When Moates took me around Green's pick again, the Richmond forward's left knee knifed into my left thigh, and something tore. Mel called timeout, and I limped to the bench. Moates staggered back to the Richmond bench. My leg hurt so badly I thought I'd be hospitalized that night.
Mel screamed at the big guys to hit the boards, but they stared at him with oxen-like passivity. When the whistle blew again I reached out for teammates and they lifted me off my chair. I almost screamed when I put my full weight on the hurt leg. I grabbed DeBrosse and said, "John, I can't move my leg. You've got to take Moates for me."
"F—-you, Conroy, I'm not taking that son of a bitch," DeBrosse said. "He's your man."
In nausea and pain, I watched an exhausted Moates bring the ball upcourt. I had driven the lane the whole game, and there was nothing he could do but chase me. I had scored 25 points against him, equaling my career high. There were pro scouts in the building that day, and I'm sure they noted the unearthly skills that Moates brought to the task of scoring. I hope they also noted that a guard who could not stop Conroy might have difficulty with Jerry West or Oscar Robertson.
I had my hands on my knees when I saw DeBrosse make his move. Because of his fatigue, Moates was incautious as he dribbled. He was bouncing the ball too high when DeBrosse stuck a hand in and swiped it clean. DeBrosse broke for our basket, and Moates, embarrassed and spent, did not even give pursuit. I took one step out of instinct, then stopped out of exhaustion and lack of character. I stood on Richmond's foul line and watched DeBrosse's triumphant flight down the court. I remember being surprised that he was taking the ball straight in instead of laying it in off the glass. When DeBrosse took off, there was an exaggerated bounce to his leap, as though he had jumped higher than he ever had before, but his form was picture-perfect. I had never seen DeBrosse miss a layup. He released the basketball at the height of his jump. The ball nicked the front of the rim, bounced off the back of the rim, then rolled out to the left. Moates sprinted to retrieve the ball, and Richmond scored to go up by one with less than two minutes to play.
They scored. We scored. With two seconds left, a jump ball was called. Mohr tried to tap it to Bridges but hit it too high, and the ball was rolling out of bounds when the buzzer sounded. We had lost the game 100-98. Our terrible season had come to a fitting end. I stood beneath the lights for the last time, then limped to the locker room.
I sat by my locker for a brief moment. The first sob caught me by surprise, and the second one was so loud that it didn't seem to come from me at all. I wept as I had never wept before in public. I could not stop myself. I was lost in the overwhelming grief I felt at losing my game, losing basketball as a way to define myself in a world that was hostile and implacable to me. I removed my jersey and put my face into the number 22, and my sweat mingled with my tears. I gave it up, gave basketball up, gave my game up, the one I played so badly and adored so completely. Each one of my teammates squeezed my shoulder as he passed on the way to the shower. Basketball had lifted me up and given me friends whom I got to call teammates. The game gave me moments in which I brought crowds of strangers to their feet, calling out my name. The game had allowed me to be carried off the court in triumph. The game had allowed me to like myself a little bit, and at times the game had even allowed me to love the beaten, ruined boy I was.
I have always been a closet weeper. When my father would take me apart as a child, I could not cry in front of him or the beating became, instantly, more savage and dangerous. I learned to disembody myself from the boy who was getting beaten. Later, I would cry for much of the night for that kid whom I abandoned when he was being torn up. I never thought of him as belonging to me.
The next morning Mel Thompson, who had never offered me a compliment, said in The News and Courier, "Pat Conroy gave another great performance. That kid gets more mileage out of his talent than any player I have ever coached."