Lou Richie, varsity basketball coach for Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., says what he saw on the hardwood last Friday night was the best sports moment of his life.
It was “Senior Night,” the last Varsity Home game of the season, and the big question of the night was would 17-year-old Lucas Cortez get the chance to play.
Cortez isn’t actually a rostered player but he is a big part of the team. Born with an underdeveloped heart, Cortez can’t play competitive sports but he’s always wanted to be involved.
His principal Pam Shay has known him since he was in elementary school.
“I've never seen it get in his way ever ever so he's this little guy that's really big,” said Shay.
Shay says when Cortez first came to Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland, his parents were worried that he might get bullied because he was smaller than the other students. Shay says when they saw a glimmer of that from the football team, they immediately addressed it. Afterward, Shay said the football team felt so bad that they not only apologized, they took him into their ranks as their equipment manager.
He since has made the transition to basketball and spends his days making sure the team is ready.
“I make sure everyone is doing what they need to succeed, not only on the court but in the classroom as well,” said Cortez.
Cortez is described by everyone around him as humble, selfless and a hard worker. Fittingly, Cortez said he just tries to be positive and just wants to do his part to make the team better.
A few weeks before the final game, his Richie asked Cortez if he’d like to play for just a few minutes. The coach from Berkeley agreed to the plan but he says Cortez hesitated because he didn’t want to be a distraction and so the plans were scrapped.
But then on the day before the game, Cortez had a change of heart and asked the assistant coach multiple times during the game if he could play. So Richie went to the Berkeley coach and asked him if they could make it happen, to which the opposing team’s coach readily agreed.
And so, Cortez was told to suit up.
Senior guard Jake Crudo was on the free throw line when he heard cheers erupt from the stands in the gym.
“I looked over and saw Lucas, and I got a huge smile on my face,” said Crudo. “Everyone was cheering and going nuts the whole building was standing up.”
“It's like the opportunity that you might never get again, so I just went out there and played,” said Cortez. “I just wanted to make the most of it.”
Getting in might have been enough. His coach told us he never thought Lucas would score.
“I would have bet money against it,” said Richie.
But Cortez’s teammates were determined to give him a chance.
Cortez got his hands on the ball three times during the game. The first two shots didn’t get there but the third went in and the crowd went wild. Cortez didn’t notice he says because he was already running back down the court to take a defensive position.
It is that kind of attitude that has inspired the entire O’Dowd community. He shows selflessness in every action. He shows humility even in his moment in the spotlight.
Players say his attitude spills over to the rest of the team.
“He's incredible; he's the most positive person I know,” said Crudo. “He always has a smile on his face. He brightens up every practice, every game.”
Cortez’s moment in the spotlight has been relived on video countless times. His coach says they all have learned a lesson of perseverance, resilience and hard work.
Positive reactions from the O’Dowd community have continued since the Cortez’s shot, with some calling it the single best moment in the school’s history.
“People really appreciated the moment and that's the best thing that Lucas could ever give to Bishop O’ Dowd, or Bishop O’ Dowd could give to Lucas. However you want to look at it,” said Richie.
“If he had gone unnoticed by people for the last four years, he's definitely noticed now, which is how it should be,” said Crudo.
Shay says when Lucas graduates this spring he won’t just be missed on the court and in the locker room -- he’ll be missed on campus too. She’s not sure who can take his place.
“I don't know; that's one of these things that we say to each other, ‘Who is going to take his place?’ And I don't think anyone can,” said Shay. “They are big shoes to fill.”