Better and Better

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I grip my basketball tight, and look up to see four palm trees. Tall, swaying in the wind. Underneath my feet, gray cement reflects the shade of sky.

As usual, I don’t let the weather faze me. As usual, I’m out here practicing, on my own. Nobody to challange, nobody to trip.

The temple sits silently, staring hard at my dribbling. Gods have gathered on the rooftop to witness my routine: warm up, lay ups, mid-range, 3-point, 1-on-1 moves, speed drills… They never complain when I do the same shit over and over again. I thought they would get tired of me, but the bearded figures, tigers, and dragon-like creatures just sit. And stare.

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I am always looking to get better. I put time in, because I know I need to work harder than anybody else on the court. I don’t have the resources, competition, mentor, or physical advantage. An unsupportive family who discouraged my basketball playing every step of the way. What I do have, and pride myself in, are discipline and determination. I am determined to be good. Good at basketball. What I don’t have, I make up with time. Time is my love language, and I choose to spend it the gods and temple: driblling, shooting, whatever.

Three hours today. Two two-hour sessions tomorrow. On my own. months and months; year after year.

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Until I got in to high school, that was my life. Everyday after school, I rushed to the temple to practice moves I had seen on TV the night before. As a child, I knew what discipline was. I knew practice will pay off. I knew that because I didn’t have what other people had, I needed to work hard.

I tried out for the high school team and made varsity. Before that I had never played organized basketball. I had a lot to learn, but my practicing earned me a spot on the starting squad. We traveled far, from Korea to Japan, the Philippines back to Taiwan. It was a lot for a young mind, one from a small, mostly agrarian town where youth gathered at temples to battle.

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Those moments were unforgettable. My 40-point games were glorious. I liked being in the news. A local star. I was confident, yet I always remembered where I came from. It was beat hard in to my system.

Four years later, I traveled 8000 miles to a different country. I walked on a college basketball team where prejudice, assumptions, ignorance, religious zeal put out my fire for the game.

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For two years I wasn’t able to look at a basketball. Let alone touch one.

I play now. Regularly. I’m grateful. Sometimes I forget what fire I used to have for the game. When I look back at what I didn’t have and how I used it to my advantage, I realize how far I’ve come.

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When I remember that fire, I almost taste a youthful passion and insatiable desire. It’s like time traveling. It feels good, and I become inspired by my younger self. My fingers start to shake with excitement; my adrenaline starts to pump. I cannot wait until I’m at the gym again.

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