At a Bobcats home game, a father and his young son are sitting in decent seats:
"Watch that one," the father points at a player, "He's Gerald Henderson. Gerald plays good defense, and that doesn't always make it to SportsCenter, but he wins games for us. He's our unsung hero. Watch how he stops that frivolous chucker, Jamal, from moving past him."
"Wow! That's great!" the child says, as the jump-shooter Henderson is guarding (whom the father correctly believes to be Jamal Crawford) jacks up a terrible fadeaway three that by a miracle of chance goes in. "Was that supposed to happen, dad?"
The father grinds his teeth a little bit. "No, but sometimes it happens anyway. The point is that he's not going to do it too many more times like that. He's inefficient. He can't keep that up. Gerald's defense is great. Watch, pay close attention." But Crawford has the hot hand and - after a Bobcats pass goes literally nowhere - seconds later hits another contested three to the muted disgust of the crowd. The father rubs his temples. "I guess you could say that basketball doesn't always mean the good guys win," the father says grimly, looking on at an increasingly lopsided Blazers blowout.
"Are the Bobcats the good guys, dad?"
"I would say so, yes, more often than not." As the father says this, Gana Diop is at the line. "Except for him, son."
• • •
The game was growing tiresome. "They may be the good guys, but the Bobcats don't seem very good at the game of basketball. This is kind of boring."
"You're right, son. They don't hit too many shots. But a lot of them try really hard, and put their best foot forward. That's important. Listen, I can't make you like the Bobcats, son, but I can tell you why I like them and hope you follow in my footsteps." The son's ears perk up. "Now, there aren't many things that are great about our Bobcats. Not much right now. But a few years ago they had a wonderful basketball team, my boy. Did you know that once there were other Geralds that were even better at winning games than Gerald Henderson?"
The father - being by trade a fantasy writer in the mold of a cheaper and less reasonable Tolkien - now chooses to structure the tale of the Bobcats in the only way he knows how. "Once there was Cr'azhwals, called 'Crash' by the masses. But his full name was Gerald Cr'azhwals and he was known as a fighter around which could be built a great army. Truly, he was a great Gerald."
"Wow. Were the Bobcats a great army once?"
"Yes. They were amazing. See, at one time, basketball was far more important to the people of Charlotte, son. Our whole lives and families depended on being able to put the ball into the hoop."
"Yes, and back then they didn't use basketballs. They shot arrows with poison tips and every warrior had a quiver of flaming arrows. The best archers got more arrows. They didn't use hoops; they used their opponents. Their opponents were their targets."
"Cool! Why don't they do that anymore, dad?"
"Well, because the world is changing, in some ways that are good and others that are bad."
"Oh," The child said with disappointment. "So then was this Crash the best archer?"
"No, not at all. In fact, others usually had to stand in the line of fire so that he could pull his bow taut. But that's not what he did. See, the other armies would live and die with their best archers. These were the aces of an army. And through the dark magic of grit and hustle, Cr'azhwals made these aces into braying goats."
"The people in Charlotte would rejoice as Crash - on gilded wings - would take the rations of intruders and make them their own. We called those steals. Crash would take the weak arrows of intruders from the sky and split them in two. We called those blocks. If the arrows had foul poison, he would avoid contact with the poison. If the arrows were aflame, well, all the better to cook his newfound rations."
"So wait, Cr'azhwals had wings to fly with? Is that right?"
"Yep. Of course, he could jump so high he didn't need to fly. They were for show."
"Yeah, some of the aces like Piers the Devil or the Snake Lord Kobe would come to intrude upon the fort. Cr'azhwals would fly down to them, and when they would outstretch their arms, he would outstretch his arms in kind. When they would move to their left, which direction do you think he went?" The father moved his hands in parallel to convey the question.
"To his left?"
"Haha, no. Crash went to his right, like a mirror on his man. Crash was a mirror for the best archers, sending their best shots back, and if one of those great archers from the other armies had a weakness, Crash would pummel them into dust."
"Wow! Crash was great, wasn't he?"
"Yes. The masses of Tcharh Lott were safe with Crash on our side."
"... what? Do you mean Charlotte?"
"Yeah, Charlotte.... but that's just basketball. What made Crash truly great was that he gave us in Charlotte some hope and made the other Bobcats feel like they were part of something. Sure, Cr'azhwals' army was feeble in spirit but with Crash at the front they had no fears."
• • •
In the stadium, the PA announcer tries vainly to get the crowd back into it with the obligatory chants of "DE-FENSE!" and "Go, Bobcats, Go!"
"Son, do you hear that? Do you hear those chants?"
"Yeah. But no one's chanting."
"Well, when Crash was here they did chant. They came to the games and they chanted, because they knew that they could always have a chance to win with Crash. 'Bobcats! Go Bobcats!' they would cry, as Crash led them from their sleepless coma of fear into the restful power of triumph. Say it with me."
"Bobcats! Go Bobcats!" they cry out at once, to the amusement of nearby spectators, who join in with one part irony and two parts masked yearning for Cr'azhwals. Just then, Gerald Henderson seems to get badly injured. The trainers help him leave the court. The crowd is silent for several minutes as the ballboys clean up. "Not another Gerald..." someone behind them mumbles. The father sighs.
The child is undaunted. "Were the Bobcats the best army around? The best army in the world?"
"Haha, nope. There is no one in the history of the human race who would ever say that, son." The child finds some unmistakable disappointment in this, so the father tries to mitigate his statement: "Oh, but the Bobcats were the best at something back then. They held the fort of Charlotte like no other. They defended our city from arrows, and Crash was at the center of it all."
"So... how do you know so much about the Bobcats, dad?"
"Well, the truth is very simple: I was once a Bobcat, but they sent me down and told me I would never see combat for want of ligaments in my knee and tenacity in my heart."
"That's what they told me. But it was really just my knee," the father shakes his fist slightly in anger, "I loved the Bobcats and fought as much as I could. I was once a Bobcat and I watched Cr'azhwals in the sky and drew strength from his energy that flew like his hair in all directions."
"Like Goku or something."
"Close. That's close," the father considers, poring through his mental catalog of small children's programs to find the Saiya-jin hero, "but remember that Goku never had to fight other people. At least not as an adult," the father says, surprising himself with this bit of context, "No, Goku always fought aliens or something. Cr'azhwals not only had to fight, but he had to make things right on Earth afterwards. His teammates sometimes despaired, but he brought them back. Always did."
"Yes, I hate to say it, but our home in Mint Hill - just outside the sacred fort - doesn't feel quite as connected to Charlotte so long as the Bobcats suffer without Crash."
"Huh, now that you mention it Mint Hill is pretty boring."
"Boring but peaceful. There is peace in our little town, son. Never forget that. Don't take it for granted."
"Yeah, but it sounds like Crash was pretty awesome. I love the Bobcats."
"That's more like it!"
• • •
"So, like... did Crash ever get beaten?"
"Yes. When the Bobcats were on the prowl, the fort of Tcharh Lott would weep from news of afar: For when he was away from home, Cr'azhwals had only his Bobcats to feed and to feed from, and his power waned, son. The legions of archers he could neutralize shrunk to but a single able-bodied soldier, and the legions descended on their intruders the Bobcats."
"That's... too bad, dad."
"Yes, it was. But we knew Crash would get 'em back when he was defending our home. The people of Tcharh Lott learned not to despair of news of Crash from afar, and to wait for their hero to return. For he always did."
"What happened to Crash?"
"Nothing, for awhile. It was good, for a time. Flanked by General Felton and the yeoman Emeka Okafor, they held their fort against armies of strength and numbers. When Crash cut his wings on a certain devil's sword (we called the devil Byeh'Nom), the Bobcats gained power from Crash's encouragement."
"So Crash got hurt really bad?"
"Yeah, but he got better after that. He wasn't quite as fast, but Cra'zhwals recovered." The son nods in understanding and subtly alters his mental image of Cr'azhwals from that of Saiya-jin to that of an Android. After all, Saiya-jins like Goku only got stronger after recovering from injury. "Crash was such a tremendous warrior, though, and one year he even got us to the Tournament of Armies, reserved only for the upper echelon of great armies."
"Did you win?"
"No. But we showed them that we belonged. Ten Bobcats strong," the father says, a tear in his eye, "But then the darker days came. Then came the Lean Years... I cannot finish... No, it is too painful."
"What happened in the Lean Years?" the son asked, recognizing his storytelling father's feigned reluctance to finish.
"Well, since you insist...," the father continued without further pause, "Oh, how I remember the election with despair! The people of Tcharh Lott yearned for power in the wake of The Tournament of Armies. Seeing numbers and strength that they felt had been denied them, they elected a new admiral."
"A new admiral?"
"Yes. The new admiral was a great, aged warrior that had seen the days of wine and roses, had seen more armies before the great Bobcats, had decades ago ended a drought in Tcharh Lott's province (North Kyral) by filling vats with opponents' blood and asking of his fellows "Now, will you have drink?" and they had laughed."
"Who was the admiral?"
"His name... was Jordon."
"Was he a good leader?"
"He was a great leader. Great and powerful, like the Sith. Great and terrible," the father said with trembling voice. The child quivered with fear. "Jordon said that this would be a lean time and rationed his men and horses and food. For the greater good."
"Oh no!" cried the child.
"Jordon saw that - in his vision of constant intrusion and constant defense from intrusion - Cr'azhwals would not fit."
"Nooo! He killed Cr'azhwals! Why, Jordon?"
"Well, no, he just sent him away. See, Jordon saw a port on the Placid Sea and said you may have 'Crash' for no fewer than a thousand horses and Nic Batum."
"Oh, Batum's alright. Not as good as Cr'azhwals, that's for sure."
"Damn!... Darn! So they did it. Jordon traded Cr'azhwals away for nothing but the greater good and Nic Batum?"
"Yes, precisely. Well, they couldn't get Batum, actually. So they just settled for the horses, but the port refused to send them. So for naught but flotsam, Jordon sent him away. And in one day - or how it seemed! - Cr'azhwals departed from our fort forever. I can still see the Placid Airship, flying him away as we waved until Admiral Jordon would not have us wave again, and suddenly our warriors - our precious Bobcats! - seemed as depleted as our souls would feel in the terrible Lean Years. Suddenly, in his mad rush for frugality, Jordon had made our army into Lean Bobcat$, spelled (in secret vulgarity, under cover of friends) with our common currency."
"Dollar signs. We spell the Bobcats with a dollar sign for the 's' sometimes."
"Because Jordon only cares about money. Get it? Eh?"
"Oh. That makes some sense. So... what happened to Cr'azhwals in the Port on the Placid Sea, dad?"
"Portland? Oh... I mean, he fought very well for them. They say -- when the Bobcats' arena gets quiet - that you can almost hear Cr'azh, blocking another arrow."
"Whoa. I think I can hear him."
"Yeah. You might even say he's right there," And the father pointed to the Blazers' Gerald Wallace, laughing with his teammates in garbage time of a massive and completely uncontested Portland win.
The son instinctively saluted Crash.
• • •