The problem is not so much the awkward and confusing simile for the passage of time (the second part of that simile contradicts, I think, the first) as it is the elliptical character of the paragraph as a whole. This paragraph is liable to try your reader's patience a little. To say "our sudden journey changed direction" is to imply, if anything, that some mysterious agent prevented you from continuing on to Saint Louis. "One [loss] for the Jayhawks and one for us" is of course deliberately incomprehensible, but when its meaning does become clear, more or less, in the next paragraph, the juxtaposition of the two very different types of losses seems awkward. It's also difficult to know what you can mean by "there was no time for losing" having just said that you and the Jayhawks had just suffered a loss.
I understand that when you are trying to write with a sophisticated, literary voice, it is bothersome to slow down and explain to your reader what is actually going on at every turn, but there are times when you need to do that. So here, for example, if the point is that you got news en route to St. Louis that your grandpa was very sick, then I think you need to say that.
Aside from that, I have no criticism. I'm ambivalent about the introjected play-by-plays. They don't at all interfere, for me, with the progression of the story, but I'm not convinced that they are necessary. I leave that to you. Oh, one other thing: "animatedly" is too big and ugly an adverb to be splitting an infinitive with.
Thanks for sharing your essay with us. You have already acquired a strong narrative voice, so I hope you keep writing.