Fade Away Page 57

He jogged out, pointing to Erickson. His teammates looked surprised to see him. Erickson said, “You got Wallace.” Reggie Wallace. One of the game’s best shooting guards. Myron lined up next to him and prepared. Wallace studied him with an amused smile.

“SWB alert,” Reggie Wallace called out with a mocking laugh. “Goddamn SWB alert.”

Myron looked at TC. “SWB?”

“Slow White Boy,” TC told him.


Everyone else was breathing deeply and coated with sweat. Myron felt stiff and unprepared. His eyes swung back to Wallace. The ball was about to be inbounded. Something caught Myron’s eye and he looked up. Win stood near an exit. His arms crossed. Their eyes met for a brief second. Win gave a half nod. The whistle blew. The game began.

Reggie Wallace began the trash talk immediately. “You got to be kidding me,” he said. “Old-timer, I’m gonna make you my woman.”

“Dinner and a movie first,” Myron said.

Wallace looked at him. “Lame retort, old man.”

Hard to argue.

Wallace lowered himself to a ready position. He shook his head. “Shit. Might as well have my grandma cover me.”

“Speaking of making someone your woman,” Myron said.

Wallace looked at him hard, nodded. “Better,” he said.

The Pacers inbounded the ball. Wallace tried to post Myron up under the basket. This was a good thing. Physical contact. Nothing unclasped those steel bands like battling for position. Their bodies bounced against one another with small grunts. At six-four, two-twenty, Myron held his ground. Wallace tried digging back with his butt, but Myron held firm, putting a knee into Wallace’s backside.

“Man,” Wallace said, “you are so strong.”

And with that, he made a move Myron barely saw. He spun off Myron’s knee so quickly that Myron barely had time to turn his head. Seeming to use Myron for leverage, Wallace leaped high in the air. From Myron’s vantage point, it looked like an Apollo spacecraft heading straight out of the arena. He watched helplessly as Wallace’s outstretched hands grasped the lob pass at rim level. He seemed to pause in midair, then continue rising as though gravity itself had decided to freeze frame the moment. When Reggie Wallace finally began to descend, he pulled the ball behind his head before throwing it through the cylinder with frightening force.

Slam dunk.

Wallace landed with both arms spread for applause. His taunting chased Myron up court. “Welcome to the NBA, has-been. Or never-was. Or whatever the fuck you are. Oh, man, was that pretty or what? How did I look going up? Be honest. Bottom of my sneakers look sweet, don’t they? I’m so pretty. So very pretty. How did it feel when I slammed it in your face? Come on, old-timer, you can tell me.”

Myron tried to tune him out. The Dragons came down and missed a quick shot. The Pacers grabbed the rebound and headed back up court. Wallace faked going back inside and popped way out past the three-point circle. He caught the pass and shot in one motion. The ball went in with a swish. Three pointer.

“Whoa, old man, did you hear that sound?” Reggie Wallace went on. “That swish? There is no sweeter sound on earth. You hear me? No sweeter sound at all. Not even a woman crying out in orgasm.”

Myron looked at him. “Women have orgasms?”

Wallace laughed. “Touché, old-timer. Touché.”

Myron checked the clock. He’d been in for thirty-four seconds and his man had scored five points. Myron did some quick math. At that rate, Myron could hold Reggie Wallace to under six hundred points per game.

The boos started soon after. Unlike his youth, the crowd sounds did not fade into the background. They were not one indistinguishable blur of sound, a home-court cheer to perhaps ride upon the way a surfer picks up a wave. Or a boo in a rival’s arena—something you expect and even thrive on in a perverse way. But to hear your own fans boo your specific performance, to hear your home crowd turn against you—Myron had never experienced that before. He heard the crowd now as never before, as a collective entity of derision and as distinct voices making ugly catcalls. “You suck, Bolitar!” “Get that stiff outta there!” “Blow out your other knee and sit down!” He tried to ignore them but each catcall punctured him like a dagger.

Pride took over. He would not let Wallace score. The mind was willing. The heart was willing. But as Myron soon saw, the knee was not. He was simply too slow. Reggie Wallace scored six more points off Myron that period for a total of eleven. Myron scored two off an open jumper. He took to playing what he used to call “appendix” basketball; that is, certain players on the floor are like your appendix—they’re either superfluous or they hurt you. He tried to stay out of the way and hit TC down low. He kept passing and moving away from the ball. When he saw a big opening and drove the lane near the end of the quarter, the Pacers’ big center swatted the shot into the crowd. The boos were thunderous. Myron looked up. His mom and dad were still as two statues. One box over, a group of well-dressed men were cupping their hands around their mouths and starting a “Bolitar Sucks” chant. Myron saw Win move quickly toward them. Win offered his hand to the cheer’s leader. The leader took it. The leader went down.

But the odd thing was, even as Myron stunk up the joint, even as he continued to get beaten on defense and play ineffectively on offense, the old confidence remained. He wanted to stay in the game. He would still look for an opening, relatively unshaken, a man in denial, a man ignoring the mounting evidence that a crowd of 18,812 (according to the loudspeaker) could plainly see. He knew his luck would change. He was a little out of shape, that was all. Soon it would all turn around.

He realized how much that sounded like B Man’s description of a compulsive gambler’s rationale.

The half ended not long after that. As Myron headed off the court, he looked up again at his parents. They stood and smiled down at him. He smiled and nodded back. He looked toward the group of well-dressed booers. They were nowhere to be seen. Neither was Win.

Nobody spoke to him at halftime, and Myron didn’t get in the rest of the game. He suspected that Clip had been behind his playing. Why? What had Clip been trying to prove? The game ended in a two-point victory for the Dragons. By the time they got into the locker room and began changing, Myron’s performance was forgotten. The media surrounded TC, who had played a brilliant game, scoring thirty-three points and grabbing eighteen rebounds. TC slapped Myron’s back when he walked past him but said nothing.

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