Tears streamed down my face as the desert air hugged me with her warmth. Alone but not lonely, a cellphone was stuck to my ear. My international calling card propelled my mom from thousands of miles away to just a millimeter from my cheek. I kept repeating to her, “I made it Mom, I made it Mom.” She was probably confused because I woke her up when I called her at 5am pacific coast time. She repeated back in harmony like a friendly game of Ping-Pong, “What did you make? What did you make?” I finally deliver the message I called for, “Mom I signed my first Pro Contract!”
We played Ping-Pong again, not with words this time, with mutual tears. The cute thing is that we both got the sniffles from crying, so if someone heard our conversation they might have thought we were speaking over the static of a Walkie-Talkie. I sat there outside the Hotel on a liberating bench in the middle of a city with under 1000 people. There were no sounds besides the clicking of the 1970’s nostalgic film-set playing back all the difficult basketball memories I had endured until that point in my head.
Images of the hours I spent in my high school gym smoothly transitioned to my lonely prep school dormitory 3000 miles away from home. I observed the emotions of the rollercoaster we will refer to as my basketball career. I remembered sitting on the bench at Prep school and the regular 5:30am walks I would make through the snow to the gymnasium trying to do something about it.
That chapter then faded to my brief stint at a local Junior College in California where I decided it was best for me to train myself instead of with the team for the next 8 months until the next college recruiting period. The image of that coach popped up during this film session. His snarl came before my eyes, looking at all his players in disgust. I didn’t have control over this film session; it just kept going, fading faster and faster.
It then started up the memories I had at UC Irvine, the most bittersweet 3 years of my life. I relived the fracture in my freshman-shooting wrist after a spill during practice, which had me sidelined for the bulk of the season. That bench became my best friend-enemy those years. Tears were pouring at this point in the reel. Was someone cutting onions on set or something? The images of my sophomore year came to. The year where I regularly watched the team bus pull out of the parking lot on the way to away games without me…I wasn’t worth the top 13 travel spots at the time. But I was worth the sweat that poured off my yearning body during my personal practices after team practices.
I remember being compelled to play. I very simply owed it to myself, “their human, I’m human, I will show my value”, I remember saying to myself. I eventually worked my way into the starting line up. And when the images of the announcer proclaiming my name to the hometown crowd of Irvine, California during my first college career start I smiled deep within my heart. From the bench in Iran, I felt comfort in knowing that I had made it before. I worked through struggles before. The comfort left me as the film session skipped to the pop of the MCL (medial collateral ligament) in my knee junior year.
The film session then rolled through my aggressive rehab and to the day I got cleared for play. This would have been a positive memory had I not severely rolled my ankle THE DAY I GOT BACK; not to mention it was Game Day. The film reel slowed down, it must have hit the climax in the story as my eye water-level ran low. I came back to that live moment on the bench; I felt comfortable in that Sun. It was the perfect weather condition for a nap.
My mom and I shared the Walkie-Talkie for a few minutes during my flashback film session and walk from the hotel to the arena. The temperature of the air rose during the walk drastically. Was I in a sauna? No, I was in South Iran living out a new beginning. I end that call and leave a series of voicemails to the most important people in my life, poor people getting voicemails at 5am. You guys probably couldn’t go back to sleep.
The hot air brought out a few drops of sweat, my body was now warm. I entered the arena naturally warmed up and ready; ready to put the reels from the past away in the mental safe and even more ready to set up a new camera -with a new lens- to get new shots- of the newest chapter in my career…with my same Vision.