It should have been historic. It should have been life changing. It should have defined a team and brought the players closer together for the rest of their lives. It should have made all the difference.
Imagine if heartbreak and tragedy were bestowed upon the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins football team. Imagine if fate had a different plan for you – as if you were to pay penance for an eternity because of a single glorious night.
Now imagine you are the basketball players for the North Jackson Cheifs, from the tiny rural town of Stevensen, AL.
Stevenson lies between two ridges in north Alabama, by the Tennessee River, a dark blue vein on the earth. There, on Valentine’s Day 1992, the North Jackson Chiefs hosted the Fort Payne Wildcats in high school basketball. It was not a playoff game, not even a conference game, and neither team was especially good. But in the 117-year history of organized basketball, it was one of the few times a team with only two remaining players beat a team that still had five.
If this were a movie, the story would end at the final buzzer. The winners would always be winners, fists in the air and black jerseys glistening, and the losers would always hang their heads. This is not a movie. Morning came and they all woke up.
This is the bifurcated story of exhileration and heartbreak; the story of a team who beat the odds, who won a basketball game in overtime when all but two of their players fouled out; the story of a poor community that had nothing except each other and then this basketball win that is still talked about in the bars and restaurants. The real story, though, is the heartbreak that would occur in the ensuing decade with players being shot, going to jail, ending up fighting with each other. Tearing the community asunder.
It is at once profoundly sad and breathtakingly exciting. This is the single best piece of sports writing I’ve read this year. Kudos to Sports Illustrated and Thomas Lake. [2 on 5]