'A Shot For Life', Hour By Hour
April, 12, 2011
By Brendan Hall | ESPNBoston.com
Last week, we profiled Catholic Memorial senior Mike Slonina, a manager for the school’s basketball team these last four years, who has taken the daunting task of trying to shoot a basketball for 24 hours in the name of brain cancer research (his mother, Betsy Cullen, had a brain cancer scare last year that turned out to not be cancerous).
Sunday at noon, Slonina completed the task, having served up 8,101 shots and nailed 5,930 of them, for a cumulative shooting percentage greater than 72 percent.
Slonina has been hampered by nerve damage to his left foot that has left him physically unable to play at the high school level. Having not played a minute of high school ball, CM head coach Dennis Tobin swears Slonina is the team’s best shooter.
Meanwhile his mother, a self-employed photographer and art consultant, is waiting and fearing the worst. She’s hoping her son can survive, let alone reach the lofty goals he’s set for the shoot-a-thon (300 shots per hour, 10,000 shots total).
The day has finally arrived, and I have decided to take on the daunting (and insane) task of staying up all 24 hours to chronicle how he performs. What you are about to witness below is my hour-by-hour account, unedited, for your viewing pleasure. Have away with it.
Slonina enters the building with a fresh shooting sleeve, two pairs of sneakers and a rotation of nurses, paramedics, and classmates who have volunteered to do his rebounding.
I come equipped with my laptop, camera, four Red Bulls, nine hours sleep and an iPod shuffle with an 85-track techno mix.
Let’s see who survives.
PREGAME: ‘CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S FINALLY HERE’
Mike Slonina tossed and turned in his sleep until about 2 a.m., and estimates he got about seven hours of sleep. He woke up to three “very fluffy” pancakes, doused them in maple syrup and then made the trek over to the Ron Perry Gymnasium from his Watertown home.
“I wasn’t even hungry,” he admits.
Slonina got a new white shooting sleeve a few days ago from the Modell’s at Fresh Pond Mall, in Cambridge. He will be wearing blue shorts, a blue Under Armour short-sleeve compression shirt bearing the custom “A Shot For Life” logo, and a blue Nike practice jersey bearing the number 24, with “A Shot for Life” and “Slonina” on the front and back, respectively.
He laces up the custom-designed sneakers of his: white Nike’s, with red soles, and gray and red trim, just like his school’s colors. His nickname, “Slo”, is inscribed on the heels of the sneakers.
His assembled team of peers, here to help him stay stretched out and catch his rebounds, are all bearing special warm-up jackets with the logo on the left breast. Student Ian Cotterell is stetching out Mike’s hamstrings near halfcourt, as Ozzy Osbourne’s “I don’t want to stop” blares in his oversized headphones (the rest of the playlist on his iPod, he says, is just rap).
Outside of the room, t-shirts are being sold to commemorate this event, $15 a pop, while a various assortment of items are being raffled off, from gift certificates to a pair of Reebok ZigTech’s to a 19-inch flatscreen television.
Back inside, nearly 40 people are gathered for this event to start, including many members of CM’s baseball team, currently ranked No. 1 in ESPNBoston’s MIAA poll. They’ll leave in a few minutes to take batting practice before their highly-anticipated matchup with No. 2 Lincoln-Sudbury later this afternoon.
Slonina repeatedly reminds us all of this importance of pace early, not to wear himself out for when those grueling midnight hours come along (he’s shooting for 300 an hour, and 10,000 for the entire 24 hours). On the court, Slonina can’t wait for it to start, but at the same time this all feels surreal.
No butterflies for this kid, least not yet.
“Maybe it’s because I just don’t understand right now how big it is, what I’m about to do,” he laughs. “Maybe I don’t get it yet, but right now I’m calm. I’m pretty relaxed right now.”
He adds, “I’m gonna shoot bad to start, I’m telling you right now. The beginning is not going to go well.”
HOUR ONE: SO MUCH FOR THAT COLD STREAK…AND PACE
Slonina’s rap-heavy playlist is bumping over the PA, and we’re underway. At the far end of the gym, in front of the stage area, he lines up on a spot in the paint six feet from the basket, right where the volleyball end line cuts through, and sinks a free throw to a round of applause. He then steps back to the charity stripe and makes his first five free throws, misses one and then hits his next 15. He then steps out to the top of the key, just inside the free throw line, and nails four of five. Then he slips out to the left wing, behind the three-point line, and makes seven in a row.
In spite of his reservations, Slonina is off to an incredibly hot start. Thirty-two minutes into the hour, he steps back to the volleyball line and hits nothing but net as a spectator hollers “Woo yeah!”
After years of spending hours in the gym by himself, his shooting form is flawless in spite of a bum left foot and right elbow. He steps into his shot, almost pushing it in the way VCU’s Joey Rodriguez torched opponents in the NCAA tournament, and the result is a crisp backspin with a consistent 60-degree arc that falls lightly into the basket.
His final shot of the hour, a catch-and-shoot from the baseline, banks in and gets another round of applause from the several dozen in attendance.
HOUR TWO: 350 of 494 (71 PERCENT)
Right now, Slonina is flying through those goals, breaking a sweat as he nears 1,000 shots – a goal he wasn’t supposed to hit until two hours from now.
Slonina has switched to the near end where Bill Hanson, his guidance counselor and the Knights’ famed ice hockey coach, watches quietly. Slonina’s 1,000th shot is a long three-pointer from the left wing, drawing another round of applause from the crowd.
“And would you look at that, kid nails it from NBA range,” Hanson says.
Slonina finishes out the hour with 540 shots, making 386 of them, to come just under 70 percent for the hour. It’s the complete opposite of what he predicted, a fast start with an even hotter hand from the field. But it’s beginning to take a slight toll, as he goes to the bench to ice his arm for the first time.
“It’s hard enough just to get him to take breaks,” cracks his mother, Betsy Cullen. “But when has he ever listened to me?”
HOUR THREE: 736 of 1,034 (71 PERCENT)
Slonina starts the hour mostly taking his free throws, blasting his way to 1,500 with ease. At 1,499, he walks over to the scorer’s table, where a team of four (two boys, two girls) are keeping track of his every shot (he would finish out the hour at 61 percent).
Once again, he takes off his shooting sleeve and applies ice once he decides to break. He’ll finish out the hour 228 of 374.
When Slonina decides it’s time to take a break, various students will jump onto the floor and shoot a half-dozen basketballs around, to stay loose. One rolls my way, in the bleachers situated in the corner next to the stage. I line up at the right baseline and huck a bullet of a flat three-point attempt that bounces angrily off the back iron.
What, 24 hours in a gymnasium, and you think I wasn’t going to attempt at least one shot?
HOUR FOUR: 964 of 1408 (68 PERCENT)
Now, Slonina is getting loose out there, chatting up his rebounders and stretching out again with Cotterell. About halfway through the hour, he returns to the bench and removes his shoes, slipping on a pair of white ZigTech’s with black soles and trim.
In planning for this ostensibly tough challenge, his nutritionist laid out a simple plan: at least 300 calories per hour, no matter what kind of food it is. So Betsy has laid out everything perfectly at his spot near the scorer’s table: four Kit-Kat bars, a bundle of bananas, 12 ounce bottles of water and Gatorade, some Nutri-Grain bars, and a half-eaten sandwich.
“I’ll be surprised if I can get him to eat half the sandwich and a banana,” at his next break, Betsy laughs.
Slonina finishes out this hour his best so far, at a 78 percent clip, hitting 338 of 497. But the wear continues, as he strips off the shooting sleeve to apply ice packs to his wrist and right elbow, wrapped in ace bandage.
HOUR FIVE: 1,352 FOR 1,905 (71 PERCENT)
We’ve got our first sign of trouble. The shooting sleeve is off, and Slowie says the inner part of his right wrist is “just killing” him. Oddly enough, the left ankle – the one that doesn’t let him run more than a couple lengths of the court without giving him trouble – is having no problems at all.
A visit from mayor Tom Menino at the bottom of the hour seems to lift the several dozen in attendance here. To relatively low-key advance, Menino ascends the staircase into the gym with the assistance of a cane – “Watch and see how fast I go up these stairs,” he cracks – and has a few words of encouragement for Slonina before telling him “get back out there” and show him what he’s got.
Menino stands and watches for 15 minutes before taking off. Slonina finishes the hour 339 for 484, and returns to the bench with a towel over his head, trimming his fingernails and taping up his right middle finger.
HOUR SIX: 1,691 FOR 2,389 (70 PERCENT)
In last week’s profile of Slonina, Knights head coach Dennis Tobin confessed discouragement at the inability to throw his manager into the game at all – be it garbage time, free throws at the end of the game, or whatnot – because of the debilitating foot injury.
Standing under the near baseline near the double-doors, Tobin marveled as all of Slonina’s toils these last four years are finally coming to fruition, one shot after another.
“I’m real proud of him,” Tobin said. “He’s not just representing the basketball program, but the entire school, you know, when you put your mind to something and you wanna do something good, what good can be accomplished. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Guess Tobin wasn’t kidding when he called Slonina the team’s best shooter. He finishes out the hour 308 for 420, to keep the overall clip around 70 percent. He then takes off his shoes and socks, soaks his feet in cold water, and then walks across the gymnasium floor to use the restroom. The Nike’s are coming back on, and the left foot looks fine.
HOUR SEVEN: 1,999 FOR 2,809 (71 PERCENT)
Give Slonina credit for this: he could just stand under the rim and throw the ball off the backboard for the next 12 hours and nobody would hold it against him. This is a marathon.
Yet he continues to take the hard way. He’s relegated to mostly free throws right now, but every now and then he’ll catch wind and start firing from the perimeter like mad.
His right middle finger taped up (cut from the basketball) and his right arm bugging him, Slonina shakes it off has he attempts his 3,000th shot, a three-pointer that misses off the iron.
Half a dozen children are currently lined up along the lane taking rebounds, and half the CM baseball team has filed in here following their 10-5 win over L-S. Head coach Hal Carey sits up in the top bleacher, combing over the box score from today’s game, and confesses he’s taking off in a few minutes. Like everyone else it seems, he’ll be here in the morning.
So far, this is Slonina’s best hour, going 285 for 352 to finish up at 81 percent.
HOUR EIGHT: 2,284 FOR 3,162 (72 PERCENT)
Slonina’s got the support of a handful of family members here on hand, some of which are staying the whole night through (including Betsy). Just reading the body language, you can tell her happiness outweighs the concern here. Basketball is his obsession, and it’s showing its colors in the eighth hour. How else does someone go on like this?
Slonina sinks his 3,500th shot attempt with 10 minutes left in the hour, a 16-footer from the right wing, and blazes ahead undeterred. He’ll finish the hour out at a 72 percent, clip, going 289 for 412. At this pace, he’ll finish up the 24 hours having attempted 10,722 shots.
HOUR 9: 2,573 FOR 3,574 (72 PERCENT)
Two teachers bring out red ticker tape and rope off a section in the far corner near the stage, with a hand-written note hanging over the banner: “Due to the fact I am shooting for 24 hours, SLO ONLY!”
At Slonina’s request, the music is turned way, to the point where one cannot hear themselves speak. Meanwhile on the court, he’s untucked his gold cross necklace, letting it dangle over his shirt, as the few dozen students hanging out are passing around a two-liter bottle of Sun Drop.
When Slonina takes his next break, a huge game of knockout ensues, with about 30 or so kids lining up behind the free throw line closest the stage, as Slonina soaks his feet again.
“Not at all, no way,” he says, before cracking a smile and chuckling, “Just kidding.”
But seriously…”Honestly, I pushed myself way harder than this during the training sessions, so that I’m prepared for this part.”
Still, fatigue is clearly a factor. Maybe his shooting stroke is still consistent, but this is his lowest total of shot attempts so far: just 310, making 226 of them.
HOUR 10: 2,799 FOR 3,884 (72 PERCENT)
The music is turned off, and 15 minutes into the hour Slonina takes his 4,000th attempt, from the top of the key just inside the three-point line, and he calmly swooshes it as the several dozen in attendance yell their appreciation.
A few minutes later, the music comes back on, full blast, and what else could the song be? Yep, that’s right, the theme from “8 Mile”. Clever, huh?
Kidding aside, it’s remarkable the way he is still easing into long-distance shots, the way a shooter might casually launch his shots during warm-ups.
His next break, a heating pad is applied to his right wrist by the nurse on hand, the previous ice packs having done nothing to reduce the swelling. He started taking Ibuprofen a few hours ago, and has a towel soaked in cold water draped over his head. The nurse on duty is massaging his neck.
“Mentally, I think he’s just exhausted right now,” Betsy says.
For Betsy, what’s transpired so far has been “really difficult to watch”. It’s tough to get Slo to rest for just 10 minutes, let alone the 20 she wants him to sit for, so she’s thrown up her hands and let the nurses do the talking, “Because he doesn’t want to hear it from me”.
“It’s really stressful to watch him this tired,” she says. “When you look at him, doesn’t it?...he wants to keep sitting in that corner during the break, but I think if we can get him into the back room and have him chill out, without stimulation, they turned down the music -- I think it’s too much -- but he wants the loud music.
“But I think there’s so much going on. He’s excited, he’s wanted this for so long, but it’s very stressful.”
A rotation of volunteer nurses and EMT’s are attending to Slonina during breaks, and from 11 p.m. on there will be an EMT vehicle parked outside the school. Mike is sore and aching, but the vital signs check out OK for now – no distress from the heart, no discoloring of his skin or lips. But it is finally forcing him to eat.
From herein, Mike will instead move into a conference room behind the gymnasium for 15 to 20 minute breaks after each hour, where he will get his wrist rubbed down, feet soaked, and everything else in between.
Betsy, meanwhile, confesses that Mike has “kinda outed me with the brain tumor”. Cancer historically has run through her family, and with all the stress that mounts with it she felt it was better off not revealing it.
“My first cousins come in, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I read the ESPN article’, and that’s how they found out,” she said. “But I knew it was gonna come out eventually. Clients have called me that didn’t know. So, it’s been…A lot’s been going on. But he’s holding up great.”
HOUR 11: 3,173 FOR 4,428 (71 PERCENT)
“What are we at? My wrist is about to break,” Slonina calls over to the scorer’s table.
He then glances over at me and mutters, “Looks like I’ll have to back up my words,” referring to the quote in last week’s profile where he proclaimed “If I break my wrist, I’ll start shooting lefty” (Take that, LeBron)
Slonina can hide it all he wants, but fatigue is clearly factoring in right now. Then again, he’s really doing a good job not selling it, still launching three-point bombs clean into the basket here in Hour 11. Heck, why hasn’t his wrist broken by now?
It’s determination, muses Ian Cotterell, a Mission Hill resident and one of Slonina’s closest friends for six years now. Cotterell recalls many a time where they’ve headed over to the local YMCA and played one-on-one to 21 points, win by two, one’s and two’s, “til we couldn’t even stand anymore”.
Cotterell is one of the leaders on Slonina’s assembled team, helping him train since January, and is one of the many here in the hallways at CM who draws inspiration from Slonina’s dedication to a sport he couldn’t even ride the bench for.
“He has more determination than any kid I’ve ever known,” Cotterell said. “He’s determined to be the best at everything he does, and I admire him for that.”
So what about himself? Tired yet?
“I’m great, I’m fine. I’ve got the adrenaline pumping, I’m ready to go.”
And when he hits the wall?
“Oh, we’ve got Monsters,” he says (he means the energy drink). “We've got Monsters ready to go.”
Slonina goes 70 percent for the hour, hitting 253 of 360 shots, to keep himself at a 70 percent clip overall.
HOUR 12: 3,484 FOR 4,794 (73 PERCENT)
The music has been shut off, probably to the dismay of Slonina, but he finally hits the halfway point.
At 12:20 a.m., like clockwork, he takes a deep breath and swooshes a free throw on his 5,000th attempt, drawing loud praise from the 20 or 30 still standing here in the bleachers. But there’s no celebration from Mike; he simply calls for the ball and keeps going.
As for me, I’m cracking open my first Red Bull after that 5,000th shot. Not bad, right?
OK, confession time, I cheated a little. This afternoon I took a walk to the Dunkin Donuts 200 feet down the street and got myself an iced coffee and a Mountain Dew.
This is the first hour in which he didn’t hit 300 shots, going just 169 for 244 for a 69 percent clip. Hitting a wall maybe?
HOUR 13: 3,653 FOR 5,038 (72 PERCENT)
“Slo, how you feeling?” yells a classmate from the bleachers.
“Pretty good,” he smiles back. “I’m rested now.”
That still doesn’t stop him from taking his gingerly time. No more is the rapid-fire succession of bombs, as if he were in a three-point contest. He is officially slowed to a crawl at the halfway mark of this marathon of marathons.
As for the spectators gathered…well, what else is a bunch of over-caffeinated adolescents going to do at 1 a.m. on Saturday night? It’s a free for all, as all sorts of shots are chucked from everywhere on the court, bodies flying, heads getting bumped, all sorts of steam being blown off.
HOUR 14: 3,847 FOR 5,332 (72 PERCENT)
Team member Christian Mowles, a 17-year-old senior from Dedham, has the singular task of tracking Slonina’s every shot, and has broken percentages down into each 100 shots, each hour, and cumulative. Mowles has also been up since 7 a.m. Saturday, thanks to his duties throwing javelin and discus on the school’s track and field squad – “I’m actually the defending state champ in the two-mile, too,” the big guy kids.
It’s 2:30 a.m. and Mowles is three Monster energy drinks, two sodas and a Five Hour Energy capsule deep. The way he sees it, he’s got a simple task compared to what his good buddy is doing on the court.
“I’m pretty tired,” he admits. “But I feel like if Mike can do it on the court, the least I can do is sit there and keep track of how many shots he’s taken.”
For many of Slonina’s peers, this story is about inspiration to do something productive in their life. But it’s also about burning desire, and there’s plenty of it firing away at the opposite end of the court. This is four years of frustration being taken out in a span of 24 hours.
“It shows how competitive he is, but it also shows just how much he loves the game,” Mowles says. “And it makes you kinda feel like, so many people are in it for themselves, and all he (Slonina) can do is basically tally the shots and points other people can score. And it really puts things into perspective.
“Like, when you go to the basketball games, you see everyone scoring the points, but you also see Mike recording everything. It’s a humbling experience a little bit, because some people are just in it for themselves, and he’s just about the team.”
Couldn’t-Help-Myself Time, part two: It’s 2:45 in the morning, nobody’s around the stage...once again, do you think I was really going to go 24 hours without taking a shot myself? In honor of one of my favorite NBAers of childhood, Hakeem Olajuwon, I back down my imaginary opponent, hit him up with the “Dream Shake”, and watch as my right-handed hook shot sails over the backboard, onto the stage.
HOUR 15: 4,094 FOR 5714 (72 PERCENT)
Slonina is resting comfortably in the conference room, his bare feet elevated on a chair as he lays on a mattress, the EMT on duty rubbing his sore right wrist with cream. An assortment of snacks lay next to him, from orange juice to crackers and assorted fruits, to coffee cake and even birthday cake. Three-hundred calories, remember?
He is staring at a sheet of lined paper, an inspirational letter he says he wrote to himself a long time ago – “It’s real personal,” he says, “Probably the most deeply personal thing in my life.”
He keeps it in his room, and won’t disclose the contents of the letter, only that it’s been at least a year since he last looked at it.
Cotterell enters the room, and Slonina asks him how much time is left before he has to get back out there.
“You got 9:30,” he says, to which Slonina grunts, “Thank God.”
Slonina’s wrist is just absolutely obliterating him right now. Even with all the ice packs, heating pads, and cream rub downs, every flick of the wrist feels “like a horrible sprain…because it basically is.” Stabbing sensation? “You can call it that?” he concedes.
Mowles bursts into the room to tell him of his percentage from the last hour.
“I don’t wanna know the percentage,” Slonina scoffs.
“It’s actually not that bad,” Mowles says.
“OK, what is it?”
“Yeah, but I sucked.”
The next three hours, he estimates, are going to be the most brutal. Once the sun comes up, he says he’ll get another burst and catch his second wind. Right now, though, it’s going to be a drag just getting through the wrist injury. He asks me how I’m holding up; I tell him of my ill-fated “dream shake”, and he cracks up.
“I’m gonna go [expletive] crazy when this is over,” he suddenly beams. “Then we’re gonna throw a wicked big party at my house. Ma, you’re gonna be so mad at me.”
“Why would I ever be mad at you?” she asks sarcastically.
The conversation drifts to which girls they’re going to invite over, and are trying to remember the names of the unfamiliar ones who came by earlier in the day to show their support. Betsy politely reminds everyone that women are still in the room; and as usual, Slonina isn’t listening.
“Mom, did you see the blonde chick that came by?”
Slonina calmly sinks his 6,000th attempt, a free throw, and moves forward. For the hour he was 299 for 405, but things turn south in a hurry from herein.
HOURS 16, 17, 18…???
Fifty-seven year-old West Roxbury resident Kevin Shea, a 1972 alumnus and father of CM senior Brendan, has been saddled with overnight duty on Slonina, at least through the next four hours. Shea, a paramedic for the City of Boston, met Slonina for the first time at midnight, and marveled at how polite the kid was for someone who had just shot a basketball for 12 hours.
“He’s gonna make it,” Shea says a few hours later, in the wee hours of the morning. “I think once the sun comes up, and once more people start showing up, he’s gonna be doing it totally on adrenaline. Marathon runners say they hit the wall, and then the last few miles are strictly on adrenaline because you know you can see the finish line.”
Shea is about to take off, holding a cardboard box containing seven of Slonina’s used pairs of socks (he’s down to four as it stands), and will return in an hour. His wife Marilyn, a nurse, will assume duties for the next four hours – “My wife will be better than I was,” he laughs.
In Slonina’s next trip to the conference room, Marilyn asks him if Mayor Menino shot any basketballs with him during the visit.
“I actually couldn’t understand a word he said,” he confesses.
The timetable on when these next three hours started and ended, it seems, is a blur. This much is known: hour 18 supposedly ended 8 a.m., and there’s virtually no chance he makes 10,000 by noon.
An hour and half ago, Slonina put on a black brace on his ailing wrist, only to take it off as soon as he attempted his 7,000th shot, and return yet again to the trainer’s table to treat the wrist. On a scale of 1 to 10, Slonina says it’s “11 painful”.
From the last hours of darkness through sunrise, this place has been a ghost town. Everyone’s either sleeping on top of bleachers, underneath them, or hidden on the footrests. Even I fall asleep for 20 minutes by the stage.
Apparently, three hours took five to complete, or something like that. At one point or another, we all lost track. Mowles finally tapped out somewhere between the hours of four and five, but he’ll resurface in a bit. We do have Slonina’s shooting percentages, though: 54, 42 and 64, respectively, but at a miserable pace.
HOUR 19: 4,916 FOR 7,001 (70 PERCENT)
By now, Slonina struggles to put up 50 to 60 shots in a stretch before heading back to the bench to nurse the wrist, or take a breather.
“I’m running on fumes,” he says as he sits by the scorer’s table, watching the game of knockout that’s ensued while he rests. “Hopefully this game goes on, so I have an excuse for an extended break.”
Slonina is staying in the paint, barely getting a leap on his shots as he watches them clank off the iron. The sun is out shining, and various droves of the two-dozen students are making runs to the Dunkin Donuts down the street, but that adrenaline rush hasn’t kicked in yet. Neither has that supposed rush of the crowd, supposedly awaiting him at the end of this journey.
He puts up another 60 shots, before returning to the conference room at 7,151. “This is all heart right now,” he says out loud, as Marilyn massages and heats his wrist, and Cotterell massages his neck. Slonina then asks for the time.
“Eight forty-seven,” Mowles attently retorts. After disappearing for a few hours, he’s up and at it again, full of energy.
“Alright, I’ll start up again at nine,” Slonina sighs.
HOUR 20…? OK, AT THIS POINT, LET’S JUST SCRAP THE WHOLE ‘HOURS’ CONCEPT AND HOPE HE MAKES IT TO NOON
We may have found that marathoner’s last rush that Kevin Shea was referring to. A few classmates have filed in, and Slonina is stepping into his shot again, launching from just inside the three-point line and nailing his buckets.
At long last, there is light at the end of this tunnel, and not a minute too soon. I’m about to sink into my final Red Bull at 9:03 a.m., and I’m afraid I still have taxes to file when I return home.
At 9:30, having taken 7,320 shots, he soaks his feet again, leaning on a bench off to the side of the stage, as his mom takes pictures (she is a photographer, after all). Upon his return to the court, he heaves up an underhanded shot aimlessly – and somehow it banks in.
There is a crowd finally gathering here after 22 some-odd hours, though it’s not the sold-out spectacle he was anticipating. A quarter-full gym will suffice at this point, though. He gets a brief applause when he hit 7,400, and another dragged-out, slow-building applause at 7,500, a free throw he makes at 10:22 a.m.
At 10:49 a.m. and 7,676 shots, he returns to the room for one last break, gearing for the home stretch as his biological father, Anthony Slonina, sits next to him and offers words of encouragement (Anthony and Betsy split when Mike was an infant).
Mike Slonina returns to the floor at 11:15 a.m., and is determined to see this thing through. He misses his 8,000th attempt at 11:50 a.m., from just inside the three-point line. The crowd gives him a standing ovation anyways.
As he nears 8,100, he tells his team to get up behind the stage and change the track to “All I Do Is Win”, by DJ Khaled (Coincidentally, this is probably the 8,100th time we’ve heard this track over the course of 24 hours).
With one minute to go in this thing, he orders the music shut off. He would later say he couldn’t even hear the people clapping and clamoring for him as he lined up this 8,100th attempt.
Of course, nothing’s gone as planned to this point; Mowles doesn’t get the signal to hit the buzzer after Slonina sinks No. 8,100, a three-pointer. And at the risk of an awkward buzz, Slonina simply lines up again, sinks the next three-pointer, and exhales deep as the buzzer sounds and the crowd all around him yells for him in another standing ovation.
At long last, this monster is over.
FINAL TALLY: 5,930 FOR 8,101 (72.6 PERCENT)
You can’t put a price tag on this grin he’s got right now. After all these hours, there isn’t a happier kid in the world right now than the one with the back of his custom-made practice jersey tucked over his eyes, walking around the hardwood and soaking in a plethora of emotions. He hugs each of the half-dozen members of his team, and poses for pictures with them before retiring to the conference room once more to catch his breath.
When he returns to the floor, he is greeted to little fanfare. No television cameras, no herd of press. Just a reporter from a hyperlocal website and two ESPNBoston.com reporters who are about to put him in front of the camera.
Slonina lets loose a few expletives as he tries to walk around, jokingly telling reporters, “I hope you guys have a bleep button,” as he sits down on the first row of bleachers with me, microphone in hand.
As sore as his wrist is – Mike’s amazed it’s not broken (least not yet) – and as much as his left foot is just killing him (“I can barely [expletive] walk right now,” he gushes), Slonina is just bleeding passionate exhaustion as he walks us through the 24 hours, and what a painstaking journey.
Once again, this is six years of frustration swept away in 24 hours. This is the greatest moment of his life. This must be what Heaven is like. And so on and so forth, for the next five minutes he can’t tell anybody within earshot enough about the redemption and reward of it all, even though he might be half-dead right now. Delusions of grandeur aside, he suggests to us that he may want to turn this into something bigger.
“I mean, I don’t think I’ll do this again,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know why anyone would put themselves through this twice. But I want to turn ‘A Shot For Life’ into something national. I think other kids across the country will take this challenge. I’m a very competitive person, and there are kids like me out there that would want to do this, that would want to prove something. And I feel like I proved something today.”
I’m no psychic. But by the sound of it, and the way things have unfolded here these last 24 hours, there’s no way this is the last you’ll hear from him.
Look out, world. Whatever he decides to do.