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As I neared 50, I began to feel a slight tension in my forearms and wrists. I had sunk 40 straight several times, but my all-time best was a streak of 54 as a sophomore. "Look out!" I threw a shot up with too much arch, it was drifting to the right. "Huh!" The ball somehow fell through the net, barely nicking the rim. "...51," Charlie said. I threw up another shot, and this time I didn't follow through fully. "Get there!" I yelled, applying body English. The ball hit the front of the rim, caromed softly against the backboard, bounced several times on the backplate and went in. "...52!" Charlie grinned at me. He knew I was losing it.
The next shot was perfect. Grab, bounce, lift, release...swish. "...53!" And the next, tying my record, "...54!" And finally, the shot for the new record: Swish. "...55!"
With No. 55 safely down, the tension left my arms. I quickly regained my rhythm. "...59...60...61...." I now felt that I could not miss. When I spun the ball before shooting, the basket seemed close enough to touch. I saw myself stretching out and dropping the ball gently over the front of the rim. "...72...73...74...." Charlie was no longer testing me. He threw perfect bounce passes so I wouldn't have to move my feet. Grab, bounce, lift, release...swish. "...78...79...."
Then the lights in the gym went out.
Coach Ceravolo's outline appeared in a door at the far end. "That's it," he called. "Take a shower."
I don't remember the impassioned negotiations that must have followed. I don't even remember leaving the foul circle. But, the lights came back on. "Shoot faster," Charlie said. "He's speaking at some dinner, and he has to leave."
I didn't shoot faster. I tried to regain my rhythm. "...80...81...82...." Coach Ceravolo came out and watched for a moment. It was fitting that he be there, for he was the architect of my streak. In my sophomore year he had made me change my shot—ruined it, I thought—by altering the way I held the ball and by forcing me to practice my follow-through on two-foot bank shots 100 or so times a day. He had the good grace not to remind me of my sulkiness then.
"...86...87...." Coach left again, saying I had only a few more minutes. Our 6'9" center, Pete Mitchell, ambled by, grinning. "What did you do wrong?" he asked. He thought I was being punished.
"...90...91...." As I neared 100, my concentration began to fail. On one shot I became aware of sweat trickling down my ribs as I released. On another, my eyes suddenly jerked up and followed the ball as it left my hands. (Or did I always do that? I couldn't remember.) Not missing was becoming a strain.
Grab, bounce, lift, release...swish. Grab, bounce, lift, release...swish.