STEVE BIKO, THE B.BALL STAR
It was a few minutes to seven o’clock in the evening, East African time, Steve Biko just like most of his teammates was comfortably leaning back on his seat aboard the Kenya Airways Boeing KQ-708. The comfort of the plane and the softness of his seat almost lulled him to sleep. Suddenly the Captain called, “We are landing in five minutes, please everybody fasten your seatbelts and remain seated.” Steve had now been used to such alerts; they were not strange to him anymore. He had boarded a plane for the first time in his life two weeks ago when his team was travelling to Michigan in the United States after qualifying for the NBA School’s championships. ‘The Stormers’ as they were famously known, was the Nairobi University basketball team which had just been crowned as the national champions which made them qualify for this highly feted tournament.
Steve turned his head and looked around the plane, carefully moving his eyes as if he was taking his last glimpse of the plane. The inside of the plane was painted cream white with well decorated red finishing around the almost oval shaped windows. The seats were blue in colour with small cream rectangular patterns, and had the KQ inscription well labelled at the back of each seat. They were arranged in two rows on either side of the plane leaving a clear path at the middle where the air hostesses passed when attending to them or when they went about their business. They had just passed by there a few minutes ago taking away the empty cans left behind after the team enjoyed a round of their favourite Coca-Cola drinks. The floor of the plane had a well laid red carpet which had white and green shield-shaped patterns, an ideal symbol of the Kenyan flag. Above the seats were well partitioned cases in which Steve and his teammates had stacked their bags. Each case had its own perfectly fitting cover which also had the KQ inscription. Just after the front row at the partition that separated the passengers and the pilot’s cabin, it was written ‘The pride of Africa’ in bold well-designed red words. It was such a spectacular view for Steve to behold. He could not hide his joy after enjoying the experience of flying first class on his second time aboard a plane, the wide smile on his face was evident.
“Hey happy man, what is it?” Raul, the team coach, who was seated on his far right on the adjacent row called on him. He had been closely watching Steve for some time. He had earphones well tucked in his ears, probably listening to some music from the CD-player which was well fitted at the back of the chair on his front.
“Am fine coach, all is well,” Steve said trying to wipe off his smile unsuccessfully, “I am just happy.”
“I know. Thank you for making us proud son,” the coach went on.
“Thank you too for believing in me.” Steve replied. “You are the best coach in the world,”
“And that’s why you emerged the best player in the tournament, ha ha!” Coach Raul concluded laughingly.
Steve was very amused and overwhelmed with joy after being voted the best player of the tournament, and the team clinching the highest tittle. The team was now jetting back to the country, the mood was high among the team members and they were looking forward to a warm welcome from their fans at the Jomo Kenyatta international airport. Steve was seated next to a window and could clearly see the city of Nairobi far at a distance; tall buildings looked like small ant hills, with the Mombasa-Nairobi highway looking like a small path meandering through the hardly recognisable buildings. They were finally home.
However, the thought of home did not seem to please him. In his mind he could see the state of his family and only hoped that this would be the beginning of the end of their predicament. Steve was the only child to his mother, having being brought up in a very poor family by the single parent. He did not have the opportunity to enjoy life like most of his peers did. He went to a local school near his home but was out of class most of the time due to lack of school fees. His mother did menial jobs to put food on their table, and many were the times they went to bed hungry. He had nothing like luxury. This was until the government rolled out the free primary and secondary education, which to him came as miracle at the right time, prompting him to settle in school. He was very bright in class and always topped each time the results came out. In his final exams, Steve emerged as the best student and was awarded a government scholarship, and that is how he ended up being in Nairobi University.
Because of his poor upbringing, Steve grew up as a very shy and lonely person with a very low self-esteem. This affected his social life and he used to spend most of his time alone thinking about his poor mother and the demanding state of his home, something which would make him shed tears. He continued being lonely as nobody seemed to care about whatever he was going through.
In his first year in campus, Steve saw the basketball team players train and was very pleased and attracted by the way they played. He would closely watch the way they passed the ball from one player to the other, bouncing the ball on the ground as they moved towards the ring and finally tossing the ball into the ring ‘Vuuuush!’ It was just amazing to him. He longed to learn this game; it looked very interesting and enjoyable at the same time. After one training session, he approached the team coach and told him his strong desire to learn the game. Coach Raul admitted him into the team and began teaching him the moves of the game. He was quick to learn the three-pointers, the passes, the spins and the dunks as well. This game seemed to carry off his mind that he would forget his predicaments, the thoughts of his poor home seemed to fade away the more he played this game.
The coach noticed his dedication to the team and his growing talent and immediately incorporated him in the school’s main team. This is where he met Mike, who was the best player in the team at that time. Mike was very skilled and talented, but also very proud and arrogant. In one training occasion, Mike seemed to miss almost all his shots, while at the same time Steve was hitting all his shots on target. The coach cheered Steve more and congratulated him before the entire team something which made Mike feel very devastated and become jealous of Steve’s performance. He began to hate him, though in secret. However, Steve was very committed in the game than all other team members. He would wake up early and go to the court to train every morning before taking his breakfast. This helped him sharpen his skills and grow his talent. But most important, he played it more because it took away his loneliness feeling and the thoughts of the poor state of his home faded away too. Later that year, the team went up to become the national basketball champions and qualified for the NBA School’s championships in Michigan USA.
Being the only team from Africa, ‘The Stomers’ were given a warm welcome by all the African-American students and fans in the University of Michigan which was hosting the games. In the tournament, Steve and his team faced challenging teams from across the world including Australia and China. They however managed to win their way up the chart to the finals, where they were scheduled to meet one of the best teams in the world, The Cavaliers, from the state of Texas. To that level, Mike and Steve were the key players in the team with each scoring crucial points steering the team to this level, but Steve had a few points more. Although the team was altogether showing an impressive performance in every game, Mike still was still very jealous of Steve. He knew the player with the highest number of points would definitely bag the award of the most valuable player in the tournament and the only guy who stood on his way was his teammate Steve Biko, and the coach seemed to have more confidence in him. He had to do something to win the award.
Then the final match came. This was the game that was going to determine whether the cup would end up in Africa courtesy of Nairobi University or whether it was going to remain in the American soil where it had been for three years in a row. At the Michigan university main arena, the stadium capable of holding fifty thousand fans was filled to capacity. Fans were chanting songs, and making shouts as they eagerly waited for the two teams to make their way to the stadium. Fans loyal to the Cavaliers were donned in their trade mark yellow coloured t-shirts, scarfs and headgears. To come out of the tunnel first was the tournaments mascot. This big puppy-like cartoon was dressed up in white, red and blue costumes ideally looking like the US flag. Behind the mascot followed the two teams with each being led by their coach amidst loud cheers from the fans. The players from both sides looked really psyched up and well prepared for the game, jumping up and down, waving to their fans and acknowledging their chants from all corners of the stadium. After the customary greetings, the toss of the coin, the choosing of sides and the ‘high fives,’ the match kicked off to the cheering of many.
In the first half the Cavaliers seemed more confident, organised and well put, passing the ball carefully, making well calculated moves past the boys from Nairobi. Their players were more talented and experienced, having participated in this tournament several times. When the sound of the whistle was blown to signify the end of the first half, the Cavaliers were up fifty five points against fifty three of ‘The Stormers.’ The coaches from both teams were burning with pressure, they both knew the second half was the final chance they had and each calculation or miscalculation by their players would be celebrated or regretted altogether.
The stadium was experiencing a deafening sound from the loud singing and chants from the fans eagerly waiting to see who would win the title. Some were beating drums, flying flags, with some singing, others blowing trumpets all in a systematic rhythm. The place was rioting with eagerness.
Inside the changing room, the teams were taking a breather.
“This is our last chance guys,” Coach Raul began, “we have made it this far, we cannot let it go.” His voice was becoming heavy as if he was literally begging them to win the match for him. The players were seated in a circle, with the coach standing at the middle addressing them while emotionally moving his eyes from one player to another. Mike had so far hit twenty three points, with Steve having hit twenty. He normally hated competition and did not like the fact that Steve was doing so well. He lifted his eyes and looked at Steve who was drinking water from his can. He saw the first time the boy joined the team as a first year. He even didn’t know all the rules of the game. He was so naïve, quiet and lonely. He remembered that day during training when fate seemed not to be on his side, when he was missing almost all his shots, and the boy was hitting all his’ on target. Then the coach congratulated him in front of the rest of the team, as if to humiliate him. This thought struck him like a sharp nail in his heart. “If only he was not in this team, If only he did not score any point in this tournament, If only he was injured.” He wished all the bad things he felt in his heart against Steve. Suddenly he felt a heavy weight of bitterness fall upon his heart, he stopped staring at Steve and now looked down. At this point he resolved not to pass the ball to him at all during this second and last half.
“Please…please, team work is the thing I want you guys to put up on that court, pleas…” Coach Raul was now yelling, but before he could finish his statement he was cut off by the sound of the whistle calling the players back to the field.
The second half kicked off with speed and focus. Each team seemed stronger and better. After fifteen minutes, the tally had changed. Steve threw in four three-pointers pushing his team a point above their opponents. The noises from the stands increased, time was ticking fast, coach Raul could not sit down, he was almost losing his voice urging his boys to keep going. Steve now had one point more than Mike. Then suddenly Steve got the ball which was carelessly passed on by the Cavaliers players, he dribbled fast towards the ring, Mike was on the far right of the court he quickly gazed upon the clock and only two minutes were remaining, Steve was a few metres from making history, by being the first African player to score the highest number of points, the bitterness upon Mike’s heart leaped again, he could not let Steve do it. No not again! He jumped up the same time Steve also jumped towards the ring, then he carefully moved his hand onto Steve’s face blocking him completely; both of them collided, dropping on the ground with Mike falling on Steve and hitting him on the head!
The stadium went dead silent. It was unbelievable; Mike had blocked his own teammate. The commentators lacked words to explain that. Coach Raul immediately called for time out, Mike looked disturbed. Suddenly Steve rose up to the excitement and cheers of the whole stadium. As he entered the changing room where the rest of the team were gathered, he came up to Mike with a questioning face, Mike did not wait any further, he had now turned a beast. He clinched his fist and threw it firmly at Steve intending to hit him, but before he could do it, one of the security officers who saw his intention him bounced on him bringing him to the ground. He was pulled out of the stadium under heavy security guard.
The match resumed with only a minute left. The boys from Nairobi defended the game for the remaining sixty seconds, sending the whole stadium to an uproar of shouts after the final whistle. A record had been set. ‘The Stormers’ became the first African team to win the NBA schools’ championships with Steve Biko chosen as the most valuable player of the tournament.
As the plane touched down at the Jomo Kenyatta international airport Steve was in high spirits and was very proud of himself. News of their great victory had spread around the world like bush fire. Families, friends and fans had filled up the airport waiting area to welcome the boys back home. Both local and international media journalists were all over taking pictures and asking for interviews. From the crowd, Steve could not notice anybody from his family; probably they even did not receive the news. Anyway, he was used to this from his childhood. He enjoyed the picture moments with the different fans who were so eager to take pictures with him.
Later, at the Nairobi University main campus, the team was hosted for a celebration party with local artists entertaining the revellers who had turned up in big numbers. Steve was chatting with his friends when suddenly Mike appeared with tears on his face. He looked gloomy, tired and older than his age. His eyes were red and swollen. Anybody could tell he had been crying for a long time. He looked at Steve, who looked back at him. They both stared at each other in a silent moment which everybody could tell meant a lot for both of them. They seemed to communicate through their eyes, Mike full of disgrace pleading for mercy and Steve’s full of grace and pity. They finally jumped into each other’s’ arms with Mike sobbing woefully apologetically.
When Steve finally retired in his room that night, the only thing he could not sleep without doing was admiring his array of medals which now seemed to grow as he added the gold medal from Michigan.