Like Mike… I wanted to be Like Mike.
Michael Jordan was my hero. Looking back now, my fandom may have crossed the line into unhealthy obsession. MJ collages, Wheaties boxes, magazine articles and posters covered my walls.
I hung a pair of shoes in the corner of my room in the same fashion Lil' Bow Wow did in the movie "Like Mike". I wrote “Michael’s Secret Stuff” on my Gatorade bottles.
Naturally, I chose the No. 23 and set out to mold myself into the women's basketball version of the greatest to ever do it.
That is what I always wanted to hear from the PA announcer as I took the floor.
Three games into my freshman year, I was starting my first game as an Oklahoma Sooner. Throughout my starts, I found myself in the top 10 of every statistical category among freshmen in the country (Coach Coale would never let me say that without admitting that includes turnovers too).
Needless to say, “I believed I could fly.”
Then I found myself falling to the ground, grabbing my right knee, and fearfully screaming at what I just felt happen. I had torn my ACL.
I went through the gruesome six months of rehab only to come back and tear my left ACL five months later at the preseason scrimmage.
719 days without the one thing I had always had in my life, basketball. I thought that was hard … then I returned to the court.
For all my waiting, I foolishly thought I would immediately come back stronger than before, but I thought wrong.
Once I was back on the court, the struggle was just beginning. In the following two seasons, there were points where I honestly evaluated myself as an average basketball player at best. There was a game where, for the first time in my life, I sat on the bench for the entire game.
As confidence and competence fluctuated, so did my play. This year, for the first time in a long time, I have begun to feel like I am back to “my old self.”
Just as I am beginning to graze the surface of my potential I am hit by a stunning realization … Senior Night is approaching, and the dusk of my Oklahoma career looms near.
I’m not ready for it to be over. It’s not that I’m scared of the future; I’m not done with the present. I feel that, though I have come so far, I still have considerable room to grow.
Despite the strides I have made since returning from injury, I still have not come close to reaching my potential as a person, as a leader and as a basketball player.
I am not ready to prematurely halt my pursuit of those goals, for I truly believe that they are nearly within my reach. But, deep down, it’s the people that I am not ready to leave. Special human beings that have all impacted my life exponentially.
My teammates, the coaches and staff, have become my family. I’m not ready for the locker room talks, late night shooting sessions or karaoke parties with my teammates to be over.
I’m not ready to walk through an office and not be greeted by our staff. And I’m definitely not ready to leave my coaches who have taught me so much more than how to put the ball in a basket; they have been my mentors, my role models and my friends.
Fourteen years later, and I still want to be “Like Mike”. No, his posters no longer hang in my room. I went through puberty and developed slightly more girly, sophisticated decorative tastes. But I still wear his jerseys. I still wear his number. I still steal his moves. The magazine articles may no longer adorn my walls, but the words still echo through the deepest recesses of my memory.
A specific two-word fax message dated “March 18th, 1995” has ricocheted through my mind these past few months, as I have pondered whether returning for another year would be worth the inevitable payment required in blood, sweat, and tears. My childhood hero returned to basketball because he had unfinished business, and it might even be offensive to “His Airness” not to follow his lead.
So without further ado, I intend to come back for the sixth and final chapter.
But first, it’s time to finish this current chapter of my story the right way: with a group of seniors that I have grown so much with over the last five years.