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Robertson made a layup at the gun, but the radio had gone berserk: "Ninety-one-ninety! Bradley wins! Bradley wins!"
The next morning as the boy was confirmed he kept his eyes on the floor and felt the guilt well up and up till he wanted to run from the church. He was no longer in the state of grace. Sin, in the form of blasphemy and false idols, clung to him like stench to a fish. Other children seemed to eye him with disgust. He knew. And God knew. He won that basketball game.
When we found all this out, our first reaction was to treat him like a leper. His soul, no doubt, looked like a paper plate that had been hit with a direct shotgun blast. He quit going to Communion after that, and he didn't have the courage to go to Confession. He was shunned, but only for a while. We soon relented, recognizing him for the tragic hero he was. We realized his sins would not rub off on us and that they might enable us to avoid the same fate. Every weekend we persuaded him to perform his ritual again. He was a fallen man. We told him that one more log on a roaring fire could not matter.
Bradley kept winning. Our friend became a businessman, selling his soul weekly in exchange for victory. Bradley's record rose to 21-1; then, foolishly, we overlooked the Houston game. Only a few days before Bradley had routed Houston by 21 points. We were cocky, we did not pressure our friend and we could not blame him for the surprise 63-58 loss. Bradley won the rest of its games with routine precision, completing its best year since 1938.
At the end of the season our wan, silent friend was as close to despair as a 12-year-old could get. He spent the summer kneeling in mud puddles, riding his bike into thorn bushes, touching dead snakes. He was rehabilitating himself.
He deliberately exposed himself to flying dirt clods in our wars. He held burning matches till they fizzled out. He was always the first to go down poison-ivy-infested paths. He handled spiders and red ants and drank from the creek behind McMahon's house.
We never intervened. Penance, the church told us, is what purifies sinners.
The next season we tried to get him to perform again. He refused. Bradley played well, but for the first time in five years was not invited to the NIT.
Soon after that our friend's family moved to another part of town and we seldom saw him. A year later his dad was transferred to California, and we never heard from him again. The years went by and things changed. People grew up, went off to school and forgot about Chet and dunk shots and Bradley.