Gio's buzzer beater wasn't the only prayer answered

The same hands that, maybe an hour earlier, presented the grieving mother with a framed jersey of her fallen son, were shooting the basketball now. Tie game, shadows lengthening, time growing desperate.

The ball flies to the rim and the frantic gym grows eerily silent. Maybe because the ball looks to be on target, despite the unlikeliness of it all, this prayer from halfcourt.

And then it happened. The ball finds the basket, making this 'dung' sound basketball people know to be melodious, sort of like a cousin to 'swish' when the ball hits nothing but net.

Good basket. Celebratory pile of humanity. Whalers win. Prayer answered. In so many ways.

Yes, this was the scene last Thursday at Conway Gym, among the most inspirational nights in the history of the region's home office for basketball. Gio Lopez, amid a memorable senior season in two sports now, made the game-winner for New London High at the buzzer, helping his team hand Prince Tech its first defeat.

Gio Lopez lives on the same street in the city as Henrietta "Miss Pinky" Collins.

Lopez knew Travon Brown, Missy Pinky's son, who was killed during an act of violence in the city nearly two months ago.

Lopez, who wore an ankle monitor during earlier days at the high school, has redirected his life, now a two-sport captain talking about college.

Lopez presented Miss Pinky with Travon's framed No. 24 jersey, the one he wore during his days as a Whaler, during a halftime ceremony of the Prince Tech game.

And then Lopez, with the same hands that handed Miss Pinky the jersey and the same ankle that once wore the monitor, rose to shoot the ball, winning the game with a prayer.

Perhaps it's here we present the words of author Emery Allen: "Do you think the universe fights for souls to be together? Some things are too strange and strong to be coincidences," Allen wrote once.

Indeed. It's as if in one moment, the cosmic tumblers aligned, if ever so briefly making sense of the unfathomable, some spirit somewhere linking life and death with one launch of a basketball.

"It wasn't just about winning. It was about this picture," Brown's brother, Curtis Goodwin, said last week, alluding to a photo of Lopez presenting Miss Pinky with the framed jersey. "A mother who loses a son to a horrible murder. A young man who could have been in my brother's position. He could have been a statistic. But he was aided by my brother's spirit. He did something special. Thank you for being an example. What a win for New London. What a way to honor my brother."

Tray Brown's death defies any earthly rationale. But what if there's more? What if the narrative lies on a more spiritual or metaphysical level? What if his death gives others in and out of the city a new respect for life? What if his death is a beacon to kids like Lopez and others who are with the wrong crowd, making the wrong decisions and on the wrong side of the law?

What if his death encourages a light for the way to those who need it?

Gio Lopez spent a few weeks of his life not long ago at the Hartford Juvenile Detention Center. He knew he was a real pain in the ascot to his coaches and teachers as late as last year. And now? Among the most popular kids in school with enviable inner strength. The kid the universe chose as its vessel to send a powerful, enduring and inspirational message to Tray Brown and his family.

There's a reason New London coach Craig Parker calls Conway Gym "the palace" and our "Madison Square Garden." Because history is written by the victors. And around here, that's the green and gold. But what happened inside the palace last week fortified Einstein's great line, "coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous."

The kid who turned around his life, neighbor of the grieving mother, hands her the framed jersey and then wins the game with a prayer. Euphoria from the throes of sorrow.

Maybe the palace's greatest story ever told.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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