Maxie Esho held an ABL championship trophy on one hand and the Finals MVP award on the other. A mixture of euphoria, relief, exhaustion, and disbelief ran across his face.
“I still can’t believe it, man. I thought X (Xavier Alexander) was gonna have this in his hands,” he said, pointing to the hardware that signifies that he was the best player in the series.
It was a joyous scene for the BTN CLS Knights Indonesia after a thrilling Game 5 finish inside the OCBC Arena in Singapore last Wednesday. As soon as the final buzzer sounded, the Knights ran towards the middle of the court, jumping and shouting in jubilation.
“I’m speechless. My first championship as a pro basketball player,” Esho said.”It’s very overwhelming.”
Esho couldn’t believe he’s now a champion, let alone the MVP of the finals series where he averaged 20 points on 52 percent shooting, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in five games. He was overwhelmed because he knew that the best player on the opposing team also wanted to have his moment.
“Going through the game I thought X was gonna win, I thought X was gonna have this,” he said. “I understand his story so I try to imagine his pain.”
Heading into the Finals, the Slingers were coming in hungrier than ever because they lost twice before. They failed to capture the title during the 2015-2016 season against the Westports Malaysia Dragons. The following year, they fell in heartbreaking fashion, losing in double overtime versus Hong Kong Eastern on their home floor.
Esho knew that Alexander was hell-bent to lead his team to the title this year. He realized that the X-Man was willing to do whatever it took to finally become a champion. He knew that the player he was up against was motivated by pain, loss, and regret.
“So I thought I had to work harder. You know? I thought I had to work harder than that. I worked with my teammates,” he explained.
The Indonesian World Import put himself in the position of his opponent. He drew inspiration and motivation from his adversary.
“Big shoutout to X – somebody that pushed me in this league, somebody that always [brought] out the best in me going against him. The best defender that checks me,” he said. “I just want to congratulate him on a wonderful season. That dude works hard, plays on both ends of the floor.
“Much love to Alexander, their whole organization, they play hard. Those guys are fighters.”
Esho became a better player because of competitors like Alexander and the Slingers who pushed him to his limits. But he also believed that the work he put in would eventually bear fruit. He honed his game to what it is today through countless hours of training.
“I practice every day, I go hard, my teammates go hard. A lot of people complain in our gym but we practice in our gym every day. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears were given,” he said.
In the end, the two trophies that Esho held in his hands became a testament to his dedication and workmanship.
“I work on these things that I do in here every day. I work on them every day, off days, days before games, I do this every day,” he stressed. “I worked hard for this and I know my teammates did too.”
From being a steady contributor last season, Esho blossomed into an all-around superstar. He was the Knight in shining armor that helped Indonesia fulfill its destiny.