A few months ago, our writer in Baltimore wrote an excellent piece based on an Oscar Wilde-style imagining of Denver’s quarterback situation. I’m one-upping him.
There was a time and a place for that, and he knew it was neither here nor now. The cobalt skies over Utah ripped open and bled as they had in The Colony, and after that, Champaign — places where clearly defined horizons rested along deserts or prairies or meandering rivers. Places that mattered only to those who occupied them, to those cradled by their avenues and withered by their gazes, ashing and fading with time as their streets emptied into the cool matrices of Dallas and Chicago. And he was here again, steps away from the train that could take him. The island, where the inextinguishable lights would shine upon grainy vistas of dockyards and steeples, condominiums and tenements filled with those who wanted him to stay.
It had always been that way for him — and it would always be. It was what it was, and he knew that, too. Uncle Jason hadn’t been able to do it and he was here forever. Neither could Uncle Vince. They had built castles in the marshlands, and they would build another in the dockyard, and it was all for him if he wanted it. Jerry had promised him that when he left Champaign, too. Come out to the desert and we will build, and we’ll find a way for you.
It hadn’t and he was here again now. Smashing pieces that didn’t fit together once more. Dumping passes to a big man whose notorious idiocy outstripped his formidable talent. Trying to find ways to incorporate role players who shot too often and forward, whose motions were described by variations of ‘lumbering’. The ball always in his hand. Slamming again and again into the defenders who had become anonymous by repetition, pivoting, passing and shooting toward the arc where he could turn around and drain over his mark. Half-asleep crowds trickled in from East Orange and Elizabeth and dozens of other indistinguishable northern New Jersey villages. Coming for him, but mostly for the men he fought against — men who came from places they themselves wished they were going. Men who had realized his success.
The destination was never here. He’d never planned it to be. Even for those who had found success in the quaint non-metropolises, the violent secondary cities or sleepy flyovers, they had been given more than he had: I respect their sacrifices but they never ran with who I ran with, put together what I have put together here; unselfishly at that? I give castoffs the game winning shot. Remember what I did to Jeremy — he thought he had arrived when he is in fact second to me — second in what he has done and in what he will do in his career. A minor character and foil to A’mare and Tyson and Melo. This belongs to me, he can’t take that. He thought: Who is he to what I am, and what I am in the context of this league?
It churned uncontrollably, spurting out in jittery explosions, forcing the sphere deep into the floor, for it is his and he can do with it what he chooses. He recalled the quiet below the turgid masses in Salt Lake, the sterile white walls and the electric halogens that dully blinded when they told him. The rage that transpired in Utah, the rage Jerry ultimately succumbed to, that would in turn be his own. What was the point of this? To pad his resume with meaningless numbers, to prove that he was above this, above the monumental sucking sound that boiled unceasingly, nervously, from Champaign and The Colony?
And he was here again, back in the marshes, pushing off his passes hatefully, sharing jealous laughs with his friend, the enemy Chris Paul, and watching as Farmar buried the shot that should have been his — even though he himself had given up. It was as inescapable as the simmering days and nights, bleeding out slowly to those with whom he shared rarified air, those whom he would one day join or those who may join him in the dockyard, far away from the dimming magic of their own homes they would come to him, baring intelligence and talent and gravitas, befitting the Man he had become, proudly sharing his manic joy over a return to form, the ecstasy.
He knew that, but it was too late. The Big Man had made his decision, and he would not be coming.