I Look Up to My Younger Brother

My senior year. First basketball game of the year against 5A powerhouse Silverton. Our best player suspended. We were down 18–3 with a few minutes left in the first. My brother Diego and I sat at the scorer’s table, waiting to check in. Diego was a freshman playing in his first varsity game, and I was a senior who had played some varsity as a junior, but not a ton. As we sat, my sister snapped a picture. It became my favorite picture of all time.

The famous picture

At first glance at this picture, it looks like I’m advising Diego on what he should expect. Maybe the experienced senior was telling his younger brother what to do, to not be nervous, some deep sentimental stuff. In reality, Diego asks me who I’m guarding. I point at big #23, and he nods then finds his man. There’s no big backstory behind the photo, but I love it anyway. We get to play together. It’s the climax in our basketball stories, finally intersecting.

🏀

My mom got Diego and me a Nerf basketball hoop for Christmas when I was around 8. I don’t think she realized what she would start. For at least 4 years, we would play against each other on that Nerf hoop. Maybe it was because we could dunk on it and shoot lights out, but we camped out in our room playing for hours. We would make our own brackets, creating our own March Madness series with 64 teams. Very intense stuff. My favorite team was Maryland, his was Kansas. I’ll never understand why we chose those two states, but when we played as those teams, we played hard.

It was another Maryland-Kansas championship matchup. We played each game to 40, with a crudely made line acting as our three-point arc. Game tied at 35. Diego may have been smaller than me, but he’s already got a lot of skill. He drives in, and I turn into Dikembe Mutombo. A deafening block. I celebrated by dunking the ball on Diego, who was still on the ground. As he lays there, I said, “37–35. Get up.”
“I can’t Antonio, my foot hurts.” He went to find Mom, who took him to the ER. I sprained Diego’s foot that day, but I was okay with it. What can I say? We’re competitive.

I had won 37–35.

🏀

Diego had just tried out for his 6th grade traveling team, making the A team. He had played on the A-team the year prior and had been a decent role player. I was excited for his first basketball game of the year. I had just been cut from the freshman basketball team at high school I missed basketball, and wanted to stay close with the game.

“Honey, why don’t you try taking Diego’s stats?” My mom suggested. I was skeptical, but I might as well try. We printed off a sheet we found online, added his name, and drove off to Barlow. As we arrived, the coach noticed my stat sheet.

“You doing the whole team’s stats tonight?”

“Yes, I am.” My answer back was a split-second decision. I don’t know why I decided I wanted to do everyone’s stats. Maybe it would help the team know who should play more. But either way, I decided to take the whole team’s stats, but I know I’ll focus on Diego.

Diego has a good first game. 12 points, 4 rebounds, a steal. They win. He has a good second game. They keep winning. They make it all the way to the state championship, with Antonio the stat boy along for the ride. Although they lose to Sherwood by three in the championship, I still think to myself, “That kid’s gonna be good.”

🏀

After getting cut my freshman year, I was able to rebound and make the JV team my sophomore year. I didn’t play much at all, but I was happier to just be a part of the team. Diego’s team was getting better for his 7th-grade season, with Diego taking more of the “star” role. They got to the championship again, but lose to Sherwood again, this time by one.

My junior year I started JV and sat on the bench for varsity. I was finally getting confident in my abilities and even got to play solid minutes in the varsity game against Roseburg. After a sophomore year where I sometimes felt out of place, I was finally part of the team. Although our season didn’t turn out great, I still had fun. Meanwhile, Diego’s team had fun and did great, conquering their demons by beating Sherwood in the championship game by three.

Canby basketball always has an end of the year banquet to celebrate the players and the past year. Each player comes up and has Coach Evans talk about how we did, making a few jokes along the way. I’m up.

“Antonio has made great improvements this year from last year,” Evans said, “He’s been working on his outside shot, and against Roseburg…” You get the point. Basic coaching stuff. That’s all I was hearing, smiling awkwardly as he praised my work ethic. But then, his closing caught my attention.

“And he’s got a brother that’s pretty good, we hear.”

Diego’s hype had infected its way all the way to my awards night speech. For a moment I was frustrated; was I not talented enough on my own? Did my brothers skill (In 8th grade no less) outshine mine? I quickly quieted those thoughts.

There’s no need for a sibling rivalry. This kid’s got the talent. And he’s got his number one supporter.

🏀

Diego has just been named First Team All-League his junior year. The star of the team, he averages 15.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, while shooting 45% from three (Guess who’s still doing his stats). In his time to become a star, I have become the biggest fan of Diego Arredondo. I’m basically Spike Lee at a Knicks game. I travel out to Salem, Hillsboro, and even consider going to Grants Pass to watch him play. The team is fun to watch, full of the same players that made all of those middle school championship games. And he’s the center (small forward, I should say) of attention.

🏀

I look up to my younger brother and that’s not that weird. I’ll always be Diego’s biggest supporter no matter what. Yes, it helps that he’s good. And his team is fun to watch. But, it’s more than that. He’ll always be the kid who’s foot I almost broke playing Nerf basketball. He’ll always be my little brother.

With COVID striking this year, ‘m not sure if I’ll be able to see him play for Canby again. And that really sucks for many reasons, but I selfishly wanted to see him beat up on more kids. Because I’ve watched him grow. I sat with him against Silverton as he was a nervous freshman.

There’s a reason I love that picture of us so much. We’ve been through a lot together, but when it comes to basketball, we’ve been separated. 3 years apart does that. We’ve always played against each other 1v1, or I’ve watched him play through the years. But for that one year, we shared the court as teammates. Our basketball lives came together. That first game against Silverton, I didn’t need to give him heartfelt advice at that moment. I didn’t need to be jealous of his skill. I didn’t need to make the moment have some deeper meaning. I just wanted to play with my brother.

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