1 Prologue

If I want to become a scientist, I should be able to think about all things scientifically. Atlas Pearson, an irritatingly hyper blockhead (I don't often resort to name calling—unless the names are true, of course—so that's a lot coming from me) has ruined that goal. As you might know, the definition of a common noun—basketball, to be exact—shouldn't be a proper noun. But, of course, Atlas had to come along and crush my dreams. Yep. That's right. The definition of basketball in my dictionary has officially become Atlas. It's absolutely ridiculous and I kind of wish I could shove him into a pond for it.

I would do it if Atlas doesn't also happen to be my best friend.

And, though I don't know if this is something best friends normally do, I recently googled what his name means. Just out of curiosity because, as I mentioned before, I want to be a scientist when I grow up. Which means I want to have as much info in my thirteen-year-old brain as possible. Anyway, if you're up to date with your Greek mythology, you'd probably be able to guess what Atlas's name means.

In case you aren't a very mythological person, Atlas was that Greek titan who supposedly carried the sky on his shoulders. So (surprise, surprise), the name Atlas literally means to carry.

It's surprising how perfectly Atlas's name fits him, because that's exactly what Atlas does. He carries our team. Game after game. Tournament after tournament—that is, until he can't go any further. No matter how forceful he is, he's just a gust of wind. You can blast through a few tough opponents, but when that small trickle of players like that gradually turns into a swirling tornado of them—sometimes on just a single team, it's impossible.

That saying, "Practice makes perfect (or progress)" won't work either because even if we somehow manage to achieve their level of skill, we can't ever beat them because their teams are unified.

Ours is not.

We can't just avoid the powerhouse teams either. You can't avoid a tornado if you walk straight into it.

That's exactly what winning does to you. It forces you forward.

Farther.

Farther.

Farther.

Until you're right in front of the tornado. And you have no choice but to run straight into it.

Then maybe, just maybe, you'll be able to fight through the vicious mass of air and emerge victorious. But if you're not strong enough, all you can do is try.

Harder.

Harder.

Harder.

Evidently not hard enough. Soon, the sheer power of your opponents will overwhelm you.

And then you'll lose. Just like that. A name forgotten among the flood of people who are better. More determined. Atlas is a star, but the players on a unified team are superstars.

That is what we athletes call defeat.

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