Al-Shabaab’s 1st game: The tale of our tragedy

Al-Shabaab, our basketball team in Saudi, played its first game. We’re in a league with a bunch of Filipino teams – Filipinos love basketball.

Some of the guys who played last year warned us about the officiating. They said the calls can be pretty rough. But we went into it feeling optimistic and looking forward to playing.

The tipoff went up, oh, and then a second time because there was some kind of mistake for the first one, and then it began.

The first call of the game was a moving screen, called against us. It seemed kind of dodgy, but whatever. That’s how it goes, we thought. But that was just the beginning of how it went.

Shortly after that, they started calling a bunch of traveling calls. Some were against the other team, but most were against us. Again, maybe that’s just how it goes. Maybe we play differently than they’re used to seeing.

Then it started getting sloppy.

One guy got knocked over away from the ball. No call. Down at the other end, though, they called him for touching the side of one of the other team’s players as he dribbled past, the ref smiling as he explained to the scorekeepers.

Back at our end again, they called a technical foul on one guy for putting his hand in front of the in-bound passer’s line of view. No warning, just a technical. They called a bunch of other technicals, justified in this case, when our guys started yelling at the refs to make better calls.

I won’t go into each of the calls one by one. There were so many – I don’t even remember them all. As they added up, though, they certainly weren’t in our favor.

Halfway through the first quarter, while going for a steal on a fast break, I slipped on the dusty court, fell, and slid my legs on the concrete floor. I brushed it off pretty well and got back into the game, but I felt sore through the rest of the night.

In the beginning, we played okay. We extended our lead while keeping the score low. We knew the other team liked to run and gun. We, on the other hand, had the size advantage.

We should have won. We should have come out on top despite all the calls.

But the calls kept falling against us, piling up. We’d ask the refs about them, and they wouldn’t even answer. The announcer over the loud speaker would mock us. The crowds jeered.

Our guys quickly got into foul trouble too, which made all of us quickly lose our cool.

The other team was climbing over us to get rebounds, and they weren’t getting called on it. But when we inbounded the ball at one point and the other team tipped it, forcing us to catch it backcourt, the refs called us for a backcourt violation.

The other team would walk into the free-throw lane while guys were shooting, but no whistle. And then we’d get called for taking too long to bring the ball up the court. Evidently, eight seconds is all we got.

The breaking point came when one of our guys was shooting foul shots after getting hacked during an attempted layup. The quarter was almost over. One teammate called me to move up the court toward the basket so I could potentially shoot a three if our team got the rebound. No need to guard against the pass to the other end of the court – there wasn’t time for that.

As this was happening, my teammate, at the foul line, put the ball up like he was going to shoot but didn’t shoot immediately. Three guys on the other team jumped into the lane, but the refs called something against our guy for taking too long to shoot.

“That’s it. We’re done. We’re not coming back,” my teammate said, and walked to the bench to grab his bags. Another teammate was about to try to calm him down but realized it was probably a lost cause.

He turned to the rest of us, “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

Normally, someone would hesitate. Normally, someone would push back. Normally, someone would try to calm down the team and pull it together.

We all wanted to play basketball. But this wasn’t basketball.

No one hesitated. We were done. We’d had enough. We were tired of trying to interpret the rules, tired of getting injured, and most of all tired of feeling cheated. Al-Shabaab walked off as a team.