Basketball player

What a young basketball player felt as he aimed for a shot that will change his life – and missed: NPR



AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Biles’ decision to withdraw from this week’s Olympic competition has shocked fans around the world. She admitted that her emotional state was precarious and that being the star of the Olympics was not easy. Biles became the most recent athlete to train under the competitive mental health spotlight.

ARI SHAPIRO, HTE:

In sports, we usually focus on what is happening on the gym floor, on the field or on the court – what the athletes are doing. Today we are launching a series that focuses on what athletes think during and after the clutch moments of their performance. We call the series Almost a Dub, conversations with athletes about moments of victory, defeat and perseverance that shaped their lives.

CHANG: That moment for Darius Washington Jr. came 16 years ago. He was in college and one of the top five freshman basketball players in the country.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

UNIDENTIFIED ADVERTISER # 1: Darius Washington Jr. – he has 10 points.

CHANG: It was the championship game that would bring his team, the University of Memphis Tigers, to the NCAA tournament – the so-called Big Dance. The Tigers led 75-73.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER # 1: Two-point game, Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER # 2: He was hit.

UNIDENTIFIED ADVERTISER # 1: Foul on Garcia.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER # 2: He was hit.

SHAPIRO: In the last second of the game, Washington was fouled and approached the line to take his free throws. Washington’s father, Darius Washington Sr., who was a good basketball player himself, had groomed his son for this time.

DARIUS WASHINGTON SR: I got the concept of – it’s about winning. And that’s what I instilled in him. No one remembers the second place. Anybody.

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: Not a day has gone by that we haven’t done something with basketball. You know, we were in the gym, you know, from sunrise to sunset or so. And we just hammered it, hammered it, hammered it, until it became second nature.

DARIUS WASHINGTON SR: We were at a tournament and they came in second.

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: Oh, yeah.

DARIUS WASHINGTON SR: So – and on his way home he had the trophy. Remember this? He had the trophy in the car.

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: Yeah, I was happy, yeah.

DARIUS WASHINGTON SR: So he was happy with this second place trophy.

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: I’m happy. Oh yes.

DARIUS WASHINGTON SR: And I was like, you can get in the car, but that second place trophy doesn’t go in that car.

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: … I don’t get in this car.

DARIUS WASHINGTON SR: So …

(TO LAUGH)

DARIUS WASHINGTON SR: So he held it out the window while I was driving. Now he’s in the car; the trophy came out of the car. And when I tell you I was trying to hit all the bumps and stuff, you know because he can drop that trophy because we weren’t going to get it back – from that point on he knew the second up was just something we just weren’t going to put up with.

CHANG: Male (laughs). Second place was not something we were going to put up with – the daddy lesson that was drilled into Darius Jr.’s head. And that lesson was on his mind as he walked over to the line to perform these free throws on March 12, 2005.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER # 1: If he hits three in a row, Memphis goes to the NCAA Championship.

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: I was nervous on the first free throw. But you see that one came in.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

UNIDENTIFIED ADVERTISER # 1: Two to go.

UNIDENTIFIED ADVERTISER # 2: Boy, is that relieving the pressure right now?

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: The hardest part was the first, for sure. When this one came in you couldn’t tell me I wouldn’t do the next two. And when I missed the second …

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER # 2: Vern (ph) I would have a hard time telling you now that if you – you’ll see a more pressurized situation this year in this tournament that we’re looking at here.

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: I was like, alright, alright, I’m definitely going to drop this one.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER # 1: The tournament is in play.

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: It’s missed.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

UNIDENTIFIED ADVERTISER # 1: Louisville wins.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED ADVERTISER # 2: Someone needs to help this kid.

SHAPIRO: When the third ball bounces off the rim, Darius Jr. drops to his knees, puts his jersey over his head, and lies down.

(MUSIC EXTRACT)

DARIUS WASHINGTON SR: We were actually behind him. So when he came down and I saw him, I knew from that moment – and I told my wife about it. I was like, I have to get down there because they’re not going to get him out of that lot. So I tried to go down. Security is trying to stop me. Then someone was like, it’s her dad. The coaches were there. I mean, they were trying to pick him up, but he wasn’t going anywhere because I know my son.

So I go out and bend over. And I was like, listen; we are going to get out of here. We’re going to come out with our heads held high, and we’ll discuss it all in the locker room. So we went to the locker room. Basically, you know, he gave it all up then, you know? He was frustrated. He was throwing stuff. And, you know, I let him – you know, just get it all out, you know? And he was like, that’s not supposed to happen to me – dah, dah, dah, dah, dah (ph). And I was like, well, we’re together because my name is Darius Washington too.

(MUSIC EXTRACT)

DARIUS WASHINGTON SR: So I have to follow this path for the rest of our lives as well. We cannot go back. We can not do anything. We’re going to hold our heads up high and we’re going to make it work. So, you know, at this point, we just have to get out of here, go back to – you know, to the hotel, and we’ll talk about that a little bit more. For the first hour, you know, we were talking – me, him, my mom. His grandmother was there. Everybody was there. So we were talking about it. Then he went to lie down. So I was sitting watching “SportsCenter”. They were showing it. I watch – every chain that I spin I’m like, damn. So I started to think. I’m like, now how can I – because it’s definitely not a good time in the Washington house.

So how can I, you know, move this forward so that he understands that it’s not the end of the world? He woke up and we talked about it a bit more. I then showed him where he had gone wrong. I showed him, hey, this is where you lost your focus. When you hit the first one, you looked towards the bench. You do your little thing by pointing your finger. And he saw it, and he accepted it. So around 5 o’clock, I told him to get dressed. And he was like, where are we going? Because I had already thought about it before. And there’s no need to run and hide because it’s going to come and get you anyway. So I was like, come on, man, we’re going down on Beale Street. And he was like, are we going to Beale Street?

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: (Laughs) I was like, yo …

DARIUS WASHINGTON SR: (Laughs) I don’t want to go to Beale Street. I said, no, we’re going to Beale Street. So it was actually the best decision that could have happened because when we got here, I mean people were just laughing. They were coming all over the place, just nagging, just, you know, give him, you know, five and tell him it’s okay; you know we love you, you know For you to do what you did, to bring them back, to show the passion, to lay down on that ground, it showed that you had left everything behind. And so from that point on, it was really good, you know?

(MUSIC EXTRACT)

DARIUS WASHINGTON JR: I think if that were to happen in today’s era, you should quit social media because they are going to kill you for sure. Like, you know, with me following and – you know, all these graphics (laughs) – all these graphics and everything they have, it’s ridiculous. Do you know what I’m saying? So I think during the first week you should definitely quit social media and let it calm down. You have to bring your mind together. You have to get your mind back. Get out of social media. But you have to deal with it on your terms.

CHANG: Darius Washington Jr. had a short stint in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs. He continues to play professionally abroad.

(EXCERPT FROM M83 “MEET FRIENDS”)

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