by Chris O’Leary

There are a lot of sneakers in my closet. Stacks of boxes, divided by brand and usage: casual/outdoor on one side, on-court-only on the other.

Out of all of those shoes, only one pair—my red/white/silver And1 Tai Chis—have been retired. Normally, I don’t agree with retiring sneaks, unless they’re unusable but still have sentimental value. But that’s not the case with my Tai Chis. They sit in my closet and are ready to go.

The reason they’re retired is because the Tai Chi was on my feet for the greatest moment of my basketball-playing life.

I’ve mentioned here before that my playing days didn’t really ever amount to much. Buried on the bench in high school where I went entirely unrecruited, my competitive playing days were done at the end of my senior year.

Six-years removed from high school, the apex of my playing days finally found me. The stage, my university intramural league, was as informal as it can get. No jerseys, no numbers. Just 10 guys on a court with refs who seemingly earned their 10 bucks an hour by trying to out-bad-call each other as the night wore on.

But still. First place in the league was on the line. The two undefeated teams in the league, my squad and…I don’t know, some other guys. They don’t matter in this story anyway, aside from the fact that they were there.

Like any good clash between two undefeated teams, the game was back and forth from the opening tip. We got down late in the second half and things looked bleak. Trailing by two, I bricked a three from the elbow that  seemingly sealed our fate. The other team had the ball in the final seconds of the game (there were no scoreboards, just the ref’s countdown—”15 seconds!” he bellowed) and I assumed they’d milk the clock and we’d have to foul.

But then, lady luck gave the bad guys a shot below the bAND 1 Tai Chielt. The other team’s guard saw an opening at the top of the key and drove, popping a shot from 15-feet out. The rebound shot off the rim and landed in my hands.

I looked up and saw a full court open in front of me. “Go,” I told myself. And I went, as fast as I could up the court. Scoreless on the night, shooting terribly and being otherwise ineffective, I heard the ref’s countdown. “Five, four…”

All five guys on the other team flocked towards me. A crossover to the right, then left freed me of the first two.

“Three, two…”

Another two came straight at me and I lost them with a spin dribble.

The last defender stood about 10 feet away from me and gave me the shot.

“One…”

As great as the effort may have been, I was out of time. All my dribbling and running had gotten me somewhere between my own three-point line and halfcourt. I blindly launched the ball with one hand, watched it arch and then turned my back to walk towards the bench.

A strange silence filled the gym. I looked back at the rim and saw the mesh swaying, the ball bouncing high into the air after going through.

My teammates let out howls of celebration as they ran towards me. I could feel the adrenalin running from my legs to my stomach, to my chest, like a soaring thermometer. I channeled a 1999 Allan Houston for my post-game celebration.

That night, I got home and unpacked my gym bag. I looked at my Tai Chis and knew what had to be done. I straightened up the laces, tucked them inside the shoes, kissed the front of them and packed them away. I haven’t worn them since.

Tomorrow, I’ll drop the conclusion of my Tai Chi tribute, as And1′s Rob Purvy talks to me about the November re-release of the shoe.