The Final Timeout: New York's Final Moments in Knicks/Wizards

Posted on Wed 18 December 2013 in Altogether Disturbing Fiction by Alex Dewey

mike woodson

The following is a transcript taken from Alex Dewey's SportFU system. SportFU is based around a series of cameras Dewey placed in NBA arenas under the floorboards. After placing them, our intrepid young reporter realized that his cameras captured absolutely none of the visuals of an NBA game, on account of being underground. So he probably could've saved several million dollars by switching to audio recorders. But we won't get into that. At least they captured enough audio to be able to bring you this post, right?

• • •

Mike Woodson is leading the huddle. His Knicks are clinging to a 1-point lead against the Wizards with 24 seconds left.

Coach Woodson: Alright, y'all. Stick with me here. It's been a rough season, but we've had a great 2nd half today! So let's make something happen! You just gotta trust and believe in your defense, man. One thing I learned in Atlanta is: gotta trust your people, number one. Y'all gotta BELIEVE you can get that stop if ya need it, y'know?

Carmelo Anthony: I believe, Coach. We can get that stop if we need it. Look, you guys, I know we've had troubles before but we can NOT lose this game. We have to trust each other. As long as we have Tyson in the middle, we're fine.

Woodson: Actually, we don't have Tyson.

Melo: Well, where is Tyson? He's not back yet? Dang!

Woodson: Tyson's got, like, an eternal contusion fracture of the spotless mind or something. Somewhere below his knee. Day-to-day. Look, he's still in his suit, right over there.

Tyson Chandler: Hey! What's up, guys? I'm right here. Glad you're looking at me, but maybe you want to focus on that timeout instead of me! I can't play, you know!

Melo: Hey, Tyson! Nice to see you.

Woodson: Bottom line? TC's not going to be available. Andrea, it's gonna be you in the middle. Y'all help him out. Support him!

Melo: Oh sh-... I mean, uh... Yeah, you can do it, Andrea. Just man the middle. Just like we've been practicing.

Andrea Bargnani: [consumes pasta]

Woodson: Right, so we HAVE to guard the middle. Y'all know what I mean? GOT to have a presence. We're down by 1 so I'd rather force them to 3 it, feel me? Even a long J would be fine. But no layups. I'd rather they get an semi-open 3 than an easy-ass five footer. Got me?

Melo: [nods] We got it, Coach.

Woodson: J.R., I know you care about your rep. I get that, young man.

J.R. Smith: [looking up at the ceiling] Right, Coach.

__Woodson: __But this is our whole team's rep, now. I know you don't want someone to hit a jumper in your-- J.R., ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION?

Smith: [thousand-yard stare] Do what now?

Woodson: Damn, J.R. Look... I know you care about your rep, but focus on the basket, please. Just 24 seconds. Focus on helping at the rim. Don't look at your guy at the 3-point line. Protect the rim first and foremost. Help your people under the rim if someone gets beat. They got a rep, too. Y'know?

Smith: [looking at the opposite basket] Right... shoot it at the rim...

Woodson: Look, just... pay attention on defense. That's all I'm asking.

Smith: [looking at Tyson Chandler] Right, Coach. Seriously, protect the rim, help, I'll do whatever I have to do to make sure they don't score.

Woodson: [a bit touched] Thanks.

Melo: [supportively] J.R. the lockdown man! Keep it going for 24 more, J.R.! You can do it!

Woodson: And Pablo and Ray are out, of course.

Melo: Right.

Beno Udrih: So it's up to me, then.

Woodson: Right, Beno. Good chance you end up on Wall or Beal. Now, you've played under some great coaches in your time, right? You played under Pop, of course.

Beno: Right.

Woodson: So you know two things about the next possession. Simple as anything in the world.

Beno: Right... Why don't you just tell me so there isn't any confusion?

Woodson: Well, for one, they want to put up a shot so they don't leave any time on the clock, and two, they're going to go to Beal on a switch against you, probably on a dribble-hand-off.

Melo: Wait, what?

Beno: How do you know that?

Woodson: Simple. Beal's hot and he's their most explosive scorer, he's a capable ball-handler, and we'd have trouble trapping him. Plus, if he can get a switch to you (and they can easily draw that up), we have to honor it. He's too good a shooter to leave him WIDE open. You're gonna be at a slight size disadvantage, and so they'd be foolish not to try and take advantage.

Beno: Right.

Woodson: But y'all also have a trump card, right?

Beno: [looks around to team] ...Sure, Coach. Why don't you tell everyone so we can all know what you're talking about?

Woodson: The foul to give. We have a foul to give. I can't stress this enough. We have a foul to give.

Beno: Right.

Woodson: If the Wizards try anything before, say, 3 seconds are left (and make sure one of y'all call it out if Beno can't check the time), you should foul them. Make them draw up a whole new in-bounds. That should screw up whatever they want to get, enough to give us the best chance of winning.

Beno: Okay. You know what, I CAN do that, Coach!

Woodson: That's all. Just remember. Trust and believe. Believe and trust. Just do the simple shit that I'm asking of you and we'll win. And, if we don't win and y'all do all of that, y'all can blame me in the next huddle.

Melo: Coach, you're doing great. This is all great stuff.

Woodson: Thank you.

The Knicks gather their hands into the middle of the huddle.

Team: One, two, three, BREAK!

Legitimate intensity, to a man. Even J.R. looks totally engaged, a terrifying, but beautiful, sight.

James Dolan: Hey, what's up, everyone?

Everyone groans.

Dolan: You can't spare a moment for the guy that signs your checks?

Melo: Come on, James, not now. We're right in the middle of a g--...

Dolan: Controversy, right? Felton for Lowry, who says no?

Woodson: Raymond is a fine young man, can we talk about this later?

__Dolan: __I just got off the phone with Phil Jackson. Do you want to know what we talked about?

Woodson: Not especia--...

Dolan: I told him I planned to hire Pat Riley and Ettore Messina to co-coach the Knicks next season. Laughs aplenty.

Melo: Look, Coach is who he is. This isn't helping anyone, James. I don't know what you think you're doing.

Dolan: Hello, Andrea.

Andrea: Hi, James.

Dolan: Some fascinating trade rumors are leaking out today. Most of them involving you. Can you think about that for a few moments and tell me what you think after the game?

Andrea: What... why?

Dolan: It's not that you're not working out. You are, but you know how life is. If you don't have your hand on the trigger at any moment, you're always one step away from missing the dream of a lifetime.

Woodson: Come on, James. What is this even about?

Melo: Yeah, Dolan. What's your problem? Let's just run the play. 1, 2, 3, BREAK!

Dolan: Wait! My favorite movie is "Heat". I listen to the Eagles. I'm a kind, compassionate individual. I've had trade offers just today to send J.R. to Moscow!

Smith: [perking up, stares with attention at Coach Woodson]____ Moscow? What the hell?

Dolan: Nothing very serious, but you have to keep abreast of these things... "Heat"... "Princess Bride" was good, uh... "The Godfather" was a good movie. "Alien 4" was good.

Smith____: [completely losing interest] Never mind, man. I'll score if I get the ball, Coach, if that's what I'm feeling.

Dolan: Beno Udrih for Mike Bibby, Mike Bibby for Orlando Johnson, Orlando Johnson and Bargs for Roy Hibbert, Ryan Anderson, and Omer Asik. Three trades. Who says no?


Melo: [sobbing] I just... I played a great game and did everything you asked of me, Coach. Why now? Why this timeout? Why couldn't it have been just three minutes later, James?

Woodson: Nobody knows, Melo.

Dolan: We can compete in the East or West, in the North or South. I sometimes pretend I'm Billy Joel or Bob Seger or Pitbull. I have a band and I like playing in it. I will never trade you, Melo. I will pay you so many dollars, and you will be mine, forever.

Official: Come on, guys. We have a game to play. It's been more than a minute. Commercials are back. If you don't get on the court in 20 seconds, it's a tech.

Woodson: Just... I... yeah, just go, guys. 1, 2, 3, break.

• • •

But now all the Knicks look worried or disinterested. They all heard the ref, but barely beat his 20-second deadline as they wade over to contest the inbound pass.

The Wizards run a dribble hand-off leaving Beno Udrih guarding Bradley Beal. Beno - with sudden thoughts of retirement (or worse, being traded for the retired Mike Bibby), is unfocused and doesn't foul when Beal makes his move with plenty of time. Beal easily slips past Beno, and the rest of the team is caught unawares, expecting him to foul.

The Knicks aren't way out of position, at this point, but Bargs is angry at Dolan's sudden leak to the public about his lack of faith and refuses to man the middle. J.R. Smith, worried about going to Moscow (and a little intrigued, which occupies his attention even more), stays on his man in the corner even after Beal beats Beno. J.R. is not going to let someone shoot over him and give Dolan the ammo to send him to Moscow.

Beal gets an easy, uncontested lay-up on the Knicks' basket. The Knicks have three time-outs, but Mike Woodson has checked out of the game at this point. He refuses to call time-out, and Melo, the only one left to care, heaves a desperate shot.

NOTE: After the game, James Dolan trades his 2022 first-rounder to the ether for Ben Wallace.

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The Long Con -- David Stern Strikes Last

Posted on Mon 03 June 2013 in Altogether Disturbing Fiction by Aaron McGuire

stern and 2chainz

The Long Con -- David Stern Strikes Last

The contents of this post are entirely fictional. Any resemblance between the persons and events of this post and those of reality is an absolute miracle.

David Stern reclines in his cavernous underground office. Bats fly from wall to wall. He is waiting.

STERN: Any minute now...

His comically oversized old-timey phone vibrates loudly. And rings. <RING RING RING>

STERN: [picks up phone] Hello? ... Yes, yes. Thank you. ... Yes, I'm sure. I do want Mauer and Foster on the call. ... Yes, they have their orders. Yes, I know what this means. ... Oh, really now? [Stern pauses, unfurling a Grinch-like grin] You can send him down, if you'd like. Perhaps he'd like to hear it directly from me. Appreciate it, Maurice.

Stern hangs up his work phone. He leans back in his chair and plays Candy Crush Saga on his iPad. He has bought every power-up. It was a business expense. About half an hour later, Adam Silver walks into the room. He stands over Stern's desk, hands on his hips, seething. Stern makes no indication of noticing his presence.

SILVER: [coughing] Ahem.

STERN: [unmoved] Beverly! My old friend.


STERN: Sit down, Adam. What took you so long?

SILVER: It takes twenty minutes at a minimum to get down here from the deputy commissioner's office. You know that, David. Nobody knows why you built this. ... Or how you built it, actually.

STERN: Oh, don't be a spoilsport. It'll be your office soon enough. What do you want?

SILVER: I want to know why you're f***ing me, David. I want to know why you're pounding this.

STERN: Explain.

SILVER: Look, David. Stop playing games with me! WHY AREN'T YOU GIVING ME MIAMI?!

Stern grins a cheshire grin.

SILVER: And if you don't stop that friggin' grin I will end you I swear to God.

STERN: Adam, let's take a walk.

SILVER: B--...


• • •

The two wizened men saunter across the expanse of Stern's ludicrously huge underground cavern. There are various trophies in glass cases to their side. They pass by the game ball from LeBron's last game in Cleveland. A framed copy of the stat sheet from DAL/MIA, 2006, G5. A signed photograph of Yao Ming shaking Stern's hand on draft night. A life sized Muggsy Bogues wax figurine. An enormous mound of Michael Jordan's gambling chips. A newspaper commemorating Boston's 16 titles. An orange.

SILVER: Okay, what?

STERN: Shush. ... OK, here. Stop. Look at this.

Silver looked up and down. It was a newspaper commemorating the 1983 sweep, Sixers over Lakers.

SILVER: ... yeah? What about it?

STERN: This is what I inherited, Adam. This is what I came in with.

SILVER: I fail to see the problem. You had the Lakers. You had Magic. You had Moses. HUGE ratings. Second best ever to that point, right?

STERN: Adversity comes in many shapes, Adam. In 1984 we put together a new CBA. We added a salary cap. We added drug testing. We added all sorts of things to bring the league back to par. We needed to bring our viewers home. We needed to expand. And me? I added a little something else. Something on the backend. A small note in the margins. Do you see it, Adam? Look closely.

Silver squints.

SILVER: ... "no more sweeps"?

STERN: Yes, Adam. No more sweeps.

SILVER: Explain.

STERN: Look. The NBA had a lot of problems when I took the reins. Our players were using, their effort level was pathetic, and our marketing was bunk. But the 1983 finals typified one of our biggest problems. We didn't manage the games. Sure, we don't flip games. But we need to at least massage them a bit. In 1983? Nothing. NOTHING. The Sixers shot a billion more free throws and the Lakers never had a shot at taking any of the game. At least in 2007's sweep the ratings blew. In 1983, the ratings were great. They were phenomenal. We NEEDED those extra games. We NEEDED that extra leverage in our TV deals. Where was O'Brien? He was asleep at the wheel. And I took over.

SILVER: So what did you do?

STERN: I pushed it. Have you been following the Obama administration? Have you been keeping track of his Department of Justice, and the slow drip as the public realizes he's approved more extrajudicial power than Bush did for his DOJ? Have you watched as he's leveraged every little power his predecessor left behind, and strengthened them at every turn?

SILVER: Yeah. So?

STERN: That's what you've got. After the 1983 finals, we greased the wheel. We guaranteed the TV folks that we'd keep our finals competitive. No more sweeps. Six game minimum, except in extraordinary cases. We figured out ways we could shift the odds towards the underdogs when we needed to. I don't care who wins. Nobody cares who wins. They just care about two things. Who's playing, and how close is it? How many games do we get? How many ads can we show? In the 80s, we had the who. We had the how. We developed that. We fixed it. And the league took off like a freakin' ROCKETSHIP, Adam. The league took off. It exploded. The NBA always had the tools it needed, O'Brien just wasn't man enough to use them. He believed in the integrity of the game. I believe in it too, mind you, but the almighty dollar has to have some consideration. Has to be some wiggle-waggle room. You know the score. You've been here before.

SILVER: Alright, cool. So why in God's name are you using that to keep me from getting Miami?

STERN: Because Larry O'Brien wasn't an idiot, and neither am I. The board of governors don't know if you're their man yet. They don't know if you've got those teeth, Mack. O'Brien could've extended the 1984 finals a bit, given me some extra wiggle room. He didn't. He wanted to see how I responded. For better or for worse, I went the other way and I increased the league's profits while casting doubt into the machinations that ran it. I could've said "it's a sport, it happens." I made promises instead, and I manufactured the power I needed to keep them. I'll give you a great Finals. Maybe Peter's team takes it. Maybe Herb's team takes it. Should be fun basketball. For people who like defense.

SILVER: So, like, ten people in the United States.

STERN: Hah! Funny man. But that's your job. I made my decision regarding series length -- I skewed to the game to draw out our final salvo. Get us more ad time. Keep our T.V. deals humming. Now, though? I've left you in a bind, Adam, regarding the markets that play in our finals. And you, like me, need to figure out how the hell you're going to get through it. I'm sentimental to the small markets, personally. And I think the NBA gains more than people think when teams like San Antonio make the finals and contend for years on end.

SILVER: What? How?

STERN: There are two ways you make money. You can either draw a lot of people all over the United States... or you dominate individual markets and completely bleed them dry. Both can work, if you do it right. In small markets with only one professional sports team, like San Antonio, you destroy the ratings. Even as the national ratings were so-so for Memphis vs San Antonio, that series completely destroyed everything else in the San Antonio market. Virtually everyone who had a screen was watching. The city was tuned to every layup, every free throw, every defensive switch. In a larger market, you don't get that kind of bleed-through. You get a good concentration. But you don't obliterate the market. You still get your Dodger fans, your Red Sox fans, your Yankee fans who can't bear to turn off the baseball. You get your football guys who are so tuned in to their football team they don't give a damn about any other sport. Your pressure to watch is less localized.

SILVER: So you get larger ad revenue when you can dominate a market?

STERN: Hah! No. Not larger. But you can still make a lot of money that way, and the difference between a small-market team and a large-market team becomes marginal. You just need to be able to negotiate it right and advertise it correctly. That was O'Brien's lesson, when he left me with that annoying sweep. He wasn't trying to tell me that he was a moron -- he was giving me a difficult argument but giving me the tools to make it. Yes, sweeps aren't great for advertising revenue. But they aren't the end of the world for the broader league. You just need to advertise your historically dominant teams. You need to manufacture publicity around the long win streaks, the incredible intensity, et cetera. You need to ham up the "seventeen titles" angle with the Boston Celtics, even if ten of the titles were skeevy as all get out. You need to learn how to advertise your product.

SILVER: But you didn't.

STERN: No, I didn't. You can take the easy way out and manipulate it. Which I did. It's difficult to give back the power once you've taken hold of it, Adam. Look at the DoJ. Look at Soviet Russia. Look at me. But, that's your choice. O'Brien gave me a choice, and that idiot was smarter than he looked. So, yeah, Adam. I'll leave you Indiana. Pacers vs Spurs! Only on ABC! All the glitz and glamour of a melting glacier. And you'll spend the summer sweating these T.V. negotiations, trying to make the honest argument. Or you'll go into those meetings with your head held high, and four little words that'll grease the wheel and guarantee that NBA money.

SILVER: "It won't happen again."

STERN: Yep. You'll have the power, Adam. You'll have the phone book. You'll have the calls. But me? I won't sweat it. I'll call in Foster and Mauer for one last merry-go-round, and watch one last finals as the man in charge. You mentioned those ten fans who like gritty defensive back-and-forths, didn't you?

SILVER: Yes, sir.

STERN: I'm one of them. Now get back to work, baldie. I've got money to count.

• • •

stern and silver


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Richard Jefferson, the 40th Greatest Player Ever

Posted on Tue 23 April 2013 in Altogether Disturbing Fiction by Alex Dewey

richard effortson

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a fictional tale. It marks the return of "John", Alex Dewey's alternate reality San Antonio ballboy. This story is set after the recent Golden State win over San Antonio's backups.

I was wandering the halls aimlessly when Richard Jefferson stopped me in the halls to explain something. "John, here's a doozy."

"What is it, RJ? I'm busy," I said. I wasn't even being sincere, I was just being a jerk so he'd hurry up. RJ had a tendency to could go on interminably. Without my terse influence checking him at every turn, that is. "Hurry up, RJ!"

"Frig, okay, so one time they got together this panel of Hall of Famers and league observers to choose the 50 best players of all time."

I had heard of this. "Yep. 50 greatest players of the last 50 years? Yeah, I know all about that. James Worthy was there, but I think someone got snubbed, right? Something like that."

"No, not that one," Richard said, and I immediately grew skeptical. "No, that one was in... like, 1996. I'm talking about 2009, when I was with the Bucks."

"Oh. I don't remember that. So what?"

"I was ranked, like, #40, John."

"Of all time? What? You? Richard Jefferson? The man who would forget the ball if it weren't attached by years of tireless practice not to screw up on a basic level? The man with a tattoo of his initials in cartoonish block letters inside a circle? That absurdity of a man, that living anathema to greatness and grace? You? Richard Jefferson? The fortieth best of all time?" I thought of every insult I could that was technically literally accurate.

"Yeah, the very same Richard Jefferson as you see standing before you. I was ranked #40."

"But... how could that have happened? Was there an announcement?"

"Get this, there was a single press statement from the NBA on the Internet. I remember seeing it and getting a few supportive e-mails, like, within minutes."

"WHAT?" I was in utter disbelief. Richard Jefferson had never won a championship; instead his team tended towards likable underdogs that overachieved and never got remotely close to an upset when push came to shove in the trial against the true best team in the league. Tim Duncan, Shane Battier, Manu Ginobili, Chauncey Billups, and Dwyane Wade: These are among the so-called alpha dogs that have knocked off RJ from the playoffs, stymieing his championship ambitions. If you can even call RJ's drifting, always-waning existence any way ambitious. It's a possibility that Richard Jefferson was never even the 40th best player in a singleseason. He'd never earned -- and had scarcely deserved -- even a single All-Star berth.

He was just on a lot of good teams and had apparently made some serious league observers think he was the Nets' proverbial ace in the hole for several years. Sure, he'd had some impressive playoff performances, but I just laughed. I'd seen RJ bumble passes that a child could convert into an easy 2. An inspiring high-flying athlete in his peak (he'd once jumped a file cabinet in the Warriors' front office, just to show he could), Jefferson lacked the feel for the game at the highest levels that tends to weed out such gimmicky high-flyers. But being both athletic enough and fastidious enough to not only keep his job but thrive, Jefferson had still commanded a lot of respect from the people outside the league. An ultimate ambassador, as he was.

"They'd actually singled me out because I was an active player. I still remember it... 'Richard Jefferson of the Milwaukee Bucks, #24, from Arizona.' No. 40 all-time! The press release said they'd be honored with a plaque commemorating their accomplishments. I for one was shocked." Such did Richard reveal his best quality -- his earnest honesty and relentless reasonableness about the whole thing, seasoned with a nice dose of almost pathological humility. He seemed to re-enact his shock with his eyebrows as he told me all of this. "I absolutely did not know what to make of this information."

"I'm seriously doubting this ever happened. Did you dream it? Did you take too much cough medicine the night before, RJ?" I said mockingly. There was a slight hitch in my voice, not unlike Jefferson's characteristic hitch in his shot that had completely destroyed his game in his old age.

"No, I swear this really happened," Richard said sincerely.

"I believe you BELIEVE this really happened, Richard. I just don't know what to make of the possibility that it actually happened. It seems rather absurd on its face."

"Aww, here it goes. OK. Look, the press release calling me #40 was taken down after just twenty minutes up, probably for someone to realize they'd miscalculated a tally or something, I figured," and then he said with confusion, "But they never brought it up again, like it never even happened, that's what was so weird."

"Yeah, that must be a weird thing for you to think happened, but that probably didn't." I said, fully hamming up my doubtful perspective.

"Shut up, John," and I was taken aback by this, "Seriously, shut up, I'm telling a story."

I thought about throwing in a u mad bro, so characteristic of my youthful scorn for any sort of sincere passion, but thought better of it. Richard seemed almost distraught about this omission. "I just wanted to know who was actually there, even if it wasn't me. I'm fine not winning them all, but I feel like I had something taken from me, you know, and I wanted so badly to get it back. I don't have the nice e-mails they sent and I don't have a record of the list, and the NBA never officially acknowledged it. John," he said, "They washed their hands of the one truly supportive gesture of the historical legacy of Richard Jefferson, however absurd you may think him. They washed their hands utterly."

"Damn. Yeah, okay, I can see that," I said with not a little diplomacy in my tone, trying to imagine how Tim Duncan would comfort a teammate that had just missed a game-winner. "So, did you ever find out what happened?"

"Yes, just last week I was visiting the Walton home in San Diego. You must know Luke Walton, we went to Arizona together, and Bill Walton, the legendary center."

"Yeah, I mean, we just played the Cavs a few weeks ago, he was there. And I've seen Bill courtside every once in awhile. He can barely walk."

"That's right, he can barely walk," and Richard was suppressing a smile to get to talk about Bill Walton. "But he loves the game of basketball, John. And he loves his children, and I've always been able to go and talk to him when I've needed to. Yeah, he can barely walk. But he's a very interesting person, to say the least. If you asked him the greatest player of all time on any given day he'd tell you someone different. Some days it would be like Cedric Ceballos, other days it would be Manu Ginobili. Not even kidding. And... for one blessed day, Bill Walton woke up... apparently after I'd made a visit to his family, and he wrote down "Richard Jefferson" and "Luke Walton" as his favorite players of all time. Bill was also one of the people involved in the tallying of the ballots (for reasons passing understanding), and what he told me is that no one had chosen Luke Walton on their lists, but that a couple college observers had remembered my run with Arizona and given me a 50 spot or something. And the way the points were tallied, that was just enough for me to slip into 40th place. _ He told me this all while sipping a gigantic iced tea and lemonade, John._"

"Do you believe him?__" I asked.

"Truthfully," Richard said, "I feel like he could have been telling the complete truth, an utter fabrication, or something far in between. It's not a stretch to give me #50."

"Yes it is," I interjected quickly.

"Damn. Frig. Okay, I mean, yes, it is. But it's not a stretch that someone that watched me in college and sees me in the playoffs my first 5 years and the Olympic team and overrates me in the pros and puts me #50, no?"

"Okay, fine, no, that's not a stretch."

"But yeah, I figure a few guys legitimately give me #50, even #45, and, well, Bill Walton and a couple of his buddies in the Hall get together and say 'Hey, let's put RJ in this thing, he's a nice young man! George Mikan won't mind. Bernard King won't mind.' And they put me at 20 or something, and suddenly they're dealing with a few players like me and a few others that are getting these nostalgic votes that aren't really fair, and so they count up the ballots and decide that they really don't want to honor all the players that got voted in, but they don't want to fudge the vote by getting a legit candidate out of there. So they figure, hey, most of the players that deserve it have already been honored, and the rest probably don't deserve it that much."

"Ah. So they considered scrapping it entirely."

"Yeah, they did. They went ahead with the press release, otherwise I wouldn't have any clue that this had happened, but they went forward with that doubt hanging over it, is what it sounds like from Bill. Again, I'm not sure how far to trust his tale, he once told me eggs were filled with rainbows if you open them at the perfect full moon and put them in front of a telescope and you could eat the rainbow and it would taste like Skittles."

"What in God's name?"

"But I mean, his story about this vote seems pretty legit, no? Sounds like a lot of marketing campaigns that never took."

"Yeah, I guess, RJ."

"My understanding is that they scrapped it as soon as they got the first returns from Stern saying that it was a travesty that I was placed at #40 and that 'he didn't care how much publicity it would cause, it's an embarrassment to lists. Take it down, never mention it again.'"

"And they did."

"I still hold out hope that when Stern is gone they'll put it out there."

"But probably not."

"They probably never will, John, but at least it's a mystery resolved. I can rest easy."

Richard Jefferson, in addition to having an absurd bald head and a bad record in the clutch, apparently had the gift of resting easy. Because I found that I couldn't sleep for the nights following RJ's revalation, furtively tossing and turning in a cold sweat. I thought of all the shams of history that had ever been raised even a shade above mediocrity by a whimsical eccentric peddling nepotism in all his advocacy that the figure in question had happened to visit the day before, or something similarly arbitrary.

I shuddered at these shams that in a hundred years children would be taught to idolize or even emulate in habit, thought, and pattern... for I myself was once a child, brought up in this way! And worst, I thought of the pain - if the soul be immortal - to be one of those shams watching from the afterlife, to know that in a hundred years your poverty of ambition would be falsely rewarded. I shiver.

In the week since that day, I have fretted and bungled my deadlines and obligations in a sort of tragic irony that the Greeks would have relished, thinking of myself remembered falsely as the 40th greatest mop virtuoso of all time. I mop now with a hitch, perhaps for evermore.

Richard smiles as he passes.

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The Jefferson Play, Part I: Negotiation Breakdown

Posted on Tue 02 April 2013 in Altogether Disturbing Fiction by Alex Dewey

richard jefferson last laugh

The following story is entirely fictional. Any resemblance to persons or situations real or fake is entirely coincidental, and entirely awesome.

Fumbling an ice tray to the ground in the Warriors' break room, the thought struck me: Richard Jefferson must have been frustrated. As Richard is most interesting when frustrated, and as I have an uncanny gift for frustrating him, I smelled opportunity. I unexpectedly tapped Richard on the shoulder with my ice-cold hands and asked (in a deliberately annoying, lilting inflection) "How are you today, R-Jay?"

Though startled, Richard's response immediately convinced me that the end of days was at hand. The first thing I noticed was that Richard's eyes had a cartoonish glint to them, and even his teeth and nails seemed whiter. His skin was childish and immaculate as always, punctuated only by the occasional bump on the noggin received in the course of things. But today there were not even bumps, there were not even doubts: Richard exuded an uncharacteristic confidence as he turned to face me, wiped the proverbial dirt off his shoulder, and drowned out all the haters of the world. To my shock, there was even enthusiasm in his voice as he began one of his stream-of-entirely-reasonable-consciousness rants. "I'm actually doing just fine, John. How are you doing? How are your studies. You are an adolescent, and you know, that means that you must study in school much of the day. I hope you are learning things of import. I was a youngster, too, back in the Reagan Administration..." Jefferson trailed off amicably and smiled with the glee of precisely-aimed self-deprecation that nevertheless left him potent and confident.

I felt like the Grinch when Whoville didn't get all pissed off after someone stole their bikes.

"Why are you okay, RJ? You messed up with the ice tray and then I startled you with my hand. That's not right, RJ."

Richard kept at it. "Haha, whoa, John. You sound mad! Just a little bit, but I can taste it. 'U mad, bro?' I think that, you know, that's what the kids are saying these days, heh."

"Frig." I said clumsily, before receding my eyes at the seemingly reversed roles. I was mad, I thought. I am a basketball journalist that oozes confidence (my holy mantra being "smooth, suave, and sophisticated"), and I have watched Richard with fastidious amusement for four years of his absurdly reasonable demeanor while he unfortunately attempts to play a sport. And now, for once, he is unequivocally happy, and all I can do is stumble over my words in bafflement. So I tried to get an explanation. "I mean, what happened, Richard, did you get an extension? Did Mark Jackson say you were starting? Or maybe not playing at all? I'm never sure what you actually want, heh. Did, like, you find out you're a prodigy at a sport that you're *not* declining at? Did you get three 50-50 balls in a row for the first time in your life? Are you in love?" I asked everything I could think of, each one strangely insulting in its own way.

Richard laughed at all of these suggestions. "No, no, no, and no. None of that happened. You know, I'm still a pretty bad basketball player, all considering," Richard shrugged, still with confidence, "and I'm too reasonable to try other sports that might find me injured, and hence nullify my contract. I mean, definitely I'm still on the downswing. I didn't win any 50-50 balls ("Not even one, Richard?" I thought better than to interject), and I'm not in love. I'm not starting but I will be playing, but not much. Just like before. But," and Richard smiled once again, "I did have quite the recent experience."

"What in God's name happened, Richard? What in God's green Earth happened to provoke this? You know as well as I do that you should not be so happy." and Richard averred this with a shrug.

"Do you really want to know?" Richard asked with an amused look of genuine curiosity. "I mean, I'm not even a front-page player anymore. I won't really get any hits for your blog."

"RJ, I know nothing about what this story is but I will publish it, live, in real time. Just tell me. Please," I begged pathetically, somewhat to my own surprise. Like a dog, I recalled from Kafka.

"Are you sure?" and now Richard Jefferson was mocking me and I wasn't sure how to respond, except to note from the tenor of his voice the only possible explanation.

"Richard Jefferson, did you win at something, finally?"

At this Richard smiled silently.

"You might say that, John," and he began to tell the story.

~ Six Weeks Earlier ~

"People in L.A. take the weather for granted, John. I grew up in Arizona, you know. And being from San Antonio is a little better but you might get periods where you need to have several gallons of water every day just to not die when you're in Arizona. Then I played in New Jersey all those years, and it's just as bad in its own way. When there aren't any hurricanes kicking down your door, that's only because it's winter, where every day is its little own adventure in bleak, premature darkness. And the smell, dear God. Milwaukee, San Antonio, Oakland... we don't take anything for granted in this life, except that life is awful half the time. At least per the weather, heh. But, you know, I bought a place in San Diego a few years ago, and they just don't get it. Those places are paradises when it comes to the weather, pretty much year-round. They get rain a few days in June and they call it "June Gloom" like God is, you know, frowning on them by giving them an ounce of precipitation. They're totally entitled. But I guess I would be the same way too if I'd lived there my whole life."

"I get it, Richard. Weather is pretty nice there." I said, trying to shoehorn Richard's interminable rambling into something with a little more pop.

"Okay, John," Richard paused his fugue to note my insistence. "But let me just say this: So it's February and I'm in L.A. on business. And it's one of those days where every place in the world, tropical islands and all, is just a sea of snow and darkness but for a satellite splotch over Southern California. It's one of those, you know, bright, perfect-weather days where "Today was a good day" is lilting out of every convertible, slowed somehow. And people seemed to really appreciate it. The cars, you know, seemed to move slower even, and there weren't any traffic jams. So I was walking along, just soaking up the sun on the red-orange Earth and pavement with the most wonderfully baked sidewalks, and I get to my meeting in the most handsome suit, briefcase and shades. No one took this day for granted who felt the sun. I'm six foot six and once I was seven. Sun gods were invented in antiquity to explain how perfect the day is."

"... Okay, Richard. Is that all you got to say about the weather?"

"Yeah, that's about all I got about the weather, man. I'm setting the stage. See, I got into the building I was going to and entered the boardroom. And, lengthwise across a cheap, tiny, you know, old, varnish-smelling boardroom table? There sat Clippers owner Donald Sterling, slightly sheathed by the shadow of a lampshade. The room was hot and small and he looked surly, talking to someone else on a phone from 1993."

"Wait, you were meeting with Sterling? Why?"

"Well, you'll probably figure it out when I tell you the other guy in the room. But whatever the case, Sterling's first words were 'Turn up the heat a few degrees, Richard, or I'll turn it up myself.'

"It was sweltering, John. That room was hot as a sauna and smelled like a greenhouse made of wood and just painted over and never ventilated. It was a boardroom and it was stifling. So I say that to Sterling, and he says, 'I don't like people to be happy during negotiation.' I was honestly really confused by this, and just took my seat. And so Sterling smiles, and says, 'Forget about it, Richard.' And then he picks up this remote, and turns the heat up himself."

"Oh, wow." I said, not really sure how to respond to that.

"Yeah, I know, right? But whatever the case, I sit down, and as soon as I do, Sterling hangs up the phone (not a word to the other person) and starts asking me all these questions. Personal, impersonal, insulting, it doesn't matter, just hundreds of questions. It's like you when you need a piece that afternoon, John, but without that basic respect and privacy you naturally give your fellow human beings."

I coughed nervously.

"Most importantly, though, Sterling was asking these questions for absolutely no reason. You interview people because you need a story. Sterling... the reason he was asking so many questions, I'm convinced, was to wear me down mentally and establish his power. It was an interrogation where the interrogator had no discernible utility for any of my information ."

"That's a bit of a stretch, Richard. It's Donald Sterling, not Darth Vader."

"Well, get this... after twenty minutes of nothing but him asking me questions, I asked him a question. I was nervous, so all I could think to ask him the capital of New York. Wanted to see if he knew it was Albany, you know? It doesn't matter what I asked because he flipped out and said, 'Richard, who do you think you are? How dare you ask questions of me.' After that he asked me no more questions, and we got on with the matter at hand, and he never referred back to any of the questions. Like it never even happened."


"Yeah. I cussed a little in my head and opened my undersized briefcase, sweating in my suit."

"Richard Jefferson, always cussin'. When will he ever learn?" I taunted gently.

Richard suddenly grew animated. "John, you need to stop that. You need to stop disrespecting me. I mean it. I'm so sick of this." Richard actually dropped the ice tray again, not with clumsiness but with malice_._

"I was just joking..." What had come over him?

Nothing, it turned out. Richard's smile returned "Haha, sorry. You know, just thinking about that encounter makes me a bit upset. I still remember some of the viler questions he asked. He would press for answers like the Terminator. His evil spirit had exceptional tenacity."

"Man, maybe he is Darth Vader! Damn!"

"Anyway. I'm in this room, and we're ready to get down to business, you know, completely demoralized, when in front of me, at my place at the table drops a large packet of paper with a red stamp across it marked "VOID". Drops and slides in every direction, it hadn't been stapled. Every page is marked "VOID". A voice from behind says in a crisp, deep, indulgent voice, 'Your move, Donald.'"

"... What?"

"The other party to the meeting had arrived, John. He was decked out in pin stripes, seven feet tall. Completely ignored me, moving with power and elegance, like he didn't need to breathe. Indescribable. He kept walking around the room and dropping papers all across the room, each page, I could see, individually marked "VOID"."

"Who... who could that possibly be?"

"The other person in the room? Kevin Garnett."

"WHAT? How could this--? But--? There's, uh... No way, RJ!" I took a tumble in utter bafflement. I might have hurt myself but for grabbing and gaining purchase on the mop that I never keep more than arm's length away.

Richard chuckled, but acknowledged that it was pretty shocking. "I know, right? So you can imagine my confusion, even after everything I've seen in the league. KG was the other participant in the meeting. They didn't tell me about him. I was at least ready, somehow, for Sterling."


"I mean, the placement of people in the room is straightforward and logical. I mean, there's Donald Sterling, who owns a decent contender looking for a step up, and Kevin Garnett, a superstar on a non-contender looking for another title. KG wants that ring, John, no matter how much he talks about loyalty, and Donald wants that ring, to vindicate his pesky, miserly existence."

"Right," I said, for what Richard spoke was the straightforward, reasonable truth.

"So let me just set the scene again for your consideration, Donald Sterling has turned the heat up unbearably and has just finished interrogating me. He has utter contempt for me, and probably everything that lives and thrives on this entire planet, except what is his. And then there's Kevin Garnett, with equal measure the scorn, and double the loyalty, and he's delivering "VOID"ed contracts like he is a newsboy from the Great Depression."

"I almost can't picture that."

"It was like a sensory overload, no kidding. They barely spoke, and because of that it was almost like being trapped in a circus, eyes glued open by curiosity and fear. At some point I reasoned to myself that I wasn't totally safe in this meeting, and that I had to count myself lucky if I escaped unscathed."


"It was like watching a dinosaur-who-is-a-person fight a bird-who-is-a-person, but with icy glares and gestures alone." Even though KG was the only one up, they appeared to be circling one another. And, on the table, after awhile of this, KG swept all the papers off the table, smiled, and dropped a no-trade clause between them."

"The trump card. All the voided contracts were trades that KG had rejected and personally stamped 'VOID'. Right, Richard?"

"Absolutely right. Look, the Celtics and Clippers had been having talks since December and had pretty much run the gamut of possible trades. They both wanted to make a trade, but KG wasn't an idiot. He wasn't going to screw himself over just to make the trade balance work. Sacrifice, yes. But not debasement, not taking a trade on the chin like a punch. Not debasement which is more than sacrifice, and having been traded three times before, I totally get that. And Sterling was in, though, obviously, on the other side of, that same boat." Richard laughed at his own strange sentence, "It was a perfectly reasonable situation, is what I'm saying."

"I get that." I said, but then suddenly came to the forefront of my mind something I could not in a million years understand, "But why in God's name were you there, too, Richard?"

"That's an entirely reasonable question. In fact, the answer is riddled with bureaucracy at every level, so I'll spare you. Long story short, there's a player arbitration system for situations like this, and I was the only guy in the program's history that had ever opted in to volunteer," Richard said with annoyance, "So I basically have this extra no-pay job, where I go around arbitrating all these sorts of disputes, but I also don't have any power whatsoever and I only get three hours' notice."

"Wow, really?"

"Yeah, and, I mean, it's usually pretty easy to figure out. A guy is holding out for money, I tell him to restructure. A team is trying to avoid signing its second-round pick, you know, I make a quick Excel worksheet Stern and Silver gave me, and show the team the cost-benefit chart. That usually solves it. But sometimes you just have one of those ridiculously intractable situations. Not often, but it happens. You have to orchestrate some kind of compromise. And that's where the story really picks up, John."


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Bonnersanity, the Magic Microwave, and the Raddest Breakfast Ever

Posted on Fri 09 November 2012 in Altogether Disturbing Fiction by Alex Dewey

Running down an unfamiliar mountain at dawn near his New Hampshire home, Matt Bonner stops suddenly and plots the remainder of his journey down the mountain. Breathing a bit heavily, he spies an uncharacteristically icy grotto. His sense of adventure piqued, Bonner steps into the grotto's entrance. To his astonishment, he notes that the entrance is lined with stringed beads! There might be mountain people living there! Being something of a mountain person himself (he chuckles to himself as he prepares his mountain-man dialect), Bonner steels himself for any sort of encounter. The "room" he enters is rather dark, and a river runs through it, and it is hot and humid like a sauna. Its walls are the mossy rocks of the mountain, its floor a tangle of giant, velour carpets. Feeling his way around the room, Bonner notes statues along the wall that are just mouths and cheeks and throats, invariably bearded. The beard is black and the skin is brown, surprising the lily-white Bonner in the heart of New Hampshire. He makes his way through with just a flashlight and finds another beard statue, now hundreds of feet from the entrance. To Bonner's astonishment, this beard statue seems to be made of different material.

"Hello, Matthew," this beard statue proclaims in a totally indifferent voice. Matt Bonner is not shocked by this at all. Par for the course, Matt Bonner reflects, having seen much stranger things in hermits' mountain grottos.

"Hello, gentle mountain-man," Matt Bonner says diplomatically, "Who is hosting this occasion, and how do you know my name?"

"I am whom they called Gilbert Arenas, Matthew. Now you may address me as Agent Zero, or, Hibachi."

"Hello, Agent Zero. How are you?" Matt Bonner says to his one-time opponent, trying to encourage an atmosphere of trust.

"My mission is to help you, Matthew," and Bonner notes that Arenas' diction was at once precise and unworldly, like the late-period free jazz Coltrane albums Bonner's hip jazz friends had him listening to back at the University of Florida.

"I am always willing to be helped... especially by one with taste in beards as refined as yours, Hibachi," Matt Bonner says, trying to get some point of common ground between them.

A gap in the wall a foot beneath the beard opens. Preparing for anything between a handshake and an assassination, Bonner readies his set-shot T-Rex arms. Out pops a microwave. "This is magic, Matthew. It's a Magic Microwave. This will help you heat up in a hurry. Heat a sandwich up, only once, at dawn every day. Trust it, Matthew. But always once, never twice. I know what bringing too much heat does to a man." The bearded mouth sighs, and Bonner knows that Arenas' eyes, despite being glued (no doubt) to the Internet or a worldly periscope or something, now must gaze into some sort of abyss as Arenas says this.

"Thank you. But what will this do for me?" Matt says.

Gilbert answers in a hurry: "Ten percentage points. Every shot. Hibachi. You'll heat up in a hurry. Now, there's the way out. Through that door made of beards."

"Thank you, Agent Zero," Matt says with sincere gratitude (with a dose of supreme skepticism, it's worth noting), as he hoists the Magic Microwave into his gigantic backpack and begins to leave.

"And Matthew," Arenas says as Bonner turns to go, "I like your taste in beards, as well."

"You didn't even have to tell me," Bonner says happily, his beard bristling, "I could tell by the bristling in your own beard."

The mountain encounter ends and Bonner runs down the hill, a bit more slowly because of the gigantic Magic Microwave. Bonner goes to sleep in comfort. Matt Bonner wakes up the next day and the day is just magic.

• • •

Matt Bonner laces up and goes to practice, and heating it up in the Magic Microwave, Bonner has just the best breakfast sandwich and everything tastes a little better. Being a preternaturally gifted shooter and a legendary gym-rat all in one, Matt Bonner is unsurprised to hit 95% of his open corner threes, but it's an open gym and that's just something that happens sometimes when you're Matt Bonner. Matt Bonner was not convinced that the Magic Microwave had done him any good. Sheer random chance could explain everything, after all.

Two weeks of good fortune later, Bonner wakes up in a sweat and realizes that the luck is here to stay. Whatever he's been doing particularly, he vows to continue. Superstition, religion, dying his hair slightly browner? Perhaps it's that Magic Microwave, Matthew?, Bonner chuckles softly as he hears Arenas' voice echo in his head. In any case, whatever it took, Matt Bonner knows that there are no halfway crooks, and that he has stolen something from the obscurity of luck. So Bonner vows to continue his Magic Microwave routine, no matter how shook things might eventually become. Meanwhile, Bonner naturally starts playing more and more at the midrange and rim in practices, finding to his astonishment that the shots are falling there, too, even against his friend Tim Duncan's masterful coverage.

And the shake-up begins almost immediately after he tells his coach Gregg Popovich about his newfound fortune. Bonner hedges against any sort of concrete judgment in his explanation to the coach (and, of course, completely omits mention of the Microwave), saying correctly that the streak mystifies him as much as anyone. Popovich, ever the man of science, proceeds to rigorously test as best he can the effect of the newfound fortune. After awhile, Popovich is convinced: The Spurs have found solid statistical proof that the difference in Bonner's shooting is in fact something like 10 percentage points better, under every condition they can imagine to measure. The season is about to begin, and Popovich reluctantly goes back to the drawing board on his entire offense in case Bonner's streak somehow turns into a trend that survives the rigors of the season.

And at first the Spurs, ever the guarded guards and bastions of the Old Ways, simply pretend to the outside world that nothing has happened and continue using Matt Bonner to throw haymakers from the corner. As they had half-expected, though, after two weeks, Bonner's percentage from 3 (and elsewhere, on those rare alternate occasions) is about 10 percentage points higher, including a few auspicious game-winners (Popovich may be conservative, but even he can't pass up a high-leverage, low-risk shot like that). All the oddsmakers in Vegas and all the sportswriters know that Bonner's luck can't last, that the other proverbial shoe will drop... that is, everyone except for the befuddled group of 25 people in the Spurs organization and Bonner's family that understand that something strange is going on.

And then they start designing sets to get him (at first) marginally more involved, spacing him to get a few extra shots from the midrange and the top of the key. Two more weeks pass, and his advanced stats drop a bit in efficiency and rise a bit in usage. Wait a little longer and he starts to get more minutes and his stats drop a little bit more, as Popovich begins to come to terms with a funky version of the Harden-Sefolosha dilemma as he balances the minutes of new-look Bonner and aging Tim Duncan. The Spurs are more efficient, though, and Popovich finds he has yet another tool to manage minutes.

• • •

The only one of the five stages of grief that coaches can really get any traction from is bargaining. Anger yesterday, depression later, bargaining now and forever. Competition at its core is all about bargaining for as much a share of and as little a brunt of your opponent's bounty, and good coaches are nothing if not competitors. The bargaining begins as opposing coaches look at his numbers and get past their initial anger. Next comes the endless refrain of: "We need to seriously gameplan this weird seven-foot redheaded dude, guys. I mean it, guys, he's not the Matt Bonner you remember. He's even better." Suddenly the prospect of staying home on Matt Bonner becomes a necessity to emphasize rather than a good idea to mention in passing. "Magic Bonner will destroy you if you aren't careful." all the opposing team's sportswriters intone seriously.

And while this is going on, Popovich bargains with his fortune as well. Counter-gameplanning is one of his best qualities, and he quickly realizes that he needs to take full advantage of the Bonner windfall beyond the secondary benefits of spacing. One of his assets is overproducing and he's not maximizing the increased utility that should come from this bounty. So Popovich tinkers and he tinkers, getting Stephen Jackson to accept reduced minutes so they can experiment with Bonner at the 3.

The gameplanning continues, and in midseason, the results are fairly outrageous (literally outrageous; the anger is seething from almost every living person in the world that sees this ridiculous sort of miracle). The midseason period is typified by a game against Denver in which Matt Bonner scores 49 points on 25 shots (including twelve [1.25 PPP!] pick and rolls and 2-3 shooting from the line) and 3 rebounds while guarding Andre Iguodala, who answers this with a 20-15-15 line. The Spurs win with jaw-dropping regularity, their once-great offense humming along like a freight train at new levels of efficiency. The Lakers "panic-trade" (just kidding, the Lakers end up winning this one, too) Pau Gasol and Steve Nash for Luol Deng and Taj Gibson. Suddenly LeBron James' perimeter defense and "second jumps" (for Bonner's height) become the only things that Erik Spolestra ever seems to talk about defensively.

Western playoff teams try everything to stop Bonner and they start to hit on some strategies (though none without plenty of drawbacks, obviously). They attempt to ball-deny Bonner on the entry passes and they attempt to prevent him from getting up shots in the first place. They attempt to get Bonner in foul trouble by driving at him in otherwise-inefficient ways. They attempt to use his relatively lacking defense in space (his man defense is fine) to get an advantage proportional to how much Bonner is able to help the Spurs' offense.

At the end of the day, the opposing coaches weep at what the stats tell them: Matt Bonner's usage is at something like 28% and his shooting efficiency is actually lower than before the magic day happened when all this rad stuff started (because of course he is taking more difficult shots, but with that kind of usage, and still-above-average efficiency? Deadly.). And he turns the ball over more. Bonner is now directly comparable to Kevin Durant, but Durant is still a league above Bonner. It really, really bugs Kevin Durant that this is a real comparison that someone reasonable could make, though.

The only problem is that Matt Bonner has never had Dirk or Durant's scoring cleverness and tenacity. One thing that is so aggravating to watch about Bonner (and this continues after his super-cool day of magic and luck) is that, aside from a neat dribble-drive and hook game, his sole offensive skills are positioning and shooting. The Spurs can use him on the pick-and-roll because he is an excellent pop-out midrange shooter now and an alright finisher, but the risk of turnovers or of Bonner getting caught outside his comfort zone with no escape is ubiquitous. Dirk has a move where he goes on his back foot and fades away, and from which Dirk can accurately finish from just about any distance. And that's just the start of the innovator's deadly offensive arsenal. But Bonner has no innovation, at least in this sense. He's just a lot better at shooting any shot.

The Spurs are happy, though, and feel pretty confident about their title chances (understandably, considering they finish with about 70 wins). They do however note with befuddlement that the efficiency differential gained from Bonner (they estimate their margin is about 3 points per game better, solely because of Bonner's improvement) is almost entirely due to those extra 10 percentage points of magic, even after massive, intelligent game-planning and changing the structure of their offense to take advantage of Bonner's skillset.

They roll through the playoffs on the back of the player their fan base once had called "Winter Shoes", but those snow shoes find extra traction that summer. The next day, after his Finals MVP has been hung from the rafters of the highest buildings, the magic disappears as soon as Matt Bonner wakes up (Bonner comments with horror that the breakfast sandwich is only "alright") and the Spurs are ultimately pretty happy with Matt Bonner even though his Algernon-esque fall back down to Earth will eventually take him out of the league in a few more years.

"That was all pretty rad, I think. That was a pretty cool thing that happened and then stopped happening," the world eventually agrees as it collectively returns to its morning coffee and breakfast and paper.


• • •

What is the point of this story, besides providing something ridiculous for your consideration?

Well, I suppose the point is that the essence of a great scorer is something like that of a great shooter, but with extra percentage points of "magic" on every shot that must be gameplanned against and creatively defended and whose existence must be resigned to by opposing coaches. Carmelo Anthony has a "magical" ability to make inefficient shots not-so-inefficient (which doesn't excuse shot selection questions, of course). LeBron James has a magical ability to get to the line and the rim. Steve Nash and Chris Paul have a magical ability to make the percentages of their teammates increase.

I say "magic" not to mystify the essence of a scorer but to (efficiently and artfully) mean "the end result can be quantified but whose process and full expression would be exceedingly difficult to fully describe". For after all, in one sense, it's a matter of time (and patience for analysis to catch up to the data) before we can figure out how a player makes his own and his team's shot selection more or less efficient and his team's shooting efficiency from locations more or less efficient, and vice versa for the defense he plays. But in another sense, this effect really is sort of magic (whether you call it that, or whether you call it psychophysical deception, or game-planning, or practice, or talent, or a hundred other hidden variables, each of hidden significance and hidden interaction with the end product. [This is incidentally why I tend to ignore preseason reports about what kind of "shape" a player is in unless that is exceedingly relevant to his skillset]).

And all this to say that Matt Bonner does not have that magic (at least not in a world where Bonnersanity is still hypothetical). Richard Jefferson does not have that magic. Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson, for all the valid critiques you can make and for all their limitations, do have that magic, and have enough awareness to maximize its utility in an unpredictable array of situations. The Spurs got an offense that can magically carve up any defense, and ironically one of the best floor-spacers in the history of the 3-point arc (in Bonner) has played a fundamentally small part in that magical brew. And it seems to me that the key difference is that you can't gameplan against the Spurs' offense, but you can gameplan against the offense of Matt Bonner (same goes for Richard Jefferson). Stephen Jackson doesn't just make love to pressure, his skillset is notably (not coincidentally, one supposes) conducive to handling pressure.

And maybe this is a stretch of a silly thought experiment, but it seems to me that that's what the Rockets gained and what the Thunder gave up in their recent trade, the "magic" of creating shots. Kevin Martin is more than a fine offensive player, he's an excellent offensive player. And yet his smart shot selection and free-throw-drawing ability always strikes me as partially as based on the "not important enough to gameplan against specifically" of the regular season, whereas I would say the opposite for James Harden, who (Manu-like or not; I say not) is fundamentally a very creative offensive player in this sense. And when the defense buckles down, I honestly fully expect Kevin Martin to wilt and James Harden to thrive, even if their per-minute regular season statistics end up similar enough to comment. Not because Harden is more efficient or more of a creator (he is at this point in their careers, but as we're seeing, he has been held to a fraction of his true utility and ability level in OKC), but because as far as coaches are concerned, to gameplan against Harden is to contain him and distribute the efficiency to his teammates. The gameplan against Martin is simply to contain him and to watch his team struggle, all the while sort of hoping he doesn't hit a bunch of threes when you're not looking (none of this in offense to Mr. Martin, whose stats are just as real as Harden's; this is a qualitative observation).

This concept of magic (and sorry for the unfortunate linguistic coincidence, Orlando fans) is, in the end, what makes the Lakers team (and Kobe, as perhaps its final form's spiritual core) scary even with the frailty of age. The Princeton read-and-react offense (or whatever comes out of the strange Lakers' experiment) is for May and June, not for November (though in its final form, it's just as formidable in November). It's frustrating to watch, and I think they should probably coast on talent and pick and rolls from time to time while the offense gels... But really, all the great offensive systems in basketball: the read-and-react system, the Thunder's disgustingly efficient pindown play, the Heat's Total Basketball, the Spurs' motion offense, the Triangle, (sorry again) the Magic's 2009 offense? All of these things were built over the course of years of trying to harness and maximize the magic margins that overhang all the statistics of all the great creative scorers, shooters, spacers, and facilitators. All of these offenses require an absolute minimum of the so-called scrubs like Bonner whose same such magic margins barely jut from a dependable baseline of "just okay", like nearly-fallow fields of alchemy, fallow fields spanning miles of draft busts and one-dimensional role-players that play a banal sport that is called basketball with the scornful irony reserved for Bonnersanity in full focaccia-melt spin cycle.

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Mike Brown Invents an Offense

Posted on Thu 12 July 2012 in Altogether Disturbing Fiction by Alex Dewey

The internal monologue of Lakers head coach Mike Brown was always full of cuss words. Much like our own spatial universe, the space that Brown's cusses inhabited was both infinite and always expanding. Also extremely confusing. Tonight - after midnight in his busy den - the cuss stream burst audibly from his blowfish-esque brown cheeks. I can't honestly say that I'd fare any better in his dilemma, though. Consider that just weeks earlier, the Lakers had signed Steve Nash, perhaps the greatest floor general that basketball had ever seen. This in addition to the Lakers' franchise player Kobe Bryant, perhaps the most skilled isolation player that basketball had ever seen. In addition, several of the Lakers' cornerstones intimately knew the Triangle Offense, the most successful team offensive concept that basketball had ever seen. The team's four cornerstones (Nash, Bryant, Bynum, Gasol) came from four different countries, four different cultures, and four different skillsets, each a genius of athletic achievement in their own respective ways. Most coaches would be ecstatic at this development.

"That is, until they ran the numbers and figured out what all of that actually means," Brown said joylessly. The task before Mike Brown was monumental, and whatever he decided would require innovation on his part and adaptations for his players. A lot of dismal days of patient frustration lay ahead for the Lakers. Still, with his trademark persistence, all the problems of an NBA offense started to make sense to him over the course of the night, and all the mental jetsam discarded in his den's gigantic novelty royal-blue recycling bin started to look better and better until they became literally reusable in Brown's new sets and schemes. From the white boards, a well-used protractor, and forgotten tomes of Phil Jackson strewn about the study, Mike Brown cussed out an entire offense that night. He wasn't confident at all in what he'd invented, but it would have to do, he supposed. At dawn, drinking some coffee and doing a compulsive ritual before the front door, the inventor of the Circle Offense hurried to a 9am presentation of his offense. Soon, he supposed, the Los Angeles Lakers would have to learn to form the Circle at a moment's notice.

• • •

"And that's every option, every cut, every set: Everything you need to know about the Circle." As Mike Brown finished his presentation and turned the lights back on, the Lakers noticed to their amusement that Mike Brown had a measure of chalk on his hands and his face, though he had been working on projectors and whiteboards. A close observer would note the nearby bowl replete with donut holes. Brown himself pointed out the donuts before anyone else could.

"These donut holes are spherical. If we were playing four-dimensional basketball, the Circle Offense, in point of fact," Brown noted proudly, "could easily be made into a Spherical Offense. Eh heh heh heh." Brown's chuckle - now so familiar to the Lakers' ears - was obscure and self-aware but undeniably contained a large measure of mirth. The Lakers could rarely tell in advance when Brown was telling a joke or - after the fact - what the joke had actually been. They often wondered if he was even laughing at what he had said or something completely different. Brown continued chuckling for a few minutes, perhaps to ensure everyone forgot the joke entirely, staring past his players into a blank corner on the far side of the conference room. Finally, he turned his head to the assembled players for one last detail.

"By the way, notice that the Circle technically starts right when the ballhandler is three feet from his defender. That's the 'moment of truth' I had mentioned, Steve and Kobe. You see that?"

"Yeah. Seems familiar to some offenses I've learned before," Kobe said with a diplomatic grin, "I think I can probably figure that part out."

"Oh, really? That's nice. Anyway, that's the presentation. So, any questions about the Circle? I want to start drilling tomorrow, so now's the time!" Brown said with open relish.

"Nice offense...," Steve Nash started hesitantly,

"Why, thank you, Steve! I worked on it the last few months! I'm glad you apprecia--" Brown lied defensively.

Steve wasn't having it, though, and continued: "...But for the sake of Kobe, Pau, and Andrew, I feel I should ask: Coach, did you basically just steal the entire Triangle Offense and move two of the players in the Triangle slightly to look more like a giant circle?" The five-hour-long presentation had finally sanded down Steve's great reserve of patience and he forcefully stated the obvious. Kobe was surprised that Steve of all people was so outraged. He thought, "Hadn't Steve played with Shawn Marion and Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson and Amar'e... like, when his teams were good?" Kobe would always bring up Kwame Brown in interviews as a mental shortcut for total incompetence and deferral, but Kobe visibly shuddered just to think of all the D-Leaguers that Steve had carried without complaint. And Mike Brown had finally worn that patience away.

Every Laker save for Steve was blinking wildly now, both in astonished anticipation of conflict and in enacting the opposite of the actor's trick of holding the viewer's attention by rarely blinking. Kobe's facial expression was frozen as his head slowly swiveled from east to west, about an inch every ten seconds. "No." has never taken so long to express. Mike Brown was visibly nonplussed at Nash's point, and showed just how nonplussed he was by holding his arms out as wide as they would go and putting his head down on the conference table. A living minus sign. Raising himself up and wiping some (but not all) of the newly-added sugar from his undersized suit, Mike Brown addressed his critic defensively.

"Steve. Let me ask you a question."

"Yeah, Coach?" Steve's childish chipmunk features - combined with his worried eyes - evoked an "A" student attending an incompetent teacher's lecture. Steve fully expected a scolding for correctly identifying the capital of New York.

"Steve. Did you take geometry in primary school?"

Steve saw where this was going and tried to pre-empt Brown's ridiculously on-the-nose gambit of literalness. "Yes, of course, Coach. I even took geometry at Santa Cla-"

But Steve's effort was in vain, and Mike Brown began to assert his husky presence. "Good for you. So you know what a triangle is, then, right?" Brown relished his borrowed role as a superficial Socratic questioner much as he also relished one of the remaining donut holes with delicious jam.

Twenty Minutes Later •

"A circle doesn't-"

"A circle doesn't have sides, Steve. That's right. Now if you think I stole this offense from the Triangle, feel free to think that, Steve. But just remember that the sides make that impossible."


"I think we've discussed the origin of this offense enough. I think we all understand each other. Now, let me ask you something. Steve."

Steve Nash visibly gave up at this point and just prepared to answer his coach's question. "Yeah, Coach?"

"Can you make these curvy passes you see on this diagram?" Mike Brown noted a semicircular arc on the diagram from point to corner that would take a slightly wider path than the three-point line.

Had Brown taken geometry class in primary school himself? Steve wondered now. "Physically speaking, I can't... I suppose I could use the physics of the situation to-"

"Suppose is all we need. I'm not an offensive coach, Steve. It's your job to figure it out. Any real questions, without asking how I thought of this offense?"

"Yes, actually. The Tria- I mean the Circle Offense seems like it favors a team without a dominant ball-handler. How can we maximize my skillset in such an offense?"

"Great question, Steve. Alright, so you see all these options for the Tria- er... Circle Offense on the slides I prepared?"

Steve Nash grinned heartily at his coach's slip-up. "Uh... yes."

"Well, look a little bit closer. Notice all the dribbling options. Notice all the pick and rolls that develop organically. Notice all the spacing that a good shooter brings to the offense. There are plenty of ways for you to contribute, and, I suspect, some default plays like the pick and roll that you'll excel in and eventually select by season's end. You can start to favor and improvise on the sets and options to suit your skillset. I'll leave this part up to you. You're the offensive coach on the floor, not me." Nash found this concession amusing after the five-hour presentation, but held his tongue.

"Okay, coach. So.. are there any resources I can use to improve my understanding of the Circle Offense?"

"No. Because it is completely original and nothing out there properly conveys the developments of the Circle Offense. Heh heh heh. You'll be starting from scratch," Mike Brown said, and it was unclear why he was chuckling.

"Oh," Steve said, mentally preparing to study the Triangle online.

Now, gazing away from one another, Steve Nash and Mike Brown looked at different horizons in far distant corners of the conference rooms, their horizons (one suspects) being utterly mutually exclusive but their goals being identical. Steve Nash fidgeted with some advanced kinematic diagrams featuring esoteric aerodynamic calculations. Mike Brown rejellied the mass of remaining donut holes, the jam making the donuts cohere into a sphere. Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms" sounded from someone's cell phone occluded from view. There's so many different worlds... so many different suns... And we have just one world... But we live in different ones... And then the room filled with silence as no one offered to claim the cell phone ringing.

Kobe shook his head a few more times in the silence of the conference room. Andrew Bynum, shaking his head at a normal speed, shook his head hundreds of times in the same thirty-minute window. "I guess I make five," Brown said as he finished eating his delicious sphere. "Five different countries, five different skillsets. Let's make it work." Everyone gave a little audible start: No one had said a word individually but the room collectively had audibly opined the one word, "Yes." Now the Lakers filed out at different times. Debussy's Clair de Lune played from Mike Brown's cell phone as he turned to wipe off all the powdered sugar on his face and hands, a reserve of sugar so replete that to the remaining Lakers it resembled a fountain rising from Brown's back-turned head.

• • •

A week later, at Steve Nash's home, Steve received a 500-page tome written by Mike Brown. Nash knew that Brown had written the massive book describing all the options of the Circle Offense because his name was on the front. It was evidently an unpublished second edition, Nash supposed, because long sections had been crossed out and long anecdotes about Brown's experience at Kansas State had been replaced with accounts of Brown's Cavs assistant and former coach Hank Egan. Accounts featuring Brown as an assistant to Phil Jackson with Pippen and Jordan were replaced with witty anecdotes featuring Brown's former head coach, Gregg Popovich and the Twin Towers. Moral lessons straight out of the 1960s were replaced with modern lessons.

The section about plagiarism had been excised entirely, with calligraphic precision.

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Rajon Rondo, the Margin of the Moment

Posted on Thu 31 May 2012 in Altogether Disturbing Fiction by Alex Dewey

Rajon Rondo sighed as the game reached its inevitable resting point. Down 4 points with 2.2 seconds left, the game was as good as done. As a rule, man's reach exceeds his grasp, Rajon thought, but tonight Rajon knew he had grasped something new. He simply couldn't wait to see how he'd tilted the balance. He walked in the other direction -- towards his locker -- after a half-hearted inbounds pass. Rajon paid no mind to the ball's trajectory, or the remote possibility of a win. The buzzer sounded. It was over.

• • •

It hadn't been like this before the game. Then, in anticipation of the ill-fated Game 2, Rajon had written and consulted endless binders of tables containing adjacency matrices of all possible Miami-Boston match-ups, using known data from years of statistics and Rajon's encyclopedic recall of play-by-plays stretching back into the Cousy era. Rajon, carrying a sharp metal compass for reasons passing understanding, was going to optimize the efficiency differential and psychological tenor of the game. He gave Kevin Garnett very precise instructions. He gave Ray Allen very precise and completely opposite instructions. They obliged, each believing the other to have according instructions. No one could be on the same page, Rajon reasoned, on either team. Except him, of course. Rajon would know all. If the Celtics were to win, the team must be disarrayed, winning in a baroque and seemingly random fashion. They could not hope to win Game 2 in Miami systematically in the traditional sense, the numbers revealed. They would have to slip into the margins of the moment, slithering in on the dirty knees and gnashing teeth of Paul Pierce. Yes, the margins of the moment would be their system and salvation.

There were no percentages in the young man's perfect mind, there were armies. Rajon believed that every shot was predestined for make or miss a hundred years before it was launched. Systems were not a means of enacting high percentage looks, they were a means for enforcing one team's Platonic logic on the game. The Celtics slithered in. That was their system. It was perfect. They could (no, should) win any game. But the match-up binders fell off the shelf as Ray came tumbling in on half a foot.

Missing data, Rajon had almost said aloud. He sighed as he swiftly recalculated every number in every binder.

He found dismay in the strength of his armies.

• • •

Ray Allen airballed the meaningless three at the buzzer. It was a four-point loss. Rajon and Paul Pierce had already checked out from the game, the latter having fouled out and left the forsaken city of vice for greener pastures. Such did Rajon, left alone by a clubhouse that respected and adored him but could not approach him in his current state of fugue, return to his tables and binders.

"I am the margins of the moment," Rajon declared in his notebooks. "I am the leftover rebound and the unheralded assist. I am the points that come as you look away."

Having achieved some fifty points, a rare feat for anyone, much less for a player derided for his scoring lapses, Rajon began to see previously imperceptible errors in his match-up matrices that had nevertheless predicted with certainty the inevitable loss of the series and his inevitable scoring explosion in the heartbreaking, crushing loss. The bleak and pale in his face left for the silent films, the full color and action returning from some movie from the year 2800. Rajon smiled, just a bit, with a twitch below his eye. A grain of sand of marginal confidence shifted the whole balance of the series, in his perfect estimations.

From certain defeat, certain victory.

He prepared his instructions to each player - instructions that would be even more contradictory, impossible, and confusing than this last game - and peppered each with still more contradictory pep talks. Some in Russian. His teammates would not only be running into one another as per his designs, they would also pull the emotional fabric of the game apart from the Heat and one another, leaving in its wake a rip, a void, a shadow, into which he would step and repair his own way. A new dawn.

Oh, the series was done. There are no hypotheticals in this life or the next. Rajon did not have to ask if but when his mind-shattering apocalypse of a Game 3 would burn hotter than heat. He would conquer this game of inevitability, if only the armies aligned.

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Nothing Ventures, Nothing Gains

Posted on Sun 15 April 2012 in Altogether Disturbing Fiction by Alex Dewey

The game between the Spurs and the Thunder approached its conclusion. Ritualistically, as he sat on the bench waiting for the buzzer so that he could leave, Richard Jefferson reached a hand over his shoulder and received a piece of paper. He glanced down at the paper, holding his stats for the night: Exactly 24 minutes, 10 points on 8 shots, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 2 personal fouls, 1 assist. Half the game he'd been on the floor in a 20-point loss, and in his 24 minutes on the floor his team had been outscored by 10.

Jefferson smiled at the other stats: all zeros the rest of the way. Every zero Jefferson saw in his statline was like an injection of a mind-shattering drug that sent him to the center of the universe, to the Void. Even the non-zero stats - such as the points, the rebounds, and the assist - were aligned in asymptotically-perfect balance - barring the allowance of fractions into the statsheet, Jefferson had been as neutral as humanly possible in the defeat: He had neither contributed nor been a detriment to his team. He was the Void.

Richard Jefferson was Nothing.

• • •

And yet there was a paradox, an unbecoming twist in this annihilating thread. For, in order to get to this deliciously-calibrated neutrality, Richard Jefferson had made a thousand choices that had consciously determined this non-effect. The apparatus that he'd wielded in order to ensure neutrality was so elaborate and efficient that by comparison Moriarty's threads would belong on a single marionette. Jefferson had controlled the universe in order to create dull silence. He had snuffed out a part of the sun solely in order to create the room temperature room. So his zeal to become nothing had begotten another becoming, and in this other sense of becoming he was becoming God, was becoming Everything. A towel damp with sweat wreathed a powerful, swiftly-receding head and at once he was dry and the buzzer had sounded.

And in the locker room after the game, Jefferson's neutrality continued unabated. He promptly gave a postgame interview calculated to be so reasonable it could raise no alarm, then donated a reasonable percentage of his fortune to charity. After he'd dressed and said a reasonable number of goodbyes to teammates, he'd sat down - with reasonable posture - in the middle of the AT&T Center's darkened court and put dozens of wet towels over himself, so that he was utterly covered. If you didn't know where to look, you'd think he'd disappeared.

He was truly Nothing, now.

The next day they'd announce they'd traded Richard Jefferson for Stephen Jackson. Sitting in that gym with no eyes upon his signature tat and no media to feel one way or the other, Jefferson knew he'd be traded. For, in the midst of all his fantasies of being Nothing, the prescience of his causal apparatus gave him inspiration and - transporting himself many months into the future - Jefferson suddenly heard the happy shouts from all around him in the empty gym. The shouts - Jefferson noted well - promised things that he could never deliver as a player.

It would be a banner year for San Antonio, and laughing, madcap Richard Jefferson - his size, his acumen, his spirit, and, most importantly, his matching contract - would be the central agent of the change. He would be Everything precisely by being Nothing. There was an unaccountable perversion of logic in this paradox, though, and entombed in his fortress of towels he started to shiver. For suppose he were not straddling the line between ultimate power and abnegation of the same. Suppose - and this intensified his shivers - that he were not any different from any of the other competitors he interacted with. What if the apparatus of mediocrity Jefferson had built into an idol were no more complex nor more brilliant in its unifying designs than that of his teammate Tim Duncan? Suppose - after all had been said and done - that Richard Jefferson were merely an average player with an above-average self-awareness. Suppose the grand stage of basketball - so perfect and so central to his dreams of self-annihilation - were nothing but an eternal series of attempts to move the lever of one's team up and one's opponents down. And suppose further that Jefferson had only to try to move the lever up and none of this might have happened.

Now Jefferson knew he would be traded, but all happy thoughts of paradox and omnipotence peeled away from him with sudden, unwanted haste, much like were peeled the towels that had been draping him, and with no obstruction his eyes met bright lights of center court. His warmup T-shirt barely could veil a weeping mask of clay and confusion.

He'd been found in the center of the gym, and the random trainer on staff seemed pleased to see him.

"Were you... sleeping out here, Richard?"

Jefferson felt some reasonable amount of embarrassment, laughed off the situation for a perfectly reasonable amount time, and then jumped millions of feet into the air as if he were a bird of some tremendous and terrifying wingspan. What was left over from the ascendance gracefully gave an interview the next morning, saying basketball was only a business and trades a necessary part of that business. He had no complaints for anyone, and as they handed him an itinerary and wished him well, he gave a brief look to the sentimental sky before thanking them and moving on from that unfortunate stage of his life.

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Trading Spaces with the Jester and the Knight

Posted on Wed 21 March 2012 in Altogether Disturbing Fiction by Alex Dewey

With no definite purpose, JaVale McGee stepped heavily upon the March snow that lined the Denver streets. He told his new teammates that he needed a day to himself, to look for houses and neighborhoods. But if you could just see his face -- could follow his gaze as it moved upward to the vague mountainous altitudes in the distance -- you'd never see a glance to a realtor's name or the height of a ceiling.

Now JaVale was walking along a smoothly paved sidewalk. As he walked along the perfectly smooth concrete, JaVale nevertheless felt no surprise at tripping slightly over his feet every fifty paces or so. That was custom for him. But on his brows were gratitude and shock. For despite all his customary tripping, he hadn't yet fallen and scraped his knees. This was something new.

• • •

Most professional athletes go into slumps and streaks every now and then. With the psychophysical obsession that drives them, generally these athletes organically develop conscious rituals. These rituals are designed to avoid changing or continuing their current luck. To put it one way: You don't change the deck chairs when you're hitting .500. You change them in every way possible when you're hitting .100. But the man walking wide-eyed through Denver - just as surely a professional athlete - knew nothing of these slumps and streaks. His lot was to be consistent, no matter his rituals or approach. A bulwark of consistently met expectations.

However, this consistency wasn't of the Duncan type. Without fail, McGee's consistency was peppered with short bouts of unaccountable mental clumsiness, clumsiness that called into question his effort, dedication, and intelligence -- all in one stroke of cosmic meanness. He knew about the endless reels of inexplicable athletic failure he'd exhibited, knew these highlights were replayed endlessly in the minds of every basketball fan. He knew his blooper reel on Youtube was more popular than his highlights. He knew his name lived in infamy in the press. It was why he'd been traded to the Denver Nuggets in the first place and why the national reaction to the trade consisted of exactly two responses: respect for what he could do (begrudging, rare) and mockery for what he couldn't (ubiquitous, universal).

But he hadn't tripped and fallen down yet since landing in Denver, for whatever reason. Maybe it was the light oxygen in the atmosphere, the knowledge that all would be forgiven if he could start anew. Maybe it was the fact that he had a supportive mother and teammates he could now compete with in a straightforward way on a team that truly competed. Maybe there was no reason, or God was saving some epic choke in a bank for every time he didn't fall. Whatever the case, JaVale didn't know, and -- like all athletes on their first good streak -- didn't particularly want to know. After all, as all athletes know intuitively, thinking about the luck is the first mistake of superstition and a guarantee that the luck will go away.

But whatever he did - for the rest of his life, at least in Denver - JaVale McGee could never shake that luck.

• • •

On the other side of the gravel pond, Nene felt a bit disgraced at being traded, at least when he was really honest with himself. Sure, there shouldn't be a lick of shame in being ousted from one of the deepest rosters in the league, especially since he'd been battling injury. But there was always a disgrace in being rejected by any team. The air felt heavy in the capital of the United States. And to the Washington Wizards? There were quite a few dysfunctional franchises out there, but only one aspired to comedy. To be traded for JaVale McGee, a man who had to beg for a triple-double, who had the mentality of a 12-year-old that could dunk? It was a disgrace, and a player of Nene's caliber was not having an easy time justifying the inexplicable trade.

But, he supposed, there was no sense asking why or how, or trying to change the past. After all, Nene knew how to play the game of basketball, and that knowledge - combined with effort and statistics - had always buoyed him through any temporary lapse in confidence. Nene had the gift of consistency - maybe not in a given minute, a given quarter, a given game, a given season - but he would always come back to that old brand, the brand of Nene. Denver would have to go wanting for that brand for the rest of its existence as a city and a franchise. He walked with firm conviction - note the broad shoulders framing the proud mane - past the Reflecting Pool, not even noticing it all that much. In fact, he noticed it just sparingly enough that he managed to trip and fall into the pool. He was unhurt, but shocked. He wouldn't be shocked by such occurrences in a few weeks, as he became sadly accustomed to the many causes and manifestations of the clumsiness that would haunt his frame forevermore.

• FIN •


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Mike Brown and Mike Woodson Talk Shop

Posted on Mon 19 March 2012 in Altogether Disturbing Fiction by Alex Dewey

At the deadline on Thursday, the Spurs made a trade for Stephen Jackson that also ended the Richard Jefferson era. I started writing and seriously covering what the Spurs were doing right around the original RJ-to-San-Antonio trade in the summer of 2009. After an seemingly endless series of varying horrible and decent pieces, I finally "broke through" with some quality pieces that winter. The following piece - written in January 2010, to an audience consisting solely of Aaron and myself - is probably my favorite. It tells of the story of Richard Jefferson's off-season courting by Mike Brown (who was coaching LeBron's Cavs at the time) and his doppelganger coach of the Hawks, Mike Woodson.

I was reading SLAM tonight, and I came across the following passage, in which Hawks coach Mike Woodson addresses his team before an important Mavs road game:

“...I don’t give a shit about the offense; you guys can score more than enough points to win games. The offense isn’t the problem. But you have to get stops on defense, and if you’ll listen to what we’re telling you, I promise you’ll get stops. The shit works, okay? The shit works, but you guys just have to have the pride and the heart to buy into it and do what we’re asking you to do every time down the court.”

Reading this reminded me of a little-known incident a few years back. Almost immediately after the 2009 Finals, Milwaukee small forward Richard Jefferson was being scouted for a possible trade to either the Cavs or the Hawks. Jefferson therefore had to make two private appointments with the head coaches of those teams, Mike Brown and Mike Woodson.

• • •

Concerns for the complex and heavy schedules of all three men led Jefferson to suggest instead that he meet with both coaches simultaneously. Jefferson supposed that they could meet up in a practice facility for his demonstration, after which they would all get some dinner and discuss where he could fit into their respective teams. This suggestion was well-received by both Woodson and Brown, and so the only remaining unknown was the location. Jefferson said it would be a little questionable to meet up in a Bucks' facility for a demonstration that could very well send him packing, so he suggested they all meet instead in San Antonio at the Spurs' practice facility. After all, Brown had served under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich there, and Woodson had served under the legendary Larry Brown, Popovich's mentor. This seemed reasonable enough for all parties, and it was settled. The plane tickets were bought.

Now, at this time I was working as a mop-boy at the Spurs' practice facility. After all, I was 16, and I was living in one of the plusher suburbs in San Antonio. It was the perfect summer job. I even met David Robinson once in the gym as he showed his church group how important practice is. The Admiral liked me instantly because virtue and skill stand out like a strobe light to him, and I was really effective and methodical with a mop at that time.

I was also a basketball fanatic and an amateur sportswriter. In the dog-days of 2009, before iPhones and Androids had hit the market, I kept a primitive cassette tape recorder on my person wherever I went. This tape recorder caused both amusement and annoyance in the Spurs players, and I would often try (with very limited success) to invite myself to private player meetings. So when I heard that Woodson and Jefferson and Brown were coming to my gym, and that I was supposed to mop the whole gym before they arrived, I became restless with possibility. I quickly created a mopping schedule that would guarantee me close proximity for the duration of their visit, and even planned to get into their graces well enough that I could eat with one of them afterwards.

It's important to note here that Coach Brown and Coach Woodson are very similar in appearance. They are both the same brand of hefty, of the same height, somewhat muscular, and bald. They have extremely similar tastes in clothing. Mike Woodson's skin has a somewhat lighter shade of brown, and Mike Brown has glasses with very thick rims. Mike Woodson has a black goatee. Mike Brown has a different black goatee. If Mike Brown lost his glasses and they were standing together, I would have legitimate trouble handing the glasses to the right one, even if I'd seen from whom it had dropped.

Anyway, I worked very hard that morning in preparation, and when noon rolled around, Richard Jefferson arrived in the gym corridor in an old Arizona jersey. I went over and gave him a high-five and immediately meshed with him. Jefferson was clearly down-to-earth and humorous. "You're gonna have to tell me which one is which, when they arrive. Tap me on the shoulder once if it's Brown, twice if it's Woodson." he said to me, chuckling. I couldn't tell if he was kidding with that, but he clearly found the humor of the situation in either case. I showed him my tape recorder and told him I was going to tape the whole conversation. He cracked up. "Their voices are really different at least, right?"

"I... don't know, Mr. Jefferson. I can't think of one without the other. I'll probably mix up their voices a couple times." I admitted. "I can't even remember which one has the glasses. It's going to be a hell of a transcription job."

Jefferson was greatly pleased. "Haha, I knew it. Same here, John. I remember that Brown has the glasses, but only because I just finished watching that amazing LeBron buzzer-beater in Game 2 against the Magic. So let's see: I know Mike Brown has the glasses, and I think Mike Woodson has the facial hair, but now I forget if Mike Brown has the facial hair - no, he just has those ridiculous jowls."

"They both have jowls, Mr. Jefferson, and I think they both have goatees. That's one of the many reasons they're so hard to separate."

"Alright, you're definitely invited to dinner," Jefferson smiled. "Get this, the three of us are having dinner together after the demonstration. We're gonna get a booth at a local family restaurant with 4 seats. The two of us are going to sit on one side and Woodson and Brown will have to share one side of the booth, just squeezing together, side-by-side. The image makes me laugh every time I think of it. I'm going to use every wile in my faculties to ensure it happens. Having you along will just help out that much more. We'll sit on the side before they even know what has hit them."

"Wow, thanks!" Jefferson had delivered so much further than I would ever have imagined. "Okay, two things. First, can we get a still photo of them sitting together?"

"No, absolutely not. They are crafty. Both of them are ridiculous, but crafty. Best not even to risk it. You must be a master of discreetness with the tape recorder by now, though, right?"

"I'm good enough."

"Good. But yeah, no photos. I mean they won't want to be seen together, and they definitely wouldn't go for that. Also, it could very well poison the afternoon for me, and I don't want that either. Heh."

"Mr. Jefferson?"

"Yes, John?"

"The facility didn't tell me why you all were coming today, they just told me who the meeting was for. What is the meeting about?"

"This is going to sound odd..."

Jefferson then laid it all out, essentially telling me that this off-season might be his last legitimate chance at being signed by a contender and getting a title that had thus far eluded him with the Nets and Bucks. This was actually a huge interview for him, I considered. Suddenly something crossed my mind.

"Wait, why the hell is Mike Brown looking for a small forward? That's LeBron's position. You're a bit older, but nowhere near a back-up yet, especially in terms of the salary you'd want."

"Yeah, honestly, I've been watching a lot of Cavs games. I don't know what the hell he's thinking. Woodson either. How familiar are you with the Hawks?"

"Not much, sir."

"They don't really need a small forward either. So why are they both - " and Jefferson trailed off in thought.

For the same thought had crossed both of us simultaneously and we made eye contact to prove it.

"You don't think..." I began, but the thought was abruptly truncated and momentarily forgotten for the appearance of a noise from the gym's corridor.


Well, Mike Woodson was here. He was smiling at Jefferson and Jefferson smiled back. I had been diligent with the mopping, so now I had the luxury of stopping to make myself look somewhat respectable, and the three of us traded introductions. I spoke to the Hawks coach with careful respect. The tape was rolling now.

"Hello, Mr. Woodson. I'm just the mop-boy today."

I then laid out my slightly contrived reason for being there, with conscious emphasis on my insignificance.

"Alright, you can stay. I used to be tough shit at mopping when I was a teenager."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah, I fucked up at the beginning, but then I learned how the shit should be done. Do you want to me to show you?"

"Umm, yes, sure, Mr. Woodson..." I only hoped the bandwidth on my tape recorder could sustain all of this 'shit'. Woodson grabbed the mop and started dousing the floor with dirty water from the mop bucket. I briefly wondered if Woodson was going to try to light the doused region on fire. He furrowed his brows as he tried to remember how to grip the mop, and, in his baldness, gave us an impromptu lesson on how skin can cling to and dance along the skull on demand.

"So first you want to like...pretend the mop is a fuck-horse. Do you know what a fuck-horse is, ...John is your name?"

Before I could try to define a fuck-horse (I didn't know whether or not I hoped "fuck-horse" was actual slang), Mike Brown appeared in the same corridor of the gym that Woodson and Jefferson had entered through. It occurred to me that Jefferson and Woodson had barely spoken in the five minutes so far of this incredibly important interview.

"How are you all, Richard, Mike, ..."

"John, sir. Just an honest mop-boy."

"I was showing John here how not to fuck that shit up with mopping. The shit I know about mopping, on the other hand, works."

"You told him about the fuck-horse technique?"

"I was just getting to that, Mike."

"I just knew you were a fuck-horse adherent, Mike. How dated."

"It's the shit that works!"

Mike Brown considered this, and visibly rejected it with his hand. "No, the fuck-horse is dated. If you aren't riding the shit-train with your mop stroke by now, well, that's sort of like trying to do algebraic geometry in a modern setting without any knowledge of the Zariski topology on algebraic varieties."

"What the hell?" Richard Jefferson said quietly enough to be mostly inaudible but loudly enough to interrupt.

"It's plenty dated is all I'm saying, Richard. How have you been? Let's sit a spell and I'll lay out what I want to see from you today."

Brown began to strike me as the kind of coach that would sometimes listen to all of a player's problems and have intelligent responses, but at the end of the day would not be there for his players or anyone else that interfered with his arbitrary whims.

Woodson, on the other hand, struck me as being almost fatherly in modality. He may have been cross and vulgar in disposition, but he had made a sincere connection with Richard and I, with none of Brown's pettiness or distance. Whatever a fuck-horse might be, Woodson legitimately thought that I, a mere mop-boy in a different city, should know about the mopping technique, and for my own benefit. There was a warmth there that infected Richard as well.

We all walked towards a table outside the gym, I having officially joined the party. Woodson tried to carry the conversation as we walked. "Richard, I undoubtedly have a role for you here in Atlanta."

Brown was not to be out-done and quickly cut him off. "Richard, I have a bigger role for you here in Cleveland."

"Your shit seems deceptive, Mike." Woodson astutely observed. "What are you going to do, Coach, trade LeBron?"

It was something that was going to be said but it was still surprising to hear.

"Maybe I will trade LeBron if I can get my hands on Richard before you. I think losing 10 extra games or so is worth it. No offense," he turned to Richard, "but I already won a championship as an assistant in 2003, in this very city!"

Richard quickly responded, "I was on the Nets then, Coach." Having briefly misremembered the Spurs' Finals opponent in 2003, Brown actually looked a bit apologetic, and trailed off on a "Well..." as he turned back to Woodson. We all sat down at a table outside the gym.

After we'd sat down, Brown continued his tirade, "...All I'm saying is that 2003 will be plenty enough for me if it means defeating you to get Richard Jefferson, Woodson."

Just a moment more and it was obvious that the husk wars had begun. Woodson shot the first blow. He pursed his lips as if for an angry kiss, and furrowed his eyebrows as before. "You fuck-horse," Woodson spoke with incomprehension, "How could you? You unfathomable fuck-horse."

Still wondering what a fuck-horse could be, I nevertheless held my tongue. Brown would trade LeBron, his franchise player, in order to win this petty battle? Was this what real adulthood would be like? I felt afraid, I must admit.

Brown, upon being called a fuck-horse, didn't react with scorn at all, but his face almost turned inside out as he tightened up in concentration, as if trying to look at his own eyes without a mirror. The skin around his mostly-shaved eyebrows stretched taut towards the top of his cheeks, almost wholly covering his eyes beneath his glasses. As this happened his hand stroked his chin, as if stroking a goatee that didn't exist anymore, as if his clean-shaven chin was evidence of a great difference between himself and Woodson. He nodded up and down very quickly. Infinite husk, I supposed. Standing up, his glasses suddenly became very bright, like reflecting the sun. Brown took his hand off his chin and stared at his counterpart.

"Coach Woodson."

"...Yes, Coach Brown?"

"I am a bit of a fuck-horse, aren't I? Threatening to trade away my franchise to win this meaningless personal tiff. Reminiscent of a fuck-horse, eh?" Had he read my mind? No...we had all thought that.

"I'm... so sorry I said that, Mike." Woodson made a very humble gesture of apology.

"No. Don't take it back. I'm a true fuck-horse and I'm happy to admit it. I want all three of you to admit it." We all reluctantly said so to him. "But let's have some perspective here. The only reason either of us coaches showed up at all is because we knew the other would. Don't lie to me, Mike, you have just as little use for Richard as I do. It was a petty gambit on your part and you should at least admit it like I do."

But Woodson refused to comply. "Richard, come on, let's go to the gym. I want to see the way you'll..."

Brown interrupted and Woodson ignored him. " in the lane." Astonishingly, the coaches had both finished Woodson's sentence.

"See, I knew it. If there's any more of a bull story, if there's any more of an arbitrary question to ask Richard Jefferson, I'd love to hear it. We've all seen Richard driving a hundred times, even young John over here," I nodded, "This interview was a ruse from the get go. I may be a fuck-horse, but at least I'm not naive, Coach."

We all just sat in silence for awhile. Woodson could not deny what was clear: Mike Brown had seen right through him.

"I guess that makes you a shit-train, Coach." Mike Brown gloated, "Not even a proper fuck-horse."

"Alright," I asked, "What the fuck do those words mean?"

Brown ignored me, but I caught Richard Jefferson spitting with laughter for a moment, "Now that all of this is settled, how about we get some dinner at the Applebee's. Do they have Applebee's in San Antonio, I forget?"

At this point Tim Duncan appeared outside the gym, obviously dying to start his first practice of the off-season. He noticed us sitting there and came a bit closer. As soon as he recognized Coach Brown, he smiled and prepared to greet us. Duncan's smile was increased when he recognized both Richard Jefferson and the virtuous mop-boy that always had the tape recorder. We were all about to say hi to Duncan. But just then, Duncan saw Coach Woodson and a change came over his face; he immediately made an about-face and walked the other direction, with an unmistakable disappointment. He knew instinctively what all of us, except Woodson, had derived from the conversation: that Mike Woodson is Dark Mike Brown, a Mike Brown that lacked even the awareness of his status as the Dark Mike Brown.

The interview was over and I went to Applebee's where Brown and Woodson told me that they both needed mop-boys in their respective cities and Richard, with fraternal obligation, shielded my eyes from their vulgar mopping demonstrations.

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